Third Sunday of Advent | Luke 1:46-55
For the third Sunday of Advent this year, the lectionary offers an alternative to the Psalm reading: one may substitute Luke 1:46-55, called the Magnificat from the opening word of the Latin translation.
The Magnificat is a beautiful passage. Many scholars believe that it was an early Christian hymn, worked masterfully into the Gospel of Luke. Few would argue that Mary herself actually spoke these words. Still, the early church accepted not only that these words of praise offer truths about God but also that these words offer genuine insight into the mind and heart of Mary, whether she spoke them or not. It should not worry us. Many of the truest stories never actually happened.
Mary the mother of Jesus is adored in most of Christianity, particularly within Roman Catholicism and Orthodox faith. Sometimes, to the eyes of some other Christians, it appears that she is even worshiped.
It is not so in the plainest traditions of Protestant Christianity. Among Protestants, Mary is seldom discussed. Oh, she has a role in the story of the Christmas Child, but Mary herself is given little role in the Protestant pursuit of Christianity. It would seldom, if ever, enter the mind of a Baptist to call upon Mary, or any of the other saints, for help. Most of these Christians would explain that such a focus upon anyone other than God is unseemly at best, perhaps not even Christian, and that such attention given to Mary borders upon idolatry.
I suggest that the truth may be simpler: we do not like to think about things that unsettle us.
How does that apply to Mary, one might ask?
Well, for one thing, to think about Mary at any length leads one to think about the great portions of the life of Christ about which we know nothing at all. What was he like as a child? Did he get bruises and scrapes? Did he forget things, do his chores, have any chores? What did Mary and Joseph do with the gold, frankincense, and myrrh? Did they set up a trust fund for the child?
There’s more. What was it like, in the first days of what turned out much later to be the first century AD, to be pregnant and unmarried (at least for a while, till Joseph came along)? What did Joseph really think about the whole thing? How long did the neighbors gossip about it and count on their fingers the months from the wedding to the birth? What happened to Joseph, and how long did Mary live after he was gone?
What about the brothers and sisters of Jesus? What were family gatherings like?
What was it like to watch Jesus die? What did she think when she heard the report of the empty tomb? Why did Mary, if the tradition is true, go to stay with the apostle John?
Did Mary write any of it down? What would that story sound like, and would you like to read that Gospel?
How much did Mary understand? And how little do we understand about her?
Here’s an Advent challenge for us, particularly for those unacquainted with meditating on Mary the mother of Jesus: this season, from time to time, pause to think about the Christmas story unfolding through the life of Mary.
We do know that whatever happened in those days, Mary was at the beginning of it, and we are told that she treasured all these things in her heart. (Luke 2:19, 51) Let us also ponder that first Christmas season and treasure it. Remember Mary, and see Christmas through the eyes of the mother of Jesus.