Lectionary Reflection for the Fourth Sunday of Advent
December 23, 2012
And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. And they shall live secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth; and he shall be the one of peace. Micah 5:4-5a
And Mary said, My soul magnifies the Lord; And my spirit rejoices in God my Savior. . . Luke 1:46-47
On the fourth Sunday of Advent Mary sings a lovely and powerful song of praise, what we know as “The Magnificat.” Luke tells of Mary’s traveling to her cousin Elizabeth’s house where she is greeted with confirmation of her favored status among women, indeed among all humankind. She is the Theotokos, the one who bears God into the world, and at the same time a very ordinary yet altogether extraordinary teenage Jewish girl. Her faith, simple in its obedience and reliance on the Divine One, is a wonder for us, a true witness to what it means to be centered in God’s will and a full participant in the advent of God’s reign on earth.
Even though this Sunday and this song come about every year, the words always ring afresh for me. This week I find myself wanting and needing to hear Mary’s song, as well as with the prophecy spoken in the words from Micah over the waves of pain and suffering in our world. Both lessons remind us of God’s preferential treatment of the poor, marginalized, and ordinary. Most importantly, Mary and Micah speak of God’s faithfulness. God keeps promises, and God does not abandon us.
The backstories of Mary and the people of Israel remind us that tragedy, uncertainty, anxiety, and sorrow are part of the landscape of all times and places and of all peoples. And, while it is easy to isolate and claim our own age as the epitome of all that is wrong in the universe, logic and history tell quite a different tale. Yes, there is an ample portion of darkness and pain to go around in this present day, but there is always hope for those who put their faith in the promises of God.
This coming Friday, December 21, marks the longest night of the year for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, and these have been dark days leading up to it. Yet there is hope. We will gather together on Sunday and again on Monday and again on Tuesday to light candles, sing praises, share Christ’s meal, and celebrate that darkness will not defeat light, that evil cannot triumph over good in the end, and that God became human and lived among us. The incarnation is hope, pure living hope draped in bone and flesh for us to encounter and share.
Here is good news we can celebrate and experience again and again: God has and is doing great things through ordinary people. We are invited as disciples to be part of this grand narrative of faith and life abundant. In the tiny baby whose birth we will soon celebrate, in the meal he instituted, in the beloved community, and in all of God’s good creation, we encounter the incarnation–each and every day. We can, like Mary, raise our heads, our hearts, and our voices to rejoice. In these waning days of Advent we can wait and anticipate and believe that the light is coming again into the world for you, for me, and for everyone.
Consider creating a PowerPoint presentation to accompany singing “The Canticle of the Turning” (#723 in Evangelical Lutheran Worship, and may be in other hymnals as well). Involve congregation members, particularly youth, if possible in selecting images to illustrate the words of this beautiful hymn. Click here for an example from The Episcopal Church of St. Simon & St. Jude in Irmo, SC.
Consider a service project to benefit a women’s shelter or ministry for single mothers. You might tie fleece blankets, bake cookies, prepare a meal, or offer a free night of babysitting. Invite a speaker to visit your class or youth group to talk about a ministry or program that benefits vulnerable women and children.
Alternately, discuss the concept of Theotokos, or “God-bearer.” Show a collection of images and icons of Mary as Theotokos. Invite youth to think about how we as Christians are also “God-bearers” to the world. Give thanks for Mary’s great faith, overflowing joy, and unwavering obedience.
Almost…but not Quite!
Today we light four candles on the Advent wreath, but we’re not quite there yet–not quite ready to light the center candle. Ask the children what sort of preparations they have been making with their families at home. Have they put up a tree? Cleaned the house and decorated it? Baked cookies? Wrapped presents? Marked time with an Advent Calendar or wreath at home? Read nightly Advent devotionals? Are they getting excited yet? Of course!
Tell them that soon and very soon it will be time to celebrate but not quite yet. We need to patient just a little bit longer. Give them (or help them make if you have time) blue and white beaded bracelets to wear until Christmas day. Tell them that whenever the excitement and anticipation gets to be too much and they start to be cross, to look at the bracelet and for each bead to find something for which they are grateful. Remind them that taking time, like Mary did, to be grateful and to rejoice in God’s good gifts is a wonderful way to keep the spirit of Advent all the way to Christmas Day.