Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Fourth Tuesday of Advent

Fourth Tuesday of Advent
December 20, 2011

And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.” (Luke 1:46-55)

…truly God has listened; he has given heed to the words of my prayer. Blessed be God, because he has not rejected my prayer or removed his steadfast love from me. (Psalm 66:19-20)

Mary has a significant role to play in the story of Jesus. She gratefully obeys God when he tells her of his intention to bring Jesus into the world; she gives birth to Jesus; she is present at his death and among the first to encounter the empty tomb. She is clearly an important player in this great drama.

Mary was correct in her prediction that all future generations would call her blessed. So far, that tradition has primarily been kept alive by Catholics, while Protestants tend to push Mary a bit to the margins. Nevertheless, she is important to the story.

In her prayer of praise, she lifts her eyes up to the Lord and acknowledges his heart for the lowly. She has experienced his favor for herself and she sees that same favor throughout the story of Israel. Mary demolishes the idea that the rich are the ones blessed by God; it is those in need who find his care. She sees Israel in general as needy, and in this mysterious, joyous anticipation of the birth of her son, she expects help to come to the nation.

There is a hint about God’s intention in the birth of Jesus in Mary’s prayer. She says that God’s help will come to Israel “according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.” That promise first appears in Genesis 12:1-3:

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

Mary understands that this gift of new life is for her, but not for her alone. It is the culmination of a promise made to Israel long ago—a promise for Israel, for the sake of the entire world—for the sake of us.

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