December 15, 2008

Lectionary Leanings - Let It Be With Me

cozzolino: madonna del magnificat
Here is the fourth installment of my article for the Circuit Rider online:

December 21
II Sam. 7:1-11, 16, Luke 1:47-55 or Ps. 89:1-4, 19-26 , Romans 16:25-27, Luke 1:26-38

We read the beautiful telling of the annunciation in Luke’s gospel and imagine Mary as a mature, wise young woman, full of the grace of God and ready to face any challenge that might come her way. We witness her willingness to accept the burden (or joy) that God is bestowing upon her. We hear her song of praise to the God who has come to her, a lowly servant. And perhaps in light of our contemporary visions of teen pregnancy through such movies as “Juno,” “Saved,” and television shows like “The Secret Life of the American Teenager,” we are ready for the happy ending and to find out how it all works out in the end.

In doing so, we skip over the part about what a struggle it must have been for Mary in her pregnancy. How was she treated by her family? We are told in the gospel of Matthew that Joseph probably would have quietly broken off the engagement had not an angel of the Lord intervened. Her kinswoman Elizabeth was overjoyed to greet Mary and her unborn child – yet Elizabeth was also in on the secret of this divine birth and was in the middle of her own miraculous pregnancy. With the exception of these two, we don’t know how the rest of the family responded, or how her community responded. A young woman, still unmarried, becomes pregnant and the people are supposed to…what? Celebrate? Extol her virtues? Even if Mary told everyone that it was the Son of God in her womb, who would have believed her?

Luke gives us Mary’s song, commonly known as the Magnificat, precisely because it is the cry of a woman, or a people, waiting for liberation. It is the song of someone who has nothing left to lean on but God alone and whose sole trust lies in the promises of the scriptures. She sings as if the promise has already been fulfilled, “He has scattered the proud… He has brought down the powerful… he has filled the hungry.” Yet in her reality, life was still hard and the promise was still waiting. Mary’s joy is not the happy emotion of someone leading a perfect life, but the true joy that comes only from communion with the most holy God. It is the outpouring of emotion that comes only from surviving oppression and affliction and adversity.

As the angel appeared to Mary, he offered her comfort: “Do not be afraid,” the angel whispered in her ear. The words of the hymn, “You are Mine,” seem to express the words of encouragement that might have helped Mary find the strength to accept this blessing in her life, in spite of the difficulty, in spite of the whispers behind her back, in spite of the stigmas that would be attached. “Do not be afraid, I am with you… I love you and you are mine.”

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