The Oldest Advent Hymn

Today’s Gospel from Luke is the song Dietrich Bonhoeffer termed “the oldest Advent hymn” – the Magnificat. “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,” Mary cries out, going on to express her confidence that God is at work in the midst of a world of struggle and pain. However bleak things might look, God has “remembered his promise of mercy, the promise he made to our fathers, to Abraham and his children for ever.”

The Magnificat sings of a future of justice and peace brought about through the mercy of God. The Mary who sings this song, says Bonhoeffer, “is not the gentle, tender, dreamy Mary whom we sometimes see in paintings; this is the passionate, surrendered, proud, enthusiastic Mary who speaks out here. This song has none of the sweet, nostalgic, or even playful tones of some of our Christmas carols. It is instead a hard, strong, inexorable song about collapsing thrones and humbled lords of this world, about the power of God and the powerlessness of humankind.”

I’ve written more than once in recent weeks about hope. I have done so for the same reason we need to listen to the Magnificat: we need to hear over and over again the message that God is still at work, even in the midst of terrorism, poverty, war, suffering and heartache. In the midst of the things that tempt us to hopelessness, we affirm that changes can and will happen through the grace of God. This is the central message of Advent.

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One thought on “The Oldest Advent Hymn

  1. Susan, thank you, especially for the last paragraph reminder. . .

    I often smile when thinking about the Grace of God – ever flowing, gifted for reason often incomprehensible – though seemly a struggle to share completely all gifted to us with His children. Patience please, yes there are a few more acts of kindness and mercy I need to share than there are days remaining before Christmas to fulfill my pledge of Susan’s Advent challenge. . .

    Susan’s challenge may have been embraced by more than those who subscribe to her blog. Last Monday, after my yearly doctor visit and while back in the reception area, waiting for blood work, a older woman – attired modestly at best and with the aid of her walker chose the chair next to me.

    A couple of minutes after smiles were shared and I had returned to and concluded a delightful conversation of Christmas traditions and holiday dishes with a woman seated to my right who grew up in Montgomery Alabama the older woman on my left commented on my (apparently) bright gold, diamond and ruby bracelet (gold platted with artificial stones). She must have heard my gentle inquiries posed to the woman from Montgomery, for during the next ten minutes or so (until I was called for my labs) my thank you for her compliment and my initial greeting transitioned into conversation sharing childhood Christmas memories and eventually (subtly) her bittersweet reality of having no family in the Twin Cities other than those sharing the nursing home with her. Christmas wishes offered and received ushered me towards the lab. . .

    Returning to the reception area, while buttoning my coat and raising my gaze toward the exit I was met with a hand extended across the top of her walker – and as I drew near to join my hand to hers her soft voice spoke before mine, “Thank you and Bless you my dear.”

    God’s grace rests within and His invitations to share are ever present – are we ever ‘present’ in love, kindness and mercy?

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