On waiting with joy


Luke 1:46-55

 And Mary said,
‘My soul magnifies the Lord, 
   and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, 
for he has looked with favour 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 for ever.’


Today we celebrate Advent, the season of waiting for Jesus to be born, and we celebrate with the Magnificat, the pregnant Mary’s song of praise as she also waits.

First let’s get a few things straight about Mary. She was young, but of normal marrying age for her era and not as much younger than Joseph, as is often depicted. She is neither meek nor mild, I think her song about bringing down the powerful from their thrones speaks for itself on that count, and she is not a divine advertisement for female sexual availability. When she told the angel yes, she would carry the child of God her answer, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word” is the answer of a prophet, not a concubine.

But the accumulated muck of bias aside, Mary is a bit of a shadowy figure. We know a few events in her life as they relate to Jesus, and even a few of her personal reactions to them, but in the scheme of the gospels we hear very little from her. Today’s reading is the most she speaks, or rather sings, and it is not at all what one might expect a pregnant teenager to say. There’s nothing here about babies or family, in spite of the fact that she might very well have expected delivering her firstborn son to be the most important achievement of her life. Instead Mary begins with praise for God’s faithfulness to her personally and then leaps straight into the greater meanings of this birth: God has fulfilled the promises to Abraham, has filled the hungry with good food and sent the rich away, and has “scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.”

You might notice something else odd about Mary’s song, and that is that she is singing about the future actions she anticipates for Jesus in the past tense. Much academic ink has been spilled over this, but essentially Mary is rejoicing over something that hasn’t happened yet, but is consistent with what she knows of God’s actions in the past and what the angel told her to anticipate for the future. So she claims the joy now, even in the first fragile months of her pregnancy, before she could know beyond a doubt that she would have a son, she knew that this child was worth waiting for beyond anything she had experienced in her young life. She knew that she was not alone in her waiting; that God and generations of promise stood with her. And she knew, even as the full beauty and pain of who her child would be were still beyond her, that what was holy would turn her whole world upside down.

Like Mary, we never really understand the full implications of what we hope for, especially when those hopes involve God and the holy. Our hopes go out beyond us, and they should. In our anticipation we can only know part of what it is we wait for. Our anticipations may not be as world upsetting as giving birth to the Christ child, but they do go beyond what appears on the surface and even have potential to go into the realm of holiness more often than I think we realize.

I don’t know what it is that you are waiting for, whether the longings most personal and dear to your heart or the things that might seem a bit frivolous, but I believe they are all more than meet the eye. That even in your most joyful, or nervous, or sad or frustrated anticipation, there will be parts that are more beautiful, more complex and more holy than you can know. So I hope that together we can wait like Mary, knowing that what we wait for with God is so worth it, trusting that we can go ahead and claim some of that joy even of things that have not yet come to pass, and making room for a bit of awe that all that we wait for is both very human and will be brought by God’s presence into being something that is also a bit divine. May you find joy in the waiting.