Looking Back on the Forward Looking
“Mary’s womb contained the impossible, the unthinkable. In that sacred little room of hers was nurtured the seed that would save the world from darkness. Encoded there as if on a double helix, were the martyrs and mystics, the cathedrals and the statues, the Christian East and West, the songs of the monks, the encyclicals, the poems, the millions of children who might otherwise not have been.”
Michael D. O’Brien
I remember a very humbling experience that happened over a decade ago. I was ruminating about my Dad’s terminal illness out loud, when a co-worker looked at me and said, “Maybe it’s not about you. Maybe it’s about your Dad.” In the navel-gazing of life, we tend to view events solely through the prism of our own experience. Fortunately there are times of the year that get us out of our own head, and we cast our gaze to more worthy contemplations.
Around the time of Advent it is customary to crack open some of the time-worn Scriptures leading up to Christmas. They give us pause to think over our relationship to stories larger than our own, and what those stories require of us.
My favourite is the Magnificat, the spontaneous song of praise when Mary understood that she would bear the Messiah. Mary’s famous response to her out-of-wedlock pregnancy is not what you might expect. The passage is found in Luke chapter 1, verses 46-55.
“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. And 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 mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”
Mary was a pregnant teen, and this is not the kind of response that might come with that territory. I can only see it as inspired. She saw beyond her immediate circumstance to the bigger picture, perhaps through eyes of the Spirit. It is a simple statement of faith spanning the ages, that God is good and will fulfill his promises.
Such simple faith grows legs and spills over onto the rest of us. That is why I still like to read the Magnificat leading up to Christmas. It is good to forget about ourselves and the rush of life as we gaze into God’s overarching plan.
The Magnificat is of a literary form called a ‘doxology’. A doxology is a spontaneous burst of praise, often sung, although what has passed down is the words, and not the music. I think that music is of the heart and beyond our scope of rational understanding. Like Mary, we understand such things only by instinct as the Spirit enables us. Mary celebrated her life woven into a story larger than her own, and the same invitation extends to us all, especially at Christmas.
It comes as somewhat of a relief that the story is not really about me, but it can include me. I can be witness to a larger story, and one that lasts longer than my own. Looking back on the forward looking…. is at the heart of the Advent journey. Joining this long queue in the history of faith makes us part of the Christmas story, enough to make your very heart sing.