Magnification of Light

Russian School; The Virgin Hodegetria; Paintings Collection; mid-19th c, Victoria & Albert Museum, London;,

Scripture Text: Luke 1: 46-55 (Advent 4C Psalter)

46And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, 47and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 49for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. 50His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. 51He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. 52He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; 53he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. 54He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, 55according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

Here we go again.  Every year on this Sunday, the fourth Sunday of Advent, we light all four colored candles on the wreath and we read this for our psalter.  It is well known and, depending on how it rests on you when you hear it, it is either the beautiful and poetic “Song of Mary” or it is the hard-hitting, uncomfortable Magnificat.  Magnificat is Latin for “magnifies”, from the root magnificare, which means “greatly” or “to make much of”.  E. Stanley Jones, an American Methodist missionary, once called the Magnificat “the most revolutionary document in the world.”  It is said that The Magnificat so terrified the Russian Czars that they tried to outlaw its reading.  It’s been used in Argentina to call for non-violent resistance and the government of Guatemala banned its recitation altogether in the 1980’s.  It is a call to revolution, the beginning of a new society, the dawn of a New Creation.

These words depict God’s vision for the world.  It is not a world where the best and the brightest and the richest and the most powerful come out on top.  It is not a world that we can control.  It is a world where God’s presence and God’s Light are poured onto all.  But it comes with a price. Those who have, those who are, those whose lives are filled with plenty are called to change, to open their lives to God and to others. Because God will scatter the proud, those who think they have it figured out, those who are so sure of their rightness and their righteousness.  In other words, those of us who think that we have it all nailed down will be shaken to our core.  The powerful–those with money, those with status, those with some false sense of who they are above others–will be brought down from their high places.  The poor and the disenfranchised, those who we think are not good enough or righteous enough, will be raised up. They will become the leaders, the powerful, the ones that we follow.  The hungry will feel pangs no more and those who have everything–the hoarders, the affluent, those are the ones whose coffers will be emptied to feed and house the world. 

These words are indeed a magnification, a magnification of Light.  We have journeyed toward the Light expecting it to save us, expecting it to shine its warm glow into our lives.  But when we read these words, we realize how bright the Light really is.  This Light doesn’t just shine on us.  It shines on everything, illuminating the dark corners and dirty vestibules of our world and exposing the pain and injustices that still exist and of which WE are still guilty.  It’s uncomfortable.  So, we are tempted to shrink back into the darkness once again.  The problem is that this IS a revolution and revolutions do not tend to be warm and fuzzy.  Revolutions have jagged edges that will cut into your heart and, yes, change you.

The Light is coming.  It is bright and magnified and something we’ve never seen before.  God came into the world to turn the world upside-down (or maybe right-side up).  God didn’t start it by choosing a great religious leader or a political powerhouse or even a charismatic young preacher.  God chose a girl, a poor underage girl from a third-world country with dark skin and dark eyes whose family may be so questionable that they are not even mentioned and whose marital status seemed to teeter on the edge of acceptable society.  God chose to shine the Light on the WHOLE world.  Our response is to reflect that Light and magnify it further.

The Advent mystery is the beginning of the end in all of us that is not yet Christ. (Thomas Merton) 

Grace and Peace,


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