At this time of year, it seems that music takes a more prominent place in our daily lives as Christmas music and winter songs are piped into shopping malls and through radio stations all over town. There are school concerts, holiday concerts, marching bands in parades, and music specials on television. I’m not sure that there is really more music surrounding us as Christmas approaches, but something about the season tunes our ears in a different way. A particular magazine I enjoy recently capitalized on this awareness in one of its motivational columns. The author writes about the day she discovered her personal theme song. She was on her way to a meeting with a potential publisher, and each moment of travel time was raising her anxiety level. Then she remembered the story of a certain dancer’s earliest Hollywood audition, where the studio had written “Can’t sing. Can dance a little.” on the comment card. That dancer was Fred Astaire. The author concluded that he must have drawn his courage to keep going from music – and so she decided to sing the song that came to her – “I’m The Greatest Star” from Funny Girl. By the time she arrived at her meeting, she was filled with confidence and energy, and she had her personal theme song. The author writes that she still sings that song whenever she needs a boost of energy and confidence for a difficult situation: she doesn’t always “make the sale, but she always brings her best self.”
A source of strength that prepares us for whatever comes next , that energy to move forward is the finishing touch to the season of waiting and watching we call Advent. After hearing the warnings to be ready,
and the annunciation of what is coming, on this Fourth Sunday of Advent, we have come to that final moment of expectation. The young, single, pregnant teenaged Mary travels to her cousin Elizabeth – perhaps to share her news with an older and wiser friend, or perhaps she was simply running away from her own town where the likely consequence for an unwed mother was being stoned. Whatever brings her to the home of Elizabeth, what she finds there is a warm welcome and a blessing.
And in that moment – in the relief and warmth of that moment - Mary finds her song. The song that will carry her through whatever is to come, whatever the world throws at her. For a task as great as hers – to bear the Son of God into a broken and hurting world – not any song will sustain her. Rather, she sings a new song, the Magnificat, to mark the creation of a new world beginning with the child she carries. It is a song born from wonder and waiting. It is a lullaby and a battle cry all in one. It is the song of a young woman who finds welcome and blessing, and through that welcome, is able to remember that God’s promises are never empty, and God’s mercies are never-ending. The Magnificat is the hope of the generations, given voice and set to music. It is the final and joyful song of Advent.
What is your Advent song? In the waiting and watching of life, what words are there to describe the fulfillment of God’s promise in your life, in this community, in this world? If you have been welcomed and comforted, received a blessing through family or friends, or glimpsed the joy of expectancy, then the Magnificat is your song too.
But the Magnificat is born from more than joy, because Mary’s story is more complicated than that. The song of Mary sings of promise, but also of the hungry and the lowly. It is born not only from blessing, but from long fearful journeys and years of unanswered prayer. It dreams of the time when God’s justice and mercy rule the earth – but only because Mary is too familiar with a world where justice and mercy are altogether rare. So for many who wait and watch this Advent, unable to find their own song of hope: Mary will find one for you, and this is your song too.
Tradition claims Mary as mother of the church, and so her song is the song of all the faithful. Its joy is born not from naïve optimism, but from traveling through darkness and then glimpsing the light. Its hope rests not in our own exaltedness, but in knowing that God would come among us and share our lowliness. That is the hope and joy we are called to, not only in this season of Advent that is drawing to an end, but in our lives as disciples of Emmanuel. God was with Mary and Elizabeth, not only as they gathered together as women of faith, but before that, in the waiting and the wondering. And in this place and time, God comes to be with us not only moments of welcome and blessing, but in moments of fear and confusion. It may be harder to know God’s love in those moments, but that is the gift of community. It was Elizabeth speaking words of blessing that enabled Mary to sing. Our prayers and actions can lift one another until we can look for God-with-us and sing together “My soul magnifies the Lord.”