Advent and Christmas form a unique “Marian Season.” Christians recall that it was Mary (along with Joseph), awaiting the birth of her son, who celebrated the very first advent. Mary made a unique faith journey, preparing for Christ’s nativity for nine full months. During this time Mary can be heard singing the Magnificat, a song of praise, the same canticle she probably sung repeatedly during the nine months of her pregnancy, the original advent season.
An Advent Hymn. “The song of Mary is the oldest Advent hymn,” preached Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian killed by the Nazis during the Second World War. “It is at once the most passionate, the wildest, one might say, the most revolutionary Advent hymn ever sung. This 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.”
Bonhoeffer Continues. “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.” Yes, Mary sings a song that proclaims God’s gracious, effective compassion and liberation!
Faith and Service. It is helpful to recall the context of Mary’s Magnificat hymn. Mary has generously said fiat [yes, let it be] to the invitation to become the Mother of God through Gabriel’s Annunciation (Lk 1:26-38). Her deep faith and willingness to serve have prompted her to make the arduous journey to Ain Karim, a trip of over sixty miles from Nazareth.
Mary’s Visitation to Elizabeth (Lk 1:39-45) is a generous act of service; though pregnant herself, she does not hesitate to be of service to another much older Jewish woman, six months pregnant with her first child. What a scene of great joy! Mary and Elizabeth, both faithful women of Israel, have been uniquely blessed by the Most High.
In Luke’s Gospel, Mary’s Magnificat is the long and beautiful prayer-poem she uttered on this emotion-filled occasion.
Joining Mary’s Song. The Magnificat, which the entire Church says daily during Vesper prayer, must remain a challenge for us—at Christmas and always. Christians need to constantly integrate prayer and praise of God (worship) with commitment to social transformation (justice). To glorify God demands striving to be anawim, opting for the poor, the hungry, the powerless. To be Christian demands a reversal of values; one must become “counter-cultural,” challenging the status quo.
We join with Mary in both praising God for his loving-kindness and in generously embracing the poor of this world. Indeed, it is only in this two-fold way that our celebration of the Advent-Christmas season will be authentic! May you, your loved ones and family enjoy a “Magnificat Advent-Christmas,” filled with both singing God’s praises and serving our needy neighbors. I will already wish you a “Mary Christmas”!
James H. Kroeger, M.M.
First Sunday of Advent
Fill our hearts to overflowing with your love
O Blessed Virgin Mary that we might join you in praising
the wonderful works God is doing in this world through you with Jesus.
Behold, the mighty fall from their thrones even as God raises up the lowly.
The poor are filled with good things even as the rich are sent empty away.
In and through you, O Blessed Mother, God’s word took flesh and was born
to turn our world upside down that we might seek and find your Son
not in palaces and mansions but in the lowly and humble dwellings
of the poor and oppressed.
Teach us, Mother Mary, to rejoice ever in the wonders of God-With-Us,
Emmanuel! Promised from of old now born in the fullness of time
to dwell among us who have no power save in the Name of Jesus, our Lord.
Come, Lord Jesus, return soon that we might live with you forever.
By Fr. Joseph Veneroso. M.M.