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The Advent Story (part 2): Awe

By December 17, 2014Reflections

Last week, in the first post of this mini Advent series, we took time to ponder the mystery of God’s good news to Mary. This week, we turn from announcement to awe, and return for those of you with us last Sunday to the fascinating prayer of Mary known as “The Magnificat”. Now perhaps this past Sunday as we read the prayer together in the practice of lectio divina, you heard God whisper to you though this text in the most beautiful of ways. Perhaps for others, you couldn’t feel less connected to this young Jewish girl who has been so “blessed by God”. A post on “awe” you see can be a very difficult thing to read. For those of doing “well”, awe is easy and fluid, as we pause for a few moments in our day to sing a Christmas carol or two, think appreciatively that Christ is coming, and get back to wrapping presents to place under the tree. For others of us though, especially in seasons of struggling, awe feels almost unimaginable, something that we used to be capable of, only now to feel through the most distant of fogs. My hope in speaking about awe is not to discourage one, or the other but to take a moment as we listen intentionally to Mary’s words to reflect on why it was that Mary felt so “blessed” and if, just maybe if, the awe Mary describes is not an invitation to all this advent season:

Magnificat

Magnificat

“And Mary said, ‘my soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my savior, 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 might has done great things for me, and holy is name.” Mary certainly starts her prayer with a bang. Indeed, there is a passion in Mary’s words that seems to only come out in us only in our most joyously ‘lost-for-words’ experiences. God has chosen this humble servant, a girl from Nazareth, and what he is doing through her will cause all to look back and reflect on how blessed she is! But here we must pause as I’m sure some can already feel the “thankful” application steps looming in the horizon; “Look at how humble Mary is so grateful for being blessed by God,” then another voice chimes in, “We too should be thankful  for all the blessings of God.” Yes if I were to wager a bet, thankfulness is an often encouraged message this time of year. Now don’t hear me wrong, thankfulness is a very good and necessary thing. The point of Mary’s prayer however is not just that we should be thankful. She pushes beyond just praying “thanks” and I think if we’re to join Mary this advent season in preparing for our king, we too need more than just thankfulness. We need awe.

In the next few verses of her prayer, somehow this young Jewish girl was able to see a much bigger picture unfold before her, as she reflected on God’s choosing her for the task of bearing his son. Notice in verse 29 she says, “his mercy is on those who fear him from generation to generation” Woah. This is no longer just about Mary and God and his blessings to her, but about the cosmic outworking of God’s mercy on those who fear him. Then it gets even bigger; “He has show 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 his offspring forever.” Strength with his arm, scattering the proud, toppling thrones, exalting the humble, filling the hungry and emptying the rich; this prayer is no longer simply about what God has done for Mary, but has become a profound reflection of how God interacts with the world. Kings are brought low before God’s feet, while servants are placed on the throne. The beggars living on dirt roads are being invited into God’s feasts while the rich are being stripped of their possessions. What kind of a God is this? “Well,” Mary concludes, “this is the kind of God who has been working in Israel since the days of his promises to Abraham, who mercifully remembers and redeems his people for himself and sets the world right in the process.”  Mary looks at herself and the announcement God has just made to her and realizes that rather than be surprised, this is the very God who has been faithful to Israel all along and in Mary is embodying the way he has always chosen to work in the world.

Now if that doesn’t invite us to our knees in awe with Mary, I don’t know what will.

There is however application to be had, even if it is not just an inward gazing one, meant to urge us all to be thankful for what we have this Advent season. Awe is far more than just thankfulness. Awe is the realization that the God we serve throws out kings for servants, the rich for the poor and is utterly merciful to his people in the process. If I were to get a chance to sit down with you, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that this past year or season has held its own store of surprising reversals. Maybe things you thought would be wonderful have turned out to be filled with disappointment. Or maybe it has been that insignificant person or thing you thought you’d ignore that has become entirely meaningful in your life in a way you couldn’t have imagined before. Maybe this next season for you holds its own store of merciful reversals, hungers in your life being filled and riches becoming poor.  As we mentioned last week, Mary’s story and this season of advent does not promise God’s good news of his son won’t come at a cost. What is offered to us though in this season of Advent is a time of preparation for us to join together in our little Practice tribe in holy longing and eager expectation for our King to appear. And maybe, just maybe catch a glimpse with Mary of the awe-some God that we serve.

Peace,
John Perrine

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