+ Two Reflections for “Sing Out! Ring Out!: A Festival Celebration of Advent” at First Lutheran Church, St. Peter, MN on December 20, 2015 +
A Song of Wonder – A Reflection on the Magnificat
Text: Luke 1:46-55
I think it’s safe to say that we each have our favorite things in life: favorite season, favorite food, favorite movie or book. I wonder how many of you
have a favorite Gospel? This is probably a super seminary nerdy thing to think about, what your favorite Gospel is, but I can say for sure that my favorite Gospel is Luke. One of the reasons Luke is my favorite is because it has so many songs in it! The first two chapters are packed with four songs: the song of Zechariah praising God and prophesying to his new son, John; the song of the angels at the birth of Jesus, singing, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace”; and the song of Simeon in the temple giving thanks to God for fulfilling God’s promises through Jesus’ coming. But my favorite of these Lukan songs is the first one, Mary’s song, often called the Magnificat.
Songs have a way of saying more than mere words ever can. By linking words and music, songs are able to express emotions and longings that cannot be held by text alone. Songs have long been used by movements or groups of people yearning for their vision of a better world. Songs like Luther’s “A Mighty Fortress,” the slave spiritual “Swing Low Sweet Chariot”, “We Shall Overcome” in the civil rights movement, and the anti-apartheid “Siyahamba” each took on lives of their own and gave oppressed singers and listeners hope for the future.
Mary’s Magnificat is another powerful song. It praises God for God’s history of redemption for Israel and looks forward to a time when oppression will cease and God’s justice will reign on earth. It sings of the wondrous wisdom of God as a poor young woman is chosen to be the very Mother of God.
In the words of Sister Marie Azzarello, “to pray the Magnificat…is to pray in union with Mary in joy, faith, and thanksgiving to God as the source of our being; it is to sing of God’s everlasting love and mercy which extends from age to age and to proclaim Mary’s hope in the fulfilment of the divine promises in favor of the whole of humanity…to pray the Magnificat is an expression of our desire to be honest about the state of our world and shows our conviction that the kingdom of God that Jesus preached is not a vision for an end time but a vision that begins now, in this world…”
As we journey toward Christmas, may Mary’s song be our song for our lives, the church, and our world.
A Song of Exaltation – A Reflection on the Nunc Dimittis
Text: Luke 2:29-32
When I was in college, I had the opportunity to sing in the Willamette University Chamber Choir for four years. One of our Chamber Choir traditions was to close concerts by singing the beautiful “Nunc Dimittis” by Alexander Gretchaninov. The words, which we just heard, are taken from the second chapter of Luke’s gospel in which the old sage Simeon meets the baby Jesus in the temple and sings exaltations to God. God had promised Simeon that he would not die before seeing the long-awaited Messiah. So when Simeon saw Jesus, God’s salvation for the world, God’s promise was fulfilled and Simeon was able to die in peace.
For our choir, the Nunc Dimittis was our signature song that every member learned and knew by heart – it connected us in ways other songs couldn’t. When we had concerts, went on tour, or had reunions, former Chamber Choir members from over a decade prior knew the song would join us and we could sing together as one. I can remember distinctly my final concert with the Chamber Choir when I was a senior – we held each other’s hands and sang the Nunc Dimittis one last time. We cried together as we sang and gave thanks and praise for the time we had together and for the music we had made together.
Simeon’s Song has been used for centuries as part of compline, or night prayer, and has long been sung by Lutherans on Sundays after Holy Communion. We join in Simeon’s singing to give thanks for the day and for the wonders of God’s creation. We extol God as we close our worship services after meeting Christ, God’s salvation for the world, here in this community, through scriptures and song, and in, with, and under the bread and the wine of Holy Communion. And now that we have the light of Christ within and among us, we ask that God will send us forth again in peace so we may proclaim Christ’s advent and new birth on Christmas so all nations and people may know the love and faithfulness of God through Christ Jesus our Lord.