Most of us recited the Magnificat in our church services this past Sunday, if we chose the option of reciting Canticle 3 in place of the psalm. We are used to hearing this as a favorite Evening Prayer canticle, but on this last Sunday of Advent it accompanied the story from Luke of Mary’s visit to Elizabeth prior to their respective miraculous child bearings.
We are told that Mary was a somewhat insignificant young teenager, a lowly handmaiden, to use her own words. And yet she was whom God chose to be the Christ-bearer. The Magnificat goes on to recite how this same God turned the world upside down, putting the mighty from their seats and exalting the humble and meek, filling the hungry with good things and sending the rich away empty.
This canticle is a powerful reminder that it is God who is in charge, not us. There is no reason Mary should have been the one to bear the Christ child and in human terms the mighty should not be put down nor the rich sent away empty. But God often takes the direction the forces of the world seem to choose and turns it around for God’s sake.
When we gather in our churches on Christmas Eve many of us will sing that well known carol, “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” There is a line in that hymn that goes, “the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.” What are the hopes and fears we will bring to our services this year? Certainly in these uncertain times we hope for secure employment and a steady income. On a larger scale, we hope for peace, an especially poignant hope for those families who have loved ones serving overseas in harm’s way. We also hope for reconciliation within our own diocese and a return to strength for that part of the Body of Christ we call the Diocese of Pittsburgh. And of course we hope for health for ourselves and our loved ones in the coming year. On the flip side, we fear that these things may not come to be.
Given the events of the past year, there may be some among us who are feeling haggard, and somewhat victimized. The world, and even the church has made that so. Such feelings make us feel small, and filled with fear. But just as God took an insignificant young girl and made her the first among all women, so I believe God will bless us this year in ways we cannot even imagine, and we will find just how “God imparts to human hearts, the blessings of his heaven.” My prayer on Christmas Eve will be that we may let go and let God direct us in the coming year so that the blessings of his heaven will be showered upon us. I invite you to join me in that prayer.
On December 28, Mariann and I will be moving to Pittsburgh and I cannot adequately describe the joy I feel in anticipation of being more fully in your midst as your bishop. I am convinced God has great things in store for us, if we but trust in his mercy. In the meantime, let us rejoice together as we listen to the Christmas angels and hear their great glad tidings that the Lord Emmanuel abides firmly in our midst.
Christmas blessing to you all.
Bishop Ken Price