As an almost daily grocery shopper I have become quite well known at the local Shaw’s in Newburyport. Each time I go someone on the staff calls out a greeting to me. Colin, at the fish counter is always asking me to bless his pens. He thinks that I have some kind of ‘in’ with God, so that if I bless his pens he’ll be more likely to win at the race tracks. Joyce, Jennifer, and Brandylee are always curious about how many guests we have at Emery House, and Ron and Jim at the meat counter have told me some pretty fabulous ways to cook various kinds of meat. If what I want isn’t out they gladly do up a special order for me. Just ask me sometime about Jim’s recipe for ribs wrapped in plastic and foil! In the last few months the manager has also begun to greet me whenever he sees me. By now most of them know I run a retreat centre. Some of them know I am a priest. A few of them know I am a monk. Curiously enough, it is not because I told them those things about me. Somehow they have figured that out. Now every so often one of them will ask me to pray for them, or they will tell me something that I don’t think they would tell one of their other customers.
That happened on Friday. I got to the grocery store about 10 AM and there at the door was the manager, Jim. He was pushing around a great bin of avocados and after he greeted me, I made some comment about him now being in charge of the avocados. He smiled and told me they had just had a moment of silence at 9:30 and that he was now putting things back to where they had been. He didn’t have to tell me why they had had a moment of silence Friday morning at 9:30. I knew. Newtown.
It is often hard to make sense of the world in the face of such overwhelming loss and grief. Words are often feeble at best and sentimental at worst. What on earth is there to say that doesn’t seem silly, feeble or too sentimental?
Life for two cousins nearly two thousand years ago was not any different than it is for us. Like us they lived in the face of loss and grief and probably not a little fear. They knew the stories of random killings and senseless violence. They had probably seen some of it themselves. They knew about lost hope and tragic death. Like us they had somehow to make sense of it all. And it was no easier for them. Like us, words for them were often feeble at best and sentimental at worst. What on earth is there to say?
In just over 36 hours we will be celebrating Christmas. In Newtown some of the decorations have already come down. What on earth is there to say? Words are often feeble at best and sentimental at worst. How can we sing in the face of such overwhelming loss and grief?
Yet Mary and Elizabeth did sing, not in denial of the world they knew, but in hope of the world that could be. They sang not out of a sense of sentimental wishful thinking, but out of a conviction that God was about to do a great thing in spite of, and because of, it all. They sang not as a way to turn their backs on the loss and grief and fear of their lives but as a way to stare those same losses and grief and pain in the face. They sang, and sang and sang.
My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior; *
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed: *
the Almighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his Name.
He has mercy on those who fear him *
in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm, *
he has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, *
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things, *
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has come to the help of his servant Israel, *
for he has remembered his promise of mercy,
The promise he made to our fathers, *
to Abraham and his children for ever.
For some, Christmas is the apex of sentimentality. They forever attempt, and mostly fail, to achieve that Hallmark moment. Yet for others, and I hope for all of us here, Christmas is not a time of sentimental wishful thinking but a time to sing, not in denial of a world that is, but in hope of a world that could be.
Mary and Elizabeth knew firsthand about tragedy, grief, loss and fear. And who here does not have their version of that? The parents of Newtown know firsthand about tragedy, grief, loss and fear. And who here does not have their version of that. It may not be on the same scale or magnitude, but who here does not have their version of that?
It seems to me that we have a choice this Christmas. We can either wrap our Christmas in feeble and sentimental words trying to achieve that Hallmark moment for ourselves and our world or we can sing. We can sing, not in denial of the world as it is, but in hope of a world that could be: a world of mercy, justice and peace, a Magnificat world.
The promise of God in the Magnificat which Mary sings is not a feeble or sentimental promise, full of wishful thinking denying that things ever were. The promise of God in the Magnificat that Mary sings is a bold conviction of how things can be. And that is what we celebrate tomorrow: not that things never were, but how things can be.
Today and tomorrow we sing! We sing in the face of Newtown and Gaza and Syria. We sing in the face of our own losses, grief and tragedies. We sing with Mary and Elizabeth and the countless women and men who have sung through the ages, perhaps feebly, but certainly not sentimentally. We sing, not turning our back on a world that is, but facing a world that God is making, even now: a world of mercy, justice and peace, a Magnificat world.
So let’s sing! Let’s sing today, and tomorrow and that day after that and help God bring about a Magnificat world.
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