Magnificat – Br. Jim Woodrum

Br. Jim Woodrum

Luke 1:46-56

Today’s gospel lection from Luke is known as the Magnificat, the first word of the Latin phrase Magnificat anima mea Dominum: “My soul magnifies the Lord.” In the monastic setting, including this monastery, it is the song that Mary, the mother of Jesus, sings at each Evensong through us and with us. It is a song of praise to God, a song of celebration, a song of joy, and a song of hope. Each time we chant this ancient hymn, we cannot help but feel warm and fuzzy, envisioning Mary singing her Magnificat in the presence of her cousin Elizabeth. These two women share with each other the wonder of what God is doing in their lives: one pregnant way past her prime and the other pregnant way too early.

If we take a closer look, beyond any cliché sentiments that might tempt us to get stuck, we can discern that it is also a song about revolution. In order for God to fulfill His promises conveyed through the prophets, and for all nations to be blessed through the descendants of Abraham and Sarah, the oppression imposed by institutional religion and the Empire had to be overthrown. Reflecting on this passage, theologian N.T. Wright suggests, “Nobody would normally thank God for blessing if they were poor, hungry, enslaved, and miserable. God would have to win a victory over the bullies, the powerbrokers, the forces of evil which people like Mary and Elisabeth knew all to well, living as they did in the dark days of Herod the Great, whose casual brutality was backed up with the threat of Rome.”

In our contemporary era, the parallels to the world of Mary and Elizabeth are striking: systemic racism, the dominance of not just one empire but many, genocide, and war. These similarities extend to a pandemic of loneliness, the distortion of truth through alternative facts, and a pervasive suspicion of those who look, act, think, process, and experience life differently from us. The consequences of these issues have wrought havoc and fueled the flames of chaos. We find ourselves caught in the darkness between two Advents: the initial Advent marked by God’s incarnation in the person of Jesus Christ, and the impending second Advent when Christ will return in glory, bringing to fruition the salvation of all creation initiated with the first Advent.

When we sing Mary’s song, her Magnificat, each evening in the context of Evening Prayer, we are not only joining her in praising God, celebrating, expressing joy, and embracing hope, but we are also aligning ourselves with her revolutionary song. This anthem calls for the dismantling of institutions and empires of oppression that favor the wealthy and powerful while exploiting the poor, hungry, enslaved, and miserable.

God’s kingdom is characterized by justice and equity under His most gracious rule—a realm that seeks to restore our entire creation to the goodness declared by God in each of His creative acts.

As we chant the Magnificat in these final days before Christmas, bookended by the profound ‘O Antiphons,’ reflect on the profound truth embedded in these words for your own life. How are you, and how are we, blessed through the gospel of Jesus Christ? In what ways can we emulate Mary and Elisabeth by giving our consent to our spiritual vocations and actively participating in the spread of the gospel?

Consider the actions that God is calling us to undertake during this period between Jesus’ first and second Advent—a revolutionary time for the restoration of God’s kingdom amid the prevailing darkness. Let your prayer be one of praise and thanksgiving, seeking guidance on how you can contribute to this divine mission.

 Magnificat anima mea Dominum: My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior. Amen.

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