I was pregnant with my first child in December 2000. When my pastor colleague and I divided up the services we would lead and preach during that Advent season, I requested the third Sunday. Mary’s Magnificat, Luke 1:46b-55, was the lectionary text assigned for that week.
I wanted to preach on this text while I was pregnant, for I assumed—or at least I hoped—I would be able to resonate with Mary’s sense of awe and wonder at what lay ahead for her. Surely, a woman in her seventh month of pregnancy could channel Mary’s joy, honor, humility, and sense of purpose. I anticipated that I would be able to speak some unique word of comfort and hope to a gathered people because I, like Mary, was carrying a precious gift within me.
In the early weeks of December, I began to read and pray and research and prepare the service and my sermon. I consulted numerous worship aids with samples and examples of prayers and liturgies to incorporate into the service outline. I carefully selected hymns for the congregation to sing and consulted with the music director on the musical selections for the service. I took great care to craft a meaningful and holy service so the congregation might join me in magnifying the Lord and rejoicing in God. And I waited for God’s Spirit to fill me with great words for a sermon.
Those words never came.
I led worship that Sunday morning. I preached a sermon, but it was . . . unremarkable. I only recall that what I thought and felt that day fell far short of my expectations. My words weren’t nearly as eloquent as Mary’s. I wanted my words to soar. I wanted my words to inspire. I wanted to express the deep down hope and dreams a mother holds for her child. The confidence that the child I carried would, one day, change the world. The gratitude that God chose me to parent this blessed infant.
Nearly two decades have passed since that December Sunday. My daughter is now almost 19, and in her unique way, she is changing the world. She has been a blessing to our family and to many. I got what I hoped for, and what I expected, even if she’s not Jesus and I’m not Mary.
This season, I resonate with the sentiment Jesus expresses in Matthew 11:2–11. “What did you go out . . . to look at?”(v. 7) “What did you go out to see?”(v. 8a & 9a) The crowds around Jesus witnessed his acts of healing: “the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them”(v. 5). Those who ventured into the wilderness to meet John the Baptist met a prophet, a messenger, the one who prepared the way for Jesus’ coming.
It’s as if Jesus is telling the crowds, “You got what was foretold to you.” But did they get what they expected?
Mary, in her song, rejoices in the favor she has received from God. She offers praise and honor to God for the good things God has done for her. Did Mary expect to give birth to the Son of God? However one answers this question, it is not a hard to imagine that Mary carried dreams and expectations of good things for the child in her womb. The hope a parent holds for any child.
In her song, Mary announces God’s mercy and justice, God’s strength and promise for the world. She tells that the powerful will be brought down and the lowly lifted up; the hungry will be fed and the rich sent away, empty. Did Mary expect Jesus to be the One who embodied these promises for God’s people?
In these times of turmoil and injustice, we have this song of Mary which proclaims a turning of the world. God did great things in Mary. And in her Son. As we look for change, as we long for peace, as we work for God’s justice, let us set our expectations on the hopeful promises of Mary’s song.
“Though I am small, my God, my all, you work great things in me,
And your mercy will last from the depths of the past to the end of the age to be.
Your very name puts the proud to shame, and to those who would for you yearn,
You will show your might, put the strong to flight, for the world is about to turn.”
“Canticle of the Turning,” second stanza, by Rory Cooney in Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2013.
Beth Herrinton-Hodge is a Teaching Elder and Certified Christian Educator who serves on APCE’s Advocate Ministry Team. She lives in Shelbyville, KY and works at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary as the Director of the Academic Support Center. Beth and her husband, Jay Hodge, parent two teens and attempt to manage three rescue dogs.