“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God, my savior, for God has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done good things for me, and holy is his name.” Luke 1:46-49 NRSV
The world is about to turn. For Mary.
Parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles, siblings, and special friends are acquainted with the upheaval and change that come with a birth. The one born is completely dependent. There’s a mouth to feed, a bottom to clean, a life to care for and protect. There’s a new perspective; an alignment of values, time, and what matters most. The activities in which you engage change in an instant. In the birth of this child, in any child, the world changes — the succeeding generation begins.
My soul cries out with a joyful shout that the God of my heart is great,
And my spirit sings of the wondrous things that you bring to the ones who wait.
You fixed your sight on your servant’s plight, and my weakness you did not spurn,
So, from east to west shall my name be blessed.
Could the world be about to turn?
In 2020, it feels like the world turned upside down. Into this season, we sing Mary’s song renewed in the “Canticle of the Turning.” Rory Cooney’s late-20th century hymn (1988) draws upon the deep assurances of Mary’s Magnificat. God visits a simple girl, changing her life. As good things unfold for Mary, she understands herself as standing on the precipice of good news.
Though I am small, my God, my all, you work good things in me.
And your mercy will last from the depths of the past to the ends 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.
Scholars attribute the words of the Magnificat as stemming from early Jewish-Christian liturgical songs. Mary’s song foreshadows the redeeming work of God – work begun at God’s initiative, work done by God’s power and in God’s time. Mary counts herself blessed to be included in God’s work. She expresses confidence in God’s strength and mercy, confidence in God’s actions for her people.
The world is about to turn. For Mary. For God’s people.
Do you think Mary knew that the child she bore would be the harbinger of God’s promises? What did Mary imagine for the child’s life that would manifest the changes for which God’s people yearned?
From the halls of power to the fortress tower, not a stone will be left on stone.
Let the king beware for your justice tears ev’ry tyrant from his throne.
The hungry poor shall weep no more, for the food they can never earn;
There are tables spread, ev’ry mouth be fed,
For the world is about to turn.
Christ’s followers in early Christian communities looked back on Jesus’ life having witnessed and experienced the changes he brought. The lowly were lifted up while the mighty were challenged and deposed. The hungry were fed, the prisoner set free, the blind received sight, the sick were healed. The crucified arose and is seated at God’s right hand.
The world was turned upside down as Jesus lived and walked, preached and taught, healed and forgave. His coming was a revolution to the status quo. In him, a new way of life was manifest. Jesus did not come as a mighty warrior or exalted king; instead, he came as a child of humble birth. God with us, Immanuel.
In Jesus’ coming, the world was turned around. For God’s people. For us.
Though the nations rage from age to age, we remember who holds us fast:
God’s mercy must deliver us from the conqueror’s crushing grasp.
This saving word that our forebears heard is the promise that holds us bound,
‘til the spear and rod can be crushed by God,
Who is turning the world around.
More than a song predicting what was to come, the Magnificat praises God for what has been done in Jesus. The world has been turned from darkness to light, from despair to hope. The promises of God, the mercies of God, are from ever-lasting to ever-lasting. As surely as God empowered Mary to bear a helpless, dependent baby who would turn the world around, so too does God continue to turn the world toward peace, hope, joy, and love. God’s revolution against the status quo continues. The child Mary delivered continues to change us and change the world.
With all the changes and challenges this past year has brought, the “Canticle of the Turning” reminds us that God’s revolution continues. Like Mary, let us sing out the confidence we know in God’s promise and work to turn creation toward goodness, justice, and peace. May it be so.
My heart shall sing of the day you bring. Let the fires of your justice burn.
Wipe away all tears, for the dawn draws near,
And the world is about to turn!
Enjoy “Canticle of the Turning” sung by students from Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary as part of their 2020 Lessons and Carols Service. https://youtu.be/UXstjMlqpQg