Today is the fourth Sunday in advent, the Sunday of Love. Which is appropriate because I’m going to dedicate this post to Love, Sophie Love that is, who gave me an epiphany of sorts about the Annunciation, which is doubly appropriate because today is the day that the lectionary mandates a reading of the Magnificat, or Song of Mary, not once, but twice.
Unchurched, or very lapsed Christian, readers may not be familiar with the Magnificat. Protestants, like myself, may also be a little uneasy with it because of what we see as the cult of Mary in the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, but if we are, it is something we need to get over, because it is one of the most profound passages in scripture.
It is that song of praise that Mary speaks after being told by the angel that she is pregnant. In the King James version it starts off: “And Mary said My soul doth magnify the lord, And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.”
I think it lacks a bit of context in the original, and I prefer to roughly precis it along these lines:
“Isn’t God great? I’m going to be a single mother in a culture where you can be stoned to death for that, but you know what, this child has the power to do anything, even overturn our social order so that the poor and rich will swap places and what people think is dumb (like this) will turn out to be wise. This is history and destiny and I’m part of it.”
It’s actually one of my most favourite pieces of scripture because not only does it sum up the Christian proposition so well, it is a proposition that most non-Christians and many Christians fail to grasp – that Christianity isn’t about maintaining society; it is about turning it upside down.
A conversation with Sophie last Sunday, when I visited her and her family on the NSW mid-north coast, showed me another dimension to the Annunciation.
Sophie said that every mother has her own Annunciation. That at the moment you find you’re pregnant you have a moment when everything is possible, and that possibility empowers the baby in your womb, and stems from it. That there is a moment, before history and the future close in, when your baby could be and could do, anything.
I’m not sure if every mother does have that Annunciation, just as I’m not sure that every father may have been as oblivious to it as I have, but it’s something that I will be thinking about during the services this Christmas.
In a way Christmas Day is a repeat of the Annunciation. Mary sensed the potential of Jesus to change the world absolutely, and nine months later he comes into the world and we all repeat that claim, even though he is a child, born in very unpromising circumstances.
And who, at the time when they were writing these accounts about Jesus, could have believed that these claims would be so spectacularly vindicated. That the baby would change the world radically, and it would be turned upside down.
We may not live in a perfect world, but compared to the world in which Jesus lived, it is Paradise. How much more paradisical it can become, who knows, but our world is the best gift that Christmas brings every year.
And according to the gospel of Sophie, that gift of radical transformation is a gift that every mother potentially gives to the world with each of her children. Making it a gift not just of Christmas, but literally a gift of every day, and maybe every minute.