Many of you will know, or recall, that each of the candles on the Advent Ring has a theme linked to it: with the fourth candle linked to both Mary and to the theme of hope. With Mary’s song, known by many as the Magnificat, which we have just heard, hope is a theme clearly appropriate to Mary, being, as she was, a member of the Jewish community who were longing for the Messiah who would release them from the subjugation and oppression of Roman rule under which they were living.
Mary’s song is has become the song of all who hope for a changed world, a ‘better world’. It is the song for all who pray that a world in which the mantra that each person is a beloved child of God might become reality, as the Magnificat and the just and gentle rule of God are lived out in the way in which we treat, speak to and pray for each other. The world where the Magnificat is truth is a world where the promise that we are all made in the image of God is lived out with arms laid down, with open and honest conversation, with trusting hearts, with a passionate desire for equity and a fulfilling life made possible for all.
Mary’s song is a song of hope… it isn’t necessarily sweet or lovely though… just as I imagine Mary’s life was not sweet and lovely either. It is a song of change and disruption. The world is turned upside-down and the comfortable place of those who are in places of authority and power will be disturbed as the situations they hold will be taken away from them. Those who occupy positions in which they are nothing will be raised up. All will be disrupted.
We say these words each evening at Evening Prayer; we hear them most Fourth Sundays in Advent, often at Christmas and at our Patronal Festival… do we realise their power? Do we realise – as in both to understand and to make happen – the radical change that this song speaks of? I love the possibilities that it offers – but also, I will confess, I also fear what it demands of me when I say it, when I hear it, when I sing it.
I think of the young woman who first praised God with the words we have heard. I think of what needs to change in our world today to make the Magnificat a reality. I think of what I could do, what I need to do, what we need to do – all Christian people – to speak peace, to speak love and to speak hope into lives blighted by poverty, oppression, iniquity, injustice and I could go on. Think of what words you might sing.
You’ll know the hymn, When I survey the wondrous cross by Isaac Watts, and published three hundred and five years ago, this hymn ends, as I am sure some of you will know, ‘love so amazing, so divine, demands my life, my soul, my all’. I know that sometimes all that needs to be ‘done’ in the world can feel overwhelming – and I imagine that poor Mary, believed to be not much more than a child herself by our contemporary standards, Mary must have been pretty overwhelmed too when she was told she was to be the mother of the Messiah – and yet, and yet…
Mary gave her life, Mary gave her soul, Mary gave her all, to bringing this child to birth, to raising him, to teaching and training him in the faith, along with Joseph too – so that when the time was right, Jesus would know he was loved, he would know he was cherished, he would know he was the Son of God as well as her son too – and he would be able to give his life, his soul, his all as well.
If we are overwhelmed with what needs to be ‘done’ to make our world a better place, then, as Mary did, we need to begin with what it possible for us – and live with hope that the small things that we do will contribute to the whole. We may not be called to give birth to the Son of God – can you imagine what to put on the birth certificate under father – we may not be called to give birth to the Son of God but we can contribute by bringing his kingdom to birth, by living with hope: with arms laid down, with open and honest conversation, with trusting hearts, with a passionate desire for equity and a fulfilling life made possible for all.
We have heard these lines today: And they shall live secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth; and he shall be the one of peace. They were in our first reading from the Prophecy of Micah, when he spoke of Bethlehem in Ephrathah being the place from whence the Messiah would come, and also what the Messiah would be like. Micah was speaking hope to the people of Israel – the people from whom Mary came, the people from whom Joseph came, the people from whom Jesus himself came. These people were longing for a world that was different – where they could live free from oppression and hatred – and where they would be restored to the presence of God. There are many people longing for such a world today – we hear of them each day on our news and read of them in our newspapers.
We each live with hope in our hearts for a world that is ‘better’. God has given us the means to make it so – by faith and action. Many of you, I know, give time, energy, money and prayer to making this world a better place – and I thank you and encourage you in all that you already do. Can I ask this of you too though in these coming days: keep alive the gift of hope in your heart, kindle it and be inspired by it. Listen to hope’s encouragement and hope’s affirmation; listen to hope’s song and hope’s meaning. Let the hope that belonged to the people of Israel be your hope too – that our world will be changed and that people will all live with arms laid down, with open and honest conversation, with trusting hearts, with a passionate desire for equity and a fulfilling life made possible for all.