“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 best. Could the world be about to turn? 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.”
That is the first verse to the hymn Canticle of Turning. If you attended my ordination or worship a month or so ago, then you may remember singing it, if not, then it may not be familiar to you because I have it on good authority that this isn’t a regular in the Living Word repertoire. (Don’t worry – it will be from now on because it’s my favorite! And pastor’s do get some privileges.)
I will never forget the first time I sang this hymn. It was my first year in seminary and I was attending a Wednesday midday chapel service. That year I sang in the seminary choir so I was up front. As I sight read this hymn, I got choked up a little bit, because it felt like it was speaking to my life and my situation at that point in time. A woman, called and commissioned by God to be a faithful servant.
The most unlikely of characters – because – who are we kidding, I’m not exactly the textbook, quintessential, “pastor” stereotype. Someone who’s world was about to turn… I knew that changes were coming and that my life would never be the same. At that point – I didn’t know just how profoundly extensive those changes were going to be – but I still knew they were coming. And I knew that I would be blessed as a result of them and hoped that I could in-turn become a blessing for others.
Now, my seminary career was not a 4-year exercise in euphoric realizations and altruistic thoughts and actions. Much of it was spent wrestling emotionally, mentally, spiritually, and at times physically with God and my call to this life of ministry. However, in that moment, I felt a sense of peace and remember thinking – “I hope that I can serve as openly, faithfully, and joyfully as Mary did.”
For the record – I’ve already failed at that miserably! Yet – I keep trying and this song has become somewhat of a resetting and refocusing song for me. (Which seems rather appropriate during this season of Advent when we are waiting, anticipating, and resetting ourselves as we await Jesus’ arrival.)
When I get tired or frustrated or someone or something “churchy” related just irritates me, I know that I can listen to this song and find a sense of peace in the loving words of Mary.
Do you have songs that serve this purpose in your life? That will always make you feel better, or joyful, or less alone? Or that is just your jamm?
Music has this ability in our lives – to take us from a terrible mood to a great one. To make us feel convicted or comforted. To make us hopeful and feel just a little less alone. It connects us. Music is now and has always been a powerful aspect of human creativity and interaction.
Even in biblical times – song was a powerful tool for sharing information and retaining history. People’s accomplishments and conquests were all put to song as were praises and adoration for those whom were beloved. The book of Psalms is most likely a compilation of musical selections which speak to humanity’s relationship with God. Lamentations is also a compilation, but of sorrowful songs extolling the failures of humanity and therefore their consequential suffering.
Song of Solomon (also known as Song of Songs) are love inspired musical selections attributed to Solomon. (That chapter is the slow jam of the Bible.) Music has long been a key form of expression and historical retention of information.
I think that is what has always captivated me about our Gospel text today. The songs – the music. Music is clearly a cultural norm for both Mary and Elizabeth as they responsively sing for joy. Mary and Elizabeth are insignificant trivial characters in their time. They are women who have no standing, power, or status except for that which they attain via their husbands and sons. These two are not meeting up in some boujee’ swank home in upscale Jerusalem or Capernaum. They are in an unnamed tiny Judean town located in the hill country.
We are talking about the weakest and most marginalized characters of that time. A soon-to-be unwed mother and pregnant old lady. Beggars and children were possibly the only members of society that were lower than these two. They are nobodies in nowheresville, and yet through their respective songs, God makes them both prophets.
First, Elizabeth, when filled with the Holy Spirit she cries out – “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”
Mary in turn responds with her song that we know today as The Magnificat or Mary’s Canticle. “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my savior for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant…” “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…”
Mary goes on to sing of how God encounters us amid the ordinary, mundane, and difficult activities of our daily lives. And how God has protected and uplifted the marginalized and will continue to do so. Her song foretells the ministry that her son will one day perform.
The fact that these two are prophets – profound, insightful, mighty, and great – is often overlooked. We tend to think of that as being mostly men whose lives and prophesies are contained in the Old Testament.
John the Baptist and Jesus were the greatest among the prophets – and you know what? They got it from their mama’s. Those amazing, faithful, joyous, powerful, singing prophets.
On this topic David Lose had this to say: “Luke’s infancy narratives are suffused with singing. After Mary, Zechariah will take the stage to praise God’s fidelity to Israel through the birth of John the Baptist, the angels will offer their canticle of peace and good will at the birth of Jesus, and Simeon will croon of God’s mercy being extended to all the world. Why so much verse? Because Luke understands that songs are powerful. Laments express our grief and fear so as to honor these deep and difficult emotions and simultaneously strip them of their power to incapacitate us. Songs of praise and thanksgiving unite us with the One to whom we lift our voices. And canticles of courage and promise not only name our hopes but also contribute to bringing them into being. Songs are power; this one, especially so.”
Songs are power. Music is powerful. Words and lyrics that would seem innocuous or trite – meaningless, insignificant, and forgettable – suddenly become profound, unforgettable, and prophetic when put to music.
What songs hold power in your life? What songs give you hope? What songs convict you? What songs connect you to others? What song inspire you to see beyond the familiar and the easy – and to seek out the marginalized all around us – ensuring that they too know God’s love? What songs possess the power to turn your world around?
On this 4th Sunday of Advent – when we have lit the Candle of Love – let us not forget the loving and joyous words of these two prophets. Let us be galvanized by them and seek out the hungry, the grieving, the sick, the struggling. Let’s share God’s love with our neighbors and be a beacon of hope in a dark and struggling world.
And let us raise up our voices with the prophets who came before us, praising God for the great things that have been done for us as God turns the world around.