07 January 2011

Singing our Magnificats, Looking back and ahead

With our celebration of Jesus' baptism the celebration of the Christmas season draws to an end. In a short two weeks we moved from the nativity of Jesus, through readings which marked his growth in stature and grace, and we now approach the feast of his commissioning by God and Jesus' own acceptance of all it means to be Son. But from the beginning of Advent throughout the Christmas season we heard stories of individuals brought from barrenness, silence, and muteness to fruitfulness and the bold speech the Scriptures calls parrhesia. There was Hanna, a barren Jewish woman, whose faith eventually allowed God to act in her so that she might have a son. She gave birth to Samuel and sang her gratitude for the fruition of God's Word in the "Canticle of Anna". There was Elizabeth, a voiceless woman in Judaism who gave birth to John the Baptist, and who stood up against the religious establishment of her day proclaiming, "No! His name will be John!" and Zecharia who doubted God could bring new life out of barrenness and was made mute, but who eventually affirmed with his wife, "No, his name will be John" and regained a powerful voice in bending to God's will. As a result we have the Canticle of Zechariah, another eloquent symbol of the speech or word event a human being can become.

John the Baptist leaps in response to the Word of God and becomes more than just a Prophet, but also the actual forerunner of God's Christ. His own austere song is the call to repentence and purification! There was, of course, Mary whose own virginity and fiat issued --- through the grace of God --- in the birth of Jesus and the magnificat which, like Hanna's canticle, is emblematic of true obedience and the reversals God effects in our lives and world when God's Word and Spirit are allowed to have their way. There was Simeon who saw Jesus in the Temple and sang his praise as he spoke of his own willingness to die now that the goal of his life had been accomplished.

God's own story was rehearsed twice for us during this season in the prologue to John's Gospel, first on Christmas day, and again last Friday. It is the story of a move from the "aloneness" of the Communion we call God through the Word's sounding in the silence and emptiness of chaos to the resultant coming to be of a creation on its way to being the articulate expression of God's glory. It is a story, and in fact a song, which comes to a particular climax in the nativity and life of Christ as the Word is enfleshed to dwell amongst us. In every case, and in the stories of so many more individuals in the Scriptures --- prophets, judges, etc --- we have God bringing, summoning, to fruition and articulation his own Word --- always out of silence, chaos, barrenness, etc. And now, we approach the feast of the Baptism which marks Jesus' own adult acceptance of divine Sonship, his own commissioning to move out of the silence and privacy of familial obscurity into the public ministry which is his to claim. He will be THE Word of Power for the world and we will be told, "This is my beloved Son. Listen (hearken) to him!"

Theologians use the term "the Christ Event" to refer to Jesus' life, death, resurrection, and ascension. But, because of what happens to the world in these events, the term refers to more than this single life. It refers as well to those who come to participate in Jesus' life and share it, to those who accept their own calls to articulate the Word of God in Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit, to those who literally become part of the body of Christ and share in the dynamic spoken of in Ephesians, "Christ brought to full stature." Each of us have a place in continuing and extending the range and scope of the Christ Event. Each of us can allow or prevent the Word from coming to greater or fuller articulation in our world. Each of us may come to be an exhaustive articulation of the Glory of God, or not.

We are at the beginning of the Church year still, but this weekend's feast challenges us to accept the commissioning which accompanies Jesus' own. With Hanna, Elizabeth, Zechariah, John the Baptist, Mary, Simeon, et al, we are to become expressions of the Word of God within us and reveal the glory of God with our lives. The reversals spoken of by Hanna and Mary, the reversals proclaimed and embodied by Christ are to become the melody of our lives as each one becomes a canticle, psalm, or magnificat of God's power, and no other. My prayer is that each of us will find and assume our place and our voice in the Christ Event and sing those magnificats until every person has joined in the song, indeed until the whole of creation is one full-throated hymn of revelation and praise to God.