This past Sunday, we heard a familiar Advent passage from the Gospel of Luke where Gabriel appears to Mary with startling news: she’s going to be the mother of a child who will known as the Son of the Most High. Even more than that name, this child will continue the line of David—he will be a king! But not just any king—The King—for he will reign forever and his kingdom will know no end (The whole passage is Luke 1:26-38 if you want to go back and re-read).
Now immediately following this, Mary rushes over to her cousin Elizabeth’s. Elizabeth was “barren”—everyone knew that; but that strange messenger Gabriel said to her, that even her “barren” cousin Elizabeth in her old age is carrying a child! So in joy, awe, and perhaps mixed with a little fear, she rushed over to her cousin’s for she wanted to see at least part of the fulfillment of what Gabriel had said to her. The baby in Elizabeth’s womb jumped for joy at the sound of Mary’s voice and Mary, seeing confirmation of Gabriel’s words, expresses her own joy and breaks out in song:
And Mary said,
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
And his mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
and exalted those of humble estate;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
as he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”
I recount this narrative for several reasons: (1) In this season of Advent, to remind us of the King to come. But also (2), to look at this account and Mary’s responsive expression—this psalm (since we are studying prayer through the psalms at the moment)—to inform our prayers. In her encounter with Gabriel, she understands what is to happen to her and she accepts it with humble awe.
But could it be that Mary struggled with knowing in her mind and “knowing” in her heart just as we often do when we live our faith? She knew she would bear the child but the child had not yet come nor was she showing any signs of pregnancy.
How could she teach her heart which seemed out of sync with her faith in God’s promise?
She looked for signs of the promise. As I re-read this story over and over and try to live into Mary’s experience, I believe that her encounter with Elizabeth (and John the Baptist in her womb) taught her heart to hope in a way that complemented her knowledge of what was to come. It was an experience that deepened that longing for what was to come, and with high towering praise and humble deep gratitude she burst out in verse praising God for what was to come as if it were already here.
In this season, as we collectively practice this longing for the King to come, and especially at a time when the world seems to be unraveling, what are the tangible reminders that the Kingdom, though not fully here, has its grasp on this broken world? Do you see it in your work? In your family? Perhaps you find a taste for the kingdom to come in the meals with you community group. Or in the good friendship and conversation with a good friend.
Today as we pray together, my encouragement is that we set aside time explicitly praise God for his promise and its coming fulfillment as we see the signs of the promise in our every day lives. May we join with all the saints who have longed for the promise—with Mary herself as she also longed for its fulfillment—in the coming of Jesus, whose means “The LORD is Salvation.”