Fourth Sunday of Advent
December 20, 2009
Luke 1:46b-55 (52) or Psalm 80:1-7 (7)
Luke 1:39-45 [46-55]
Prayer of the Day
Stir up your power, Lord Christ, and come. With your abundant grace and might, free us from the sin that binds us, that we may receive you in joy and serve you always, for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
Alleluia. Here I am, the servant | of the Lord;
let it be with me according | to your word. Alleluia. (Luke 1:38)
1a. CONTEXT: Luke 1:39-45 [46-55]
Mary's visit to Elizabeth follows the account of the annunciation of Jesus' birth and artistically links the John the Baptist and Jesus cycles together.
The MAGNIFICAT is a free composition modeled after Hannah's song (1 Samuel 2:1-10) and contains similar themes. There are many reminiscences of the Old Testament, but unlike Zechariah's song, the BENEDICTUS (1:68-79) it does not use LXX phrases. Hymnody of this sort was written in the 1st century B.C., of which the Psalms of Solomon (circa 65-55 B.C.) are the examples most similar to the canticles in Luke. The Qumran Hymns of Thanksgiving belong to the same genre but have the peculiarities of the other Dead Sea Scrolls.
The sentiments of the MAGNIFICAT are revolutionary, although the revolution is brought about by God alone. In Longfellow's poem, "King Robert of Sicily," the king remarks, "'Tis well that such seditious words were sung / only by priests and in the Latin tongue."
Luke thinks typologically thus Hannah is the type of Mary--and John the Baptist partly parallels Jesus. No one knows what sources Luke may have used in writing chapters 1-2 but he composed them in a style imitating the Septuagint. His picture of simple Jewish people who expected a Davidic Messiah may partly describe actual non-Pharisaic Jews, but it is an ideal, nostalgic portrait of the best of the piety of simple people. The pericope is followed by the birth of John and by Zechariah's canticle.
1b. TEXT: Luke 1:39-45 [46-55]
39Ἀναστᾶσα δὲ Μαριὰμ ἐν ταῖς ἡμέραις ταύταις ἐπορεύθη εἰς τὴν ὀρεινὴν μετὰ σπουδῆς εἰς πόλιν Ἰούδα,
40καὶ εἰσῆλθεν εἰς τὸν οἶκον Ζαχαρίου καὶ ἠσπάσατο τὴν Ἐλισάβετ.
41καὶ ἐγένετο ὡς ἤκουσεν τὸν ἀσπασμὸν τῆς Μαρίας ἡ Ἐλισάβετ, ἐσκίρτησεν τὸ βρέφος ἐν τῇ κοιλίᾳ αὐτῆς, καὶ ἐπλήσθη πνεύματος ἁγίου ἡ Ἐλισάβετ,
42καὶ ἀνεφώνησεν κραυγῇ μεγάλῃ καὶ εἶπεν, Εὐλογημένη σὺ ἐν γυναιξίν, καὶ εὐλογημένος ὁ καρπὸς τῆς κοιλίας σου.
43καὶ πόθεν μοι τοῦτο ἵνα ἔλθῃ ἡ μήτηρ τοῦ κυρίου μου πρὸς ἐμέ;
44ἰδοὺ γὰρ ὡς ἐγένετο ἡ φωνὴ τοῦ ἀσπασμοῦ σου εἰς τὰ ὦτά μου, ἐσκίρτησεν ἐν ἀγαλλιάσει τὸ βρέφος ἐν τῇ κοιλίᾳ μου.
45καὶ μακαρία ἡ πιστεύσασα ὅτι ἔσται τελείωσις τοῖς λελαλημένοις αὐτῇ παρὰ κυρίου.
46Καὶ εἶπεν Μαριάμ, Μεγαλύνει ἡ ψυχή μου τὸν κύριον,
47καὶ ἠγαλλίασεν τὸ πνεῦμά μου ἐπὶ τῷ θεῷ τῷ σωτῆρί μου,
48ὅτι ἐπέβλεψεν ἐπὶ τὴν ταπείνωσιν τῆς δούλης αὐτοῦ. ἰδοὺ γὰρ ἀπὸ τοῦ νῦν μακαριοῦσίν με πᾶσαι αἱ γενεαί:
49ὅτι ἐποίησέν μοι μεγάλα ὁ δυνατός, καὶ ἅγιον τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ,
50καὶ τὸ ἔλεος αὐτοῦ εἰς γενεὰς καὶ γενεὰς τοῖς φοβουμένοις αὐτόν.
51Ἐποίησεν κράτος ἐν βραχίονι αὐτοῦ, διεσκόρπισεν ὑπερηφάνους διανοίᾳ καρδίας αὐτῶν:
52καθεῖλεν δυνάστας ἀπὸ θρόνων καὶ ὕψωσεν ταπεινούς,
53πεινῶντας ἐνέπλησεν ἀγαθῶν καὶ πλουτοῦντας ἐξαπέστειλεν κενούς. 54ἀντελάβετο Ἰσραὴλ παιδὸς αὐτοῦ, μνησθῆναι ἐλέους,
55καθὼς ἐλάλησεν πρὸς τοὺς πατέρας ἡμῶν, τῷ Ἀβραὰμ καὶ τῷ σπέρματι αὐτοῦ εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα.
Novum Testamentum Graece, Nestle-Aland 26th edition
© 1979, Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, Stuttgart;
The Greek New Testament, 3rd edition
© 1975, United Bible Societies, London
Mary Visits Elizabeth
39 In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, 40 and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41 And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, 42 and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! 43 And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be  a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”
Mary's Song of Praise: The Magnificat
46 And Mary said,
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
50 And his mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
52 he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
and exalted those of humble estate;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
55 as he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”
 - 1:45 Or believed, for there will be
2. ANALYSIS: Luke 1:39-45 [46-55]
Luke 1:39 - oreinein - the hill country...Mary came from Nazareth and went up into the central range. The traditional home of Zechariah and Elizabeth is at Ein Karem, just west of Jerusalem.
Lk. 1:41 - kai epleisthe pneumatos hagiou - - Luke John the Baptist and Jesus, Elizabeth is impelled by the Spirit.
Lk. 1:42 - Eulogeimenein - blessed; is almost synonomous with makaria in verse 45, but the latter, here and in the Beatitudes, can perhaps better be rendered as "happy;" it corresponds to the word in Psalm 1:1. This is, however, a special kind of happiness such as the Greeks ascribed to their gods.
Lk. 1:46 - Mariam - The variant Elisabet (see critical apparatus) is interesting but not well attested, and verse 48f. applies better to Mary.
Lk. 1:47 - eigalliasen - "glad " - 1 Samuel 2:1-10 uses aorists also.
Lk. 1:48 - makariousin - cf. note on verse 42 - Here almost meaning "congratulate."
Lk. 1:51-54 - The aorists epoieisen etc. suggest the Hebrew perfect tense. These are prophecies of the future, but the thought is that if God has decided on an action, it is as good as done already.
[ Photo by Gila Brand. Ein Karem, nestled in the hills in southwest Jerusalem ]
3. STRATEGY - Luke 1:39-45 [46-55]
Lectionaries since about 1990, which read pericopes of the annunciation to Joseph on Year A of this Sunday and to Mary on Year B, give the homilist
an opportunity to prepare for the Nativity in a more thorough fashion than is possible on Christmas, particularly on Christmas Eve.
The visit to Elizabeth is charming in that it reminds ones that the Nativity is also a human story involving two happy women. Luke is always sensitive to the interests of women; in chapters 1-2, Zechariah and Joseph are only on the periphery.
The Magnificat inevitably recalls Hannah and the birth of Samuel who was a little boy prophet and later became a king-maker and the judge of kings. Jesus is born into a family which had messianic expectations. The might will be put down and the humble exalted. Humanly speaking, it is significant that he grew to maturity in such a household. The passage from Micah 5:2-4 fits well with this, because it expects a Messiah from Bethlehem who would shepherd the people of Israel.
Hebrews 10:5-10 is well chosen for this Sunday. The sacrificial system in which Zechariah served with such awe and joy, and which was good as far as it went, has been superseded by a better system in which Jesus the high priest comes simply to do the will of God. In this he is like his mother Mary (1:38) who, as Raymond Brown points out in his masterful study THE BIRTH OF THE MESSIAH, is the model of Christian discipleship.
The gospel reading is another example of the reversal of roles which runs throughout the gospel story. The mighty are put down and the gentle and humble are exalted. The bad priesthood of the sons of Eli resulted in disaster for Israel, but Samuel was instrumental in restoring the nation's fortunes. The potentates of Jesus' time, mentioned on Advent 2, came to bad ends or at least to an evil historical reputation. There were no more obscure women than Hannah, Elizabeth and Mary, but they were the mothers of sons whom all generations have glorified!
4. REFERENCE: Luke 1:39-45 [46-55]
Brown, Raymond E. THE BIRTH OF THE MESSIAH. Garden City: Doubleday, 1977, pp. 330-366.
5. MUSIC SUGGESTIONS: Luke 1:39-45 [46-55]
Hymns that would be well suited for this Advent celebration day are:
COME THOU LONG EXPECTED JESUS (ELW 254, HB 66);
WAKE, AWAKE (Wachet Auf, ELW 436, HB 61/2)
THE KING SHALL COME (ELW 260, HB 73)
CREATOR OF THE STARS OF NIGHT (ELW 245, HB 60)
HARK! THE GLAD SOUND! (ELW 239, HB 71/2)
and, especially if the sermon is on Mary,
LO,HOW A ROSE E'ER BLOOMING (ELW 272, HB 81)
N.B. The ELW now includes four Magnificat hymn settings:
723 – Canticle of the Turning: My soul cries out with a joyful shout
882 – My soul does magnify the Lord
573 – My soul now magnifies the Lord
251 – My soul proclaims your greatness
Exegete - Sherman E. Johnson, PhD, ThD †
6. FURTHER READING
In his article, "Words at the Solstice: Four Theses and Eight Christmas Greetings," [ DIALOG, vol. 21] liturgical scholar Gordon Lathrop, once shared a number of thought-provoking insights into the liturgical significance of Advent, Christmas and Solstice. Among these was the interesting observation that the littleness and humility of Christ's nativity, the theme of the cross, is at the heart of this season. It was most evident in medieval liturgies in what Durandus called in the post-Christmass feasts of the "companions of Christ," or COMITES CHRISTI.
Thus we mourn and rejoice at once over the ADMIRABILE COMMERCIUM, the astonishing reversal through which our downtroddeness, our awareness of suffering, (do we see it?) is exchanged for his joy. Hence the com- memoration of the first martyr Stephen on December 26th, the Apostle and Evangelist John on December 27th, and the victims of Herod (i.e., Holy Innocents) on December 28th. Perhaps one who is preaching during this busy, buoyant season would do well to prepare or at least read over the gospels for these days in the days just prior to Christmas. Happily there is also the invaluable liturgical handbook for this season which has been published by the Archdiocese of Chicago,IL. Entitled A CHRISTMAS SOURCEBOOK, edited by Mary Ann Simcoe, Chicago: Liturgy Training Publications, 1984), it is an invaluable tool for preparing not only one's mind but also one's heart and tuning one's liturgical sensitivity for this season. The 158-page spiral bound volume is filled with wonderful examples of poetry and prose and prayer for this liturgical cycle of the church year (there is also a sourcebook for the Triduum cycle, edited by M. Simcoe and Gabe Huck). In particular the section on Mary, Mother of God, gives a refreshing look at the place of Mary in the history of salvation, and even in an anonymous verse of 15th Century English poetry:
Moder (mother) and mayden
was never none but she:
Well may such a lady
Goddes mother be.
Now sadly out of print, The Christmas Sourcebook is highly recommended for poets, pastors and preachers everywhere.
Lexegete™ © 2009