Magnificat

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Today’s readings:
Psalms 18:1-20; 147:12-20, Isaiah 31:1-9, Revelation 21:22-22:5, Luke 1:39-48a (48b-56)


Shortly after she became pregnant, Mary hurried to the home of her older cousin Elizabeth in the Judean countryside. Elizabeth – who had recently and unexpectedly conceived a son who would be John the Baptist – was both thrilled and humbled that the mother of the Messiah would come to her. Elizabeth’s husband Zechariah was present, but silent; when he had expressed doubt to the angel who told him his wife would conceive, the Lord struck him speechless until after the child’s birth. In contrast, Mary – who had embraced her role in God’s plan – broke into a lengthy and beautiful prayer which we today call the Magnificat, or the Canticle of Mary.

Mary stayed with Elizabeth for three months. Imagine a home with this pair of first-time mothers, sharing their dreams for their children. Did they worry together whether their husbands could accept and support them through what was to come? Could either of them have imagined the wonder, and horror, and glory that awaited their sons? John would be born first, have a successful ministry first … and die first. Just as our celebration of Mary eclipses our celebration of Elizabeth, the life of Jesus would eclipse that of John the Baptist. Yet all were essential to God’s plan. Based on the words of the Magnificat, it seems even in these most unusual circumstances hope filled that home:

[The Lord] has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.

Does your story need a little hope right now? Like Mary and Elizabeth, do you find yourself in circumstances you couldn’t have imagined? God is at work. Maybe like Zechariah you can’t believe that, and so you can’t find the words even to pray. Or maybe like Mary you can’t help calling on a God who has promised good things. God is at work. If we can surrender to what is, and trust God for what will be – even if it’s not what we plan – we can find a way to live in hope. God is at work.

Comfort: God is at work..

Challenge: Read the entire Magnificat out loud tonight and each night through Christmas Eve.

Prayer: I love you, O LORD, my strength. Amen.

Discussion: If you had three months to visit a trusted friend or relative and discuss the future, where would you go and what would you talk about?

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Engaged

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Today’s readings:
Psalms 50; 147:1-11, Isaiah 29:9-24, Revelation 21:9-21, Luke 1:26-38


Workplace engagement is an area of increased focus for many employers. Engaged employees take ownership of their jobs, feel like an integral part of a bigger team, and enjoy performing beyond minimum expectations. Disengaged employees are not necessarily bad employees, but usually perform below their potential because the job has ceased to matter to them. But engagement doesn’t create workaholics – to the contrary, work/life integration is an essential factor of it. Disengaged employees often don’t bother to complain; they simply withdraw and go through the motions. Employers can’t single-handedly create engagement; both parties must communicate about and work toward it.

Religion and faith can be similar. Isaiah explains the frustrations of the prophets by saying they may as well be handing over sealed, unreadable documents as shouting from the rooftops. The people are disengaged. Those who can read won’t make the effort to break the seal, and those who can’t read already have an excuse. Nobody in this picture is invested in doing more than they have to. Disengaged, they honor God with their lips, but their hearts are far from him.

Mary, by contrast, is as engaged as it gets. When the angel Gabriel tells her she will conceive a son, she asks how that is possible for a virgin. It’s not a defiant question, but an honest inquiry. Mary wants to communicate – to understand the big picture. When Gabriel explains it all, she replies: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” That’s not a passive “Whatever you say…” but a commitment to be faithful even in uncharted territories. Like engaged employees, the engaged faithful know there is always a new challenge approaching over the horizon, and they step up to meet it. Mary, a betrothed virgin, knows she will be facing many challenges, but is dedicated to the larger plan of salvation for her people.

Like Mary, we should not passively resign ourselves to an inescapable fate. Rather, we should wrestle with it, hammer it out with our own angels, and find our place in the scheme of things. Sincere (if questioning) lips are preferable to distant hearts merely punching a clock until it’s time to check out.

Comfort: An engaged faith unlocks your potential.

Challenge: Where in your life are you simply going through the motions? Is it something you need to abandon or to take more seriously?

Prayer: Creator God, I pray for a heart like Mary’s, true and strong. Amen.

Discussion: Have you had a job you just didn’t care about? If so, what did you do about it?

Join the discussion! If you enjoyed this post, feel free to join an extended discussion as part of the C+C Facebook group. You’ll  have the opportunity to share your thoughts with some lovely people. Or feel free to comment here on WordPress, or even re-blog – the more the merrier!

It Takes a Village to Raise a Lazarus

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 99; 146, Jonah 2:2-9, Ephesians 6:10-20, John 11:17-27, 38-44
Eve of Epiphany Readings:
Isaiah 66:18-23, Romans 15:7-13 


Is  faith sufficient as an individual experience, or does it need to be shared among a community of believers? When Jesus returned to Bethany because his friend Lazarus had died, the grief of Mary and Martha, sisters of Lazarus, was certainly shared. Neither knew what to expect, but they shared faith in Jesus. They only knew that in their time of great grief, they needed to be with him. Even after he told them he was the resurrection and the life, the sisters didn’t imagine he would bring Lazarus back to them. When he asked the mourners to roll back the stone covering the tomb, Martha said four days had passed and there would be a stench. Yet moments later Jesus commanded Lazarus to walk out of the tomb, and he did.

Jesus was the source, but it was a community that made his final sign meaningful.
Mary and Martha, each with an imperfect but united faith, together believed that whatever Jesus thought fit to ask, God would deliver. At least a few mourners must have volunteered to move the stone, as it was large and heavy enough to cover the mouth of a cave. The gathered crowd  listened to Jesus loudly giving thanks to God for their benefit so they might believe. Finally, Lazarus arose and returned to his friends and family, restoring their community.

Experienced in isolation, faith may be a comfort to us but it’s of little use to the greater body of Christ. When a community shares its faith – when one person answers Christ’s call to dive into the stench and darkness of tombs like poverty and disease, and another person trusts God to provide even when a loved one is caught in the hopeless living death of addiction, and the rest of us are inspired by and act because of their belief, and therefore sisters and brothers we thought lost forever return to us – that community finds new life as no individual could.

Faith requires community to achieve its fullest expression. Our own imperfect faith is a gift because it reminds us to seek others.

Comfort: When you have faith you are never alone.

Challenge: Explore a faith community that is unfamiliar to you.  Perhaps a charity, or another congregation. If you can, spend some time helping them with their mission.

Prayer: Thank you God for easing my burden by making me only one member of a larger body in Christ. Amen.

Discussion: What do you find most rewarding about community? Most difficult?

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The Joy of Community

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Readings: Psalms 122; 145, 2 Samuel 7:1-17, Titus 2:11-3:8a, Luke 1:39-48a (48b-56)

After the angel Gabriel told Mary she would be mother to the messiah, she visited her relative Elizabeth. Older and childless, Elizabeth was also in the middle of an unexpected pregnancy. When Mary shared her news, Elizabeth’s baby (who would grow up to be John the Baptist) leaped in her womb for Joy (Luke 1:44).

After delivering her news, Mary spoke a prayer we now call the Magnificat. This prayer is an important hymn in the Christian church, particularly among Catholics. In the Magnificat, Mary humbly praises God for the favor he has shown her, and she also praises God for keeping his promises to the nation of Israel. The joy Mary and Elizabeth feel for their own situations is inseparable from the joy they feel for their community.

Throughout the Old Testament we read about how God is invested in the fate of his people as a whole. Individuals are shown favor for the purpose of serving the good of the community, not for individual glory. In the New Testament, the apostle Paul rejoices from his prison because God is blessing the greater church. Paul does acknowledge his personal suffering, but seeing himself as part of something greater allows him to do both simultaneously.

The current culture of the United States teaches us joy is to be found in personal pursuits. When we want to encourage people to act charitably we tell them how good it will make them feel. The faith language of best-selling books focuses on personal salvation and the prosperity gospel. We trade accountability for independence and talk about rights as though they are divorced from responsibilities. We don’t leap for joy if the salvation of the community depletes our wallets or makes demands of us. Mary’s sacrificial  joy  is revolutionary even today.

As our faith grows deeper, our concerns grow broader. If our joy relies only on personal satisfaction, it will be fleeting. We have access to so much more joy when we understand we are part of a community. When the Lord “fill[s] the hungry with good things,” (Luke 39:53) we are filled also.

Comfort: Our joy need not be limited by our personal circumstances.

Challenge: Read the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55) aloud. Read it again with a friend – or better yet, a group.

Prayer: Thank you, oh Great God, for the community of your church. Deliver us from evils within and without. Mold us into an vessel of your love. Amen.

Discussion: Do you feel like part of a larger community? What is that community based on?

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