Advent 24: Psalm 117, 118 & Luke 1.46-55

From Jordan Lavender

Advent is a time of expectation during which we remember that God’s people waited for Jesus’s first coming and during which we await his second coming. Maybe it is significant, then, that two of the readings for today – Psalm 118 and Mary’s song in Luke 1 –  celebrate what God has already accomplished, but in the context of expecting some future act of God. Shortly after thanking God for rescue (“I thank you that you have answered me, and become my salvation.”) the psalmist pleads “Save us, we beseech you, O Lord! O Lord, we beseech you, give us success!” And Mary, knowing that her child is the Messiah, praises God for already accomplishing what the Messiah will do: “. . . the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. . . . He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.”

Perhaps in the juxtaposition of the psalmist’s injunction “This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it” with the prayer for God’s help, and in Mary’s gratitude for the fulfillment (in one way) of promises (in another way) not yet fulfilled, we might find a pattern for our own prayer and reflection during Advent. By repenting and remembering God’s promises we prepare ourselves for Christ’s second coming to restore all things. And by the same repentance and expectation we become more aware of what God has already done and more able to trust, as the psalmist says in Psalm 117, that “great is his steadfast love toward us, and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever.”

The first two stanzas of Patrick Kavanagh’s “Advent Poem” convey the wonder of God having come to dwell in our ordinary, sad world, renewing it with hope though it remains, for now, broken and ordinary:

We have tested and tasted too much, lover-

Through a chink too wide there comes in no wonder.

But here in the Advent-darkened room

Where the dry black bread and the sugarless tea

Of penance will charm back the luxury

Of a child's soul, we'll return to Doom

The knowledge we stole but could not use.

 

And the newness that was in every stale thing

When we looked at it as children: the spirit-shocking

Wonder in a black slanting Ulster hill

Or the prophetic astonishment in the tedious talking

Of an old fool will awake for us and bring

You and me to the yard gate to watch the whins

And the bog-holes, cart-tracks, old stables where Time begins.

 

I am a native of Athens, Georgia. I moved to Boston last year to study philosophy at Boston College.  I enjoy boasting to other southerners that I experienced the winter of 2015 in Boston (I don't know why this experience should seem meritorious rather than merely unfortunate, but it does).