Magnificat: December 19, 2019

“… for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.” – Luke 1:48-49

Luke tells us so much in these few words about Mary, a very young teenage woman. Fear, doubt, and vulnerability are balanced with courage, faith, and strength. This Mary is so different from the assumptions and stereotypes we know of her. Mary could have kept God’s revelation a secret. Instead, she chooses not to go it alone and seeks out community, the community of her cousin Elizabeth.

Elizabeth is quick to see that Mary’s favored-ness has nothing to do with wealth or easiness of life. Her blessing is connected to her trust in God, in her willingness to surrender to the will of God, to believe God’s promises and trust that God will sustain her through whatever happens. She will not be alone. God is faithful.

These two verses are Mary’s response to Elizabeth’s blessing, something that she so needed and would remember all of her life.

In community, we have the gift of glimpsing God among us, within us. In community, our shared fears, doubts and vulnerabilities draw out our courage, faith, and strength. In community we receive the blessing that sustains us, reminds us that God is faithful, renews our trust in God and empowers us to be far more than we can imagine. Like Mary, we are God bearers, God magnifiers, the body of Christ.

Think of a time in your life when the gift of community was just what you needed. I remember how important community was for me when I was first thinking about ordination. There were times when I truly feared pursuing it and doubted my gifts. At such times one of three women would somehow find me and over a walk or coffee and their loving listening, courage and faith would take over and I would leave their presence wanting to sing and dance, blessed by their trust in God and their embodiment of love. So grateful!

Community. Communion. The indwelling of God…The breaking and sharing of bread…The gifts of incarnation… “…for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.”

Gracious one, in whom we live, and move and have our being, we give you thanks for the gifts of community and blessing. Bless our journey inward this Advent season for it is only out of the prayerful place of solitude and introspection that we can hope for community and ministry. Give us courage, faith, and strength for our journey. May our lives truly magnify your holy Name. Amen.
-Vicki Wesen

Magnificat: December 18, 2019

And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior…” – Luke 1:46-47

One evening when I was visiting someone in the hospital, I came into contact with an elderly lady who proceeded to share her wondrous joy at the safe delivery of her new great-grandson. It was a difficult birth with the cord wrapped around his neck. The first few hours of his life were full of struggles, but he has brought immense joy and gratitude to all around him.

I think that was what Mary could see in Luke 1:46-47, that with God as her savior, her human spirit—her very essence—could glorify the Lord. As Christmas draws near with only a few days left to go, we can look back on 2019 with all the heartache, worry, sorrow, ups/downs, lefts/rights, zigs and zags, and we can put it all into the hands of God our savior and allow him to give us a new beginning with the birth of his son, Jesus Christ. Let Jesus come and absolve all that hurts and accept the hope we have that for each trial as there is a peace that we can only know by trusting in God. So, let our souls extol with praises and acknowledge all the greatness God has done and all that is yet to come in our lives.

Christmas is a week away… are you excited?? He is coming!

O God from the depths of our inner person do we give you glory for all you have done. Give my soul peace in the throes of a trial to know that I can magnify and rejoice in your greatness. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
-Natalee Raymond

Magnificat: December 17, 2019

In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” – Luke 1:39-45

Christmas Eve, 1974
St. John’s Episcopal Church, Huntington, L.I., N.Y.

The candlelit sanctuary was silent as night as I walked to the center of the altar robed in blue. I was escorted by Richard Ohlenberg, Joseph to my Mary. We were surrounded by angels and shepherds and wise men as we took our place in the age-old pantomime of the living crèche. Baby Sam Swisher was my Jesus, and as I took him in my arms, I rose and began to sing in a trembling soprano: My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.

It was a moment in and out of time: in time, that I was a senior in high school applying to elite women’s colleges with a long-time boyfriend and plans for a future; and out of time, that I was touched by grace, chosen to represent the Mother of God, Mary-in-absentia singing alone.

I cannot begin to know what Mary felt, at 15, to hear the words that she was to become the mother of the Christ Child. But now, all these decades later, as a mother and grandmother, it is no less terrifying/thrilling remembering when I was first told that I was with child (or when my daughters broke the news to me that they were expecting). My very soul singing! To bring into this world a helpless baby to love, nurture, train, and discipline to then—after all those hours and days and weeks and years (and skinned knees and tuna fish sandwiches and help with homework and drying tears)—to send them out into the world without us is life’s greatest joy and sorrow.

But Mary bore the greatest joy and the greatest sorrow of all. I am humbled to have had her voice for one brief moment, that moment of moments, when she declares her joy to all the world.

I pray that I am able to raise my voice in tandem with Mary’s, for as long as I draw breath.

Help me, Lord, to magnify you daily in my words and actions. Amen.
-Ashley Sweeney

Magnificat: December 16, 2019

Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her. – Luke 1:38

My cohort online is mostly Catholic and female, so I have heard all about this verse, Mary’s fiat, in which she says a resounding “yes!” to God’s plan and her part in the incarnation. It was weird to me as a Protestant originally, but I soon developed a bond with Mary.

My bond with her began in December 2008 when I was pregnant with Daniel. I was living on the Montana Hi-Line at the time, and we were in the midst of a spell of temperatures around -20º F in the day time and -40º F with windchill at night. The cold caused my joints to ache, and I was driving to work one day, complaining to God about the cold and pain when God smacked me upside the head with a holy clue-by-four. The picture of Mary on a donkey, 9 months pregnant, came to mind, and I started getting a small understanding of the magnitude of what Mary was asked to do. My car would warm up eventually. The bitterness of the cold night in Israel would remain with her.

With every twist and turn of my life with Daniel, this image of Mary saying “yes” has come to me. When Daniel was born prematurely and I almost died, I thought of Mary. When he almost died at age 2 from RSV and I was in the pediatric intensive care unit taking care of him, the image of the pieta, Mary holding Jesus’ body when he was taken down from the cross, came to me. Mary said “yes” not fully knowing that she would watch her son be an outcast in some places, cause struggle within the power structure, and ultimately be tortured and killed in one of the most gruesome manners imaginable. I said “yes” not knowing that I would have a child who challenged me daily and who would give me some serious scares in terms of his health. Her faith and confidence in God’s plan are what helps me to say “yes” daily, even when I want to give up at times.

Lord, thank you for the example of Mary and her faith in your plan. Help me to continue saying “yes” to your plan, even when it scares me. Amen.
-Jen McCabe

Magnificat: December 15, 2019

And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” – Luke 1:36-37

As I read this passage, I realized that Elizabeth and I had a lot in common.

We were both “old” when we conceived our babies. Old is a relative term, for Elizabeth, old may have been past her teens, for myself I was thirty-six and medically passing by my prime fertility window. I believe her culture may have pitied her, no children to help the family, take care of you when you are old and carry on the family genes so I can imagine her great delight in finding herself with child. “She said, ‘This is what the Lord has done for me when he looked favorably on me and took away the disgrace I have endured among my people.” For myself, I spent nine years without any birth control, painful, embarrassing, expensive medical procedures and tests with no viable pregnancies while watching my two brothers, sister and more than a dozen friends start or add to their families. I was miserable. angry and hard to live with.

I had a major meltdown in August 1984, one of many but this one was a doozy. Dennis and I had to euthanize our nine year old beloved cat Sam because of advanced cancer, I had what I thought was a nasty flu bug, I had blood drawn for the hundredth time for a pregnancy test and I finally hit rock bottom with my emotions and went behind our garage to have a major screaming fit at God. Ok, maybe I felt this was the way to get his attention. All these years, my feeble attempts praying to God for a baby hadn’t work. He wasn’t listening to me. He didn’t care.

Feeling very strange and tired, I went back inside my house and at 4:00 pm that afternoon, my doctor’s office called and Karen, his ARNP said: “you’re not going to believe this, you’re pregnant”. The call was life-changing, first, a case of the soft warm fuzzies, an uneventful pregnancy, a healthy baby boy and I sort of forgot about God. Life was busy, a baby, working full time and time just slipped by.

Then Dennis and I had a serious conversation about going back to church and baptizing our child and when Bayard was two years old, we joined St. Paul’s in Mount Vernon. On Easter Sunday, March 30th, 1986, our son was baptized.

This is how Dennis and I started our religious journeys. Dennis eventually joined the Order of Deacons, and I became a Eucharistic Minister and Visitor. With God’s help, all things are possible. Thanks be to God!

Thank you, dear Lord, for working in seemingly impossible situations for our good and for your purposes. Amen.
-Mary Ann Taylor

Magnificat: December 14, 2019

Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God.” – Luke 1:34-35

Of all the miracles ascribed to Jesus throughout the New Testament, the most miraculous to me is still his fulfillment of the prophecy that a Hebrew Messiah would be born of a virgin. My disbelief of miracles such as this was one of the main reasons that for decades of my life I steadfastly refused to identify as “Christian” — and why I used to envy the “faith of my fathers.” Going back a millennium or so ago, it seems as though reconciling empirical knowledge with the miracles described throughout the Bible would have been less of a stretch to one’s credulity. Or so I thought. As it was, belief in the “magical thinking” of the Bible created a litmus test that I simply couldn’t pass — and out of respect for the Christian faith, I couldn’t sign on with a sense of integrity.

My absolutism changed in a moment of epiphany during the most unlikely of circumstances. Carol and I were at a dinner theater performance with some congregation members of All Saints Episcopal Church in Boise, where I had tentatively begun dipping my toes in its liturgical waters. At some point in the dinner conversation, the topic turned to the Immaculate Conception, and I was shocked to hear a respected and long-standing member of All Saints state, very matter-of-factly, that he’d never believed in that particular miracle. “Excuse me,” I remember asking, “but isn’t that kind of a de rigor article of faith?” While I don’t remember his reply, I do remember coming away thinking that the particulars of Christ’s birth ultimately don’t enhance or detract from what really matters most to me today as a professed Christian: the relevance and power of the Gospel Message, and Jesus Christ as the Word Made Flesh…however conceived.

These days, even as we are dazzled by the pace of scientific discovery, I find myself less pushed around by the need to reconcile the miraculous and the scientific. Quite the contrary: that duality itself seems more suspect to me these days than belief in miracles. In fact, the more we learn about the origins of the universe, the more susceptible we should be to the miraculous, and the more our faith should reflect the words of Paul:

“For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.”

Lord, you give us solace in our faith. Thank you for sending your Son among us to teach us your will and may the power of the Holy Spirit dwell in us as it did in Mary. Amen.
-Michael Boss

Magnificat: December 13, 2019

“He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”– Luke 1:32-33

What a promise! Think of being Mary and hearing this promise from God!

He will be great – an encouraging promise for Mary.
He will be called the Son of the Most High – more hopeful, reference to God.
The Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David – Wow!
He will reign over the house of Jacob forever – Better & better!
And of his kingdom there will be no end – His kingdom will last forever!

Can you imagine what Mary might have thought? Or what she believed? The angel’s message was unbelievable, except that it obviously had to come from God. And, so, Mary believed it.

Have you ever heard an unbelievable message from God? Stay tuned—God still delivers seemingly-unbelievable messages, sometimes from an angel, sometimes in a dream, sometimes from another person. Stay tuned for God’s messages to you.

Dear God, help us to stay open to your messages to each of us, so that we will believe and act on your plans for us. Help us to listen! Amen.
-Barb Cheyney