Today, we read the words of Mary’s Magnificat: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior. For he has looked upon his lowly servant, from this day all generations will call me blessed” (Lk 1:46-48) From yesterday’s readings, we know that Elizabeth and John the Baptist also react with exultation and joy to the presence of God, joining Mary in praise.
A first reading of these words makes me feel inadequate, not exultant. December 22 is one of the very shortest days of the year, when light is thin and cold seeps into the corners. I feel the end of the year closing in, with too many tasks undone and others unappreciated. In that frame of mind, it is hard for me to respond like Elizabeth did, with exultation and joy at meeting the Lord. I feel overwhelmed and not particularly ready to welcome God, let alone sing him a new song.
How can I capture Mary and Elizabeth’s sense of wonder, joy, and blessing?
For me, some inspiration appeared in the figure of Hannah, center of both the first reading and the responsorial psalm. Hannah, who was barren for years, made an annual trek to Shiloh, where she prayed fervently to the Lord for the blessing of a son. When the Lord ended her infertility, she promised to give her much-wanted son back to God after weaning him. In the first reading, Hannah leaves the child that she had begged for in the temple in Shiloh. Even as she does so, she exults, ““The bows of the mighty are broken, while the tottering gird on strength.” (1 Sam 2:4),” much as Mary herself said “He has filled the hungry with good things and the rich he has sent away empty.” (Lk 1:53)
Hannah’s praise of God doesn’t come from a place of strength; like Mary, she tells us that she is one of the tottering and weary. Even as this mother gives her beloved Samuel – the answer to her prayers – back to God, she says that the broken are made strong through God. God is great because “he has remembered his promise of mercy” (Lk 1:54).
In the build-up to Christmas, these readings remind me that God’s gifts are not the ones we put under the tree, nor are our accomplishments where our value is to be found. Instead, we can, like Hannah and Mary, praise God not because we are mighty or strong or even joyful, but because his gift is to take us, humble and broken, and use us as we are.