My family has been on a bit of an emotional rollercoaster the past couple of weeks. There was a pregnancy that became compromised, and it was a scary thing as the mother was put on bedrest in the hospital. There was eventually an emergency C-section, and all the things that could have gone wrong somehow didn’t. When we got the call that all was well, Josh and I said, simply: This is such good news!
So, I already had “good news” on my mind when I looked at the appointed readings for this week. While reviewing Paul’s doxology from his letter to the Romans (our first reading today) a particular word stuck out for me, and you might have noticed it yourself. Paul says, “according to my gospel.” My gospel. This sounded presumptuous to me, so I grabbed my Greek Bible and looked, and there it was, in the original: to euangelion mou. My gospel. I thought, wow, Paul. That’s a bold thing to say.
We’re taught that “gospel” means “good news,” and it does, but before it became one of our words, it was a political word in the Greco-Roman world. It spoke of two distinct kinds of good news. The first was that a victory had been won against the enemies of the state. The second was that the emperor had had a son, and therefore the empire was stable, with an heir in place. And I realized that Paul is writing this letter before the good news of Matthew, Mark, Luke or John had been written, and it was, in a way, his good news to tell. God had won a great victory over death! A son had been born! The promise has been fulfilled.
I don’t know that I would have been bold enough to act like Paul did. I don’t know that I could have claimed the gospel as my own, to euangelion mou, mygospel, as though I could proclaim such world-changing news. I might think, who am I? How could little old me bear the enormity of such a message. I’m reminded of the psalmist who wrote, “What are human beings that you should be mindful of them?” Why would such a great God even consider one so lowly?
And then I think of Mary. As I’ve been listening to the Emmanuel at Home playlist of Marian hymns and protest songs, I’ve been thinking about how daring she was. She was a woman in a deeply patriarchal society, she was young, unmarried, she was about as powerless as a person could be. And yet, God comes to her. And even though she seems to ask that question (“Who am I that you should think on me?”) in her confusion and fear at the angel’s appearing, she still says yes. She becomes the first disciple, and then what does she say? “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord.”
Just think about what that means. The soul of someone so small proclaims the greatness of the Lord. And not only that, the Latin says “Magnificat!” Magnifies! Think of a magnifying glass. Mary is saying that her soul not only proclaims the greatness of the Lord, because the Lord’s greatness is kind of obvious, it doesn’t take much to point it out. Mary is saying that her soul magnifies the Lord, makes the Lord greater! The Lord who strengthens us, whom prophets made known, the only, wise God who has shown the strength of his arm, scattering the proud and lifting up the lowly, feeding the hungry and shaming those who don’t share their wealth with those in need, the Lord who has remembered his promise, made so long ago and now fulfilled so that we no longer stand cowering on the shore of the Red Sea, waiting for the powers of sin and death to take us: God breaks through the waters of the sea, he breaks through the waters of the womb, and now Mary—like her namesake Miriam before her—sings a song of victory before the battle has even begun. Her soul makes God greater—let the implication of that sink in! The answer to the promise that Paul says was made but kept mysterious for long ages, is finally known: A victory has been won. God has a son. God has a face and a name, now.
There is that small voice, though, in the back of my mind that likes to pipe up. It says, well, if that promise was made and fulfilled all those years ago, then why are we still here? Why does it seem like nothing is better? Why does it seem like, for many, things are only getting worse?
Like Paul said, it’s our gospel. It’s the good news for us, and the good news we have to tell. Our souls can magnify the Lord. We can strengthen others, we can make God known, we can show the strength of our arms, we can scatter the proud and lift up the lowly, we can feed the hungry and shame those who don’t share their wealth with those in need, we can remember the promise, made so long ago and now fulfilled, we can break through the waters of baptism, and find ourselves on the other shore, singing a song of victory.
This is our fourth week of Advent, the fourth week of waiting for Christmas to come. In the days we have left, what can we do to magnify the Lord? What can we do to fulfill the promise now? How can we proclaim the good news that a child has been born who has changed everything?
The Rev. Joani Peacock, Editor for Emmanuel Voices: A Parish Blog