One of the blessings we’ve enjoyed this Advent is introducing a form of the “O” antiphons into our prayer before evening meals. Since our children now know the hymn “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” we decided to sing the verse corresponding to that evening’s antiphon, after which we recited the Magnificat, with each family member taking a verse.
This has worked out far better than I expected. Rather than doing this grudgingly as a way of indulging dad’s odd liturgical obsessions, the kids have really embraced it. My nine-year-daughter had a friend over for dinner last night and went on at length to her about the antiphons, including a discussion of the Latin titles.
My 11-year-old son, for his part, seems to enjoy the reading of the Magnificat, particularly the line “he has cast down the mighty from their thrones and has lifted up the lowly.” As befits a fan of movies like Star Wars and Pirates of the Caribbean, he reads the line with great drama, conveying the climax of an epic battle between good and evil.
Which, of course, it is. The Gospel of Luke is a story of reversals that, to use the old phrase, “afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted.” Not for Luke is Matthew’s pious sounding “blessed are the poor in spirit.” “Blessed are the poor,” he records Christ bluntly declaring and—in case you have missed the point—follows it up with “woe to you rich, for you have received your consolation.”
Mary’s Magnificat anticipates and summarizes Luke’s narrative. While the coming of the Messiah is an ambiguous event—to put it mildly—for those of us who enjoy power and privilege, it is Good News for those at the margins: the widow, the orphan. Today we might add: the unborn, the undocumented, the uninsured.
For someone like myself who lives in relative comfort, the daily reading of a prayer like the Magnificat can be—if I let it—a terrifying experience. It calls into question everything that I have achieved, everything that my daily actions suggest that I truly value. A new world is coming, one for which my life of bourgeois respectability may not, in the end, have adequately prepared me. Faced with such a future, is my prayer “Come, Lord Jesus!” reflective of a deeply held desire or is it mere pious sentiment? If I search my heart, would I find that I truly prefer that the Lord not come, or at least not anytime soon?