Lyrical Moments

Advent IV
Lk. 1:39-56

Within the broad sweep of themes and motifs in our lives there are lyrical moments. Oft times they are a prelude to deeper themes. Sometimes they carry the past movements and tie together the whole orchestration of our faith journey. Lyrical moments both remember and foretell. One Saturday evening when I was ten or twelve years old, I went for a hike in the woods with my Blue Merle Collie, Bonnie. It was the third snow fall in December and Christmas was only a week away. Bonnie chased rabbits and skitted in and out of thickets, flushing a grouse or two. We followed the animal trails, rather than the man made ones. Here there were tracks of a fox, there of a squirrel, farther on of a raccoon. If you looked closely you could see the marks of chipmunks and nuthatches. At five o’clock the moon came out and we had no trouble finding our way through the snowy woods. I wore my US Rubber black buckled boots with my corduroys stuffed into their tops as well as a red sweater and a leather jacket. Bonnie and I followed a steam which became a creek down a gully which became a ravine. When we reached a bluff we turned back, pawing our way through the thickets and thron bushes. I had fashioned a staff with my knife and we hiked about four miles. It was all in black and white, for by the moon there were no colors.

The air was crisp and neat. There were shadows but no sense of the sinister. A war was being fought in Europe and Asia. But for Bonnie and me life was good, clean and full or promise. We felt alive.

When I got back to the house my mother made me a cup of hot chocolate around which I warmed my hands. My parents were dressing to go to a dance at the Methodist Church that night, and I was to stay alone with Bonnie. My mother and father had not always had an easy relationship, but that evening they were looking forward to the dance and enjoying each other’s company. There were traces of times past in their comments as well as the anticipation of good fellowship with friends. After my journey through the woods I had come home to a house in which there was peace and love.

I don’t know why I remember that evening after so many years. For me it was a moment of lyricism. There was grace and beauty, strength and tenderness. Subsequently I could look at other events in my family and the memory of my journey in the woods and coming home would help me place in perspective other journeys and home comings - some soft and some more harsh.

Such a lyrical moment and such a remembrance in our lives, helps us to hear the story of Mary’s visit to Elizabeth in a Judean town. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child in Elizabeth’s womb moved. She greeted Mary with “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?” Elizabeth acknowledged, or hoped, that Mary’s baby would be a leader. Mary responded “My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior, for He has looked with favor on the lowliness of his handmaiden. 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.” Like mothers since time memoriam the two women rejoiced in the pregnancy of one another and exalted in their own conditions. They felt truly blessed and favored.

There is an innate joy, exaltation and outright awe connected with pregnancy. It is many things for many women. But common to them all are times of lyricism when life is full of hope, wonder, beauty and grace. Mothers croon to their babies even before birth. The canticles of Elizabeth and Mary pick up echoes from the books of Genesis, Judges, Judith, I Samuel, Deuteronomy and the Psalms. Throughout the books of the Old Testament there are lyrical moments of joy and beauty which are woven into the warf and woof of the lives of Israel’s people. The anawim, the poor people of the land, knew these lyrical phrases from having heard the Torah and the writings both in the Temple and in the synagogue. Israel had wandered through deserts and mountains, across rivers and valleys. Throughout her journey as a people there were moments of beauty, hope and times for dancing. All of these grace notes in the life of the people welled up in the canticles of Elizabeth and Mary. Would such unlettered women as these have spoken thus? Of course the writers of the early Church recast what the two women said and how they felt. But the early Church, and Luke, from their post-resurrection view point, correctly discerned the lyrical yearnings of Israel and of the two women. The writers knew that this was a time of ineffable beauty and awesome mystery.

Elizabeth and Mary exalted with Israel in the redemptive graciousness of God. Mary’s psalm sings of an ancient and present hope of people, and of mankind. “His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent empty away. He has holpened his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.” Here is a creedal psalm that literally sings out with hope and expectation and affirmation. It carries all of the themes of a life of a people, of the life of individuals, and of the life of the early Church.

These passages today from Luke catch up those lyrical moments in life in which the past, present and future rise up and sparkle. They cast a clean white light on the landscape of our lives. They enlighten our journey of faith as we move closer and closer to behold God’s incarnation in a wee baby in a manager in a stable in Bethlehem.

This last Sunday in Advent pause. Soon it will be Christmas Eve. Don’t rush to the Inn quite yet. Savor the time of preparation, the lyrical moment of anticipation and hope. Take some time, some private moments, to remember those lyrical seeing-moments in your lives when you walked through the pastures or woods or valleys in your lives and when times were good for you. Remember when you were accompanied by a friend, a dog or perhaps you recognized the Holy Spirit with you. Savor those lyrical moments just before you come to greet the birth of the Christ child. And if you can, let your children know, or your friends or even a stranger, that in your heart there is love and joy. Give them the gift of seeing your love for them or for someone else. By so doing you will help them, and yourself, sing with joy on Christmas. And you will know that you have come home. Amen