Mary’s Song, by Luci Shaw
Blue homespun and the bend of my breast
keep warm this small hot naked star
fallen to my arms. (Rest…
you who have had so far
to come.) Now nearness satisfies
the body of God sweetly. Quiet he lies
whose vigor hurled
a universe. He sleeps
whose eyelids have not closed before.
His breath (so slight it seems
no breath at all) once ruffled the dark deeps
to sprout a world.
Charmed by doves’ voices, the whisper of straw,
hearing no music from his other spheres.
Breath, mouth, ears, eyes
he is curtailed
who overflowed all skies,
Older than eternity, now he
is new. Now native to earth as I am, nailed
to my poor planet, caught that I might be free,
blind in my womb to know my darkness ended,
brought to this birth
for me to be new-born,
and for him to see me mended
I must see him torn.
Passages to read aloud together to talk about Mary are Luke 1:26-38, 46-56; 2:4-5, 18-19, 29-40. The Magnificat (Mary’s prayer in Luke 1.46-55) is one of the most beautiful praise songs in Scripture. Read it together in several translations.
And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. And 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 mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever.” (Luke 1:46–55 ESV)
Discuss how Mary’s response to the angel is the paramount model for the Christian life. Did Mary try to set her own agenda? Did she try to do “the Lord’s work” in her own strength? When facing shame and uncertainty, did she give in to bitterness? How did she give thanks instead? (Read aloud Francis Schaeffer’s discussion of Mary in True Spirituality, pp. 57-59.)
Discuss the meaning of Advent as a time of waiting, of longing, of hoping for the coming of the Messiah. Imagine how Mary would have felt four weeks before the child so mysteriously conceived would be born. Compare this with the centuries of waiting which the Hebrew people endured in faith and hope. How does Mary reflect the yearning of an entire people in her song of praise? How does she reflect a new hope?
Set up a figure of Mary and Joseph, with a donkey, somewhere in the house, to represent their journey to Bethlehem for Caesar’s tax. Each night move them a little closer to the spot where they will find the stable in Bethlehem.
Listen to Bach’s oratorio, The Magnificat.
Sing some carols together, including:
- Mary, did you know?
- Breath of Heaven
- What Child is This?
- The Cherry Tree Carol
- Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming
(by John Michael Talbot)
Recommended video: Roger Newell reflects upon Mary as a model for responding to God in faith in a conversation with Michael Feazell as part of the series You’re Included. Follow this up, if you want some theological reflection, with the section of Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics about the virgin birth, entitled, “The Miracle of Christmas,” or Karl Barth, The Great Promise: Luke 1; chs. 2-3.
- Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives, pp. 26-38.
- “The Littlest Shepherd,” by Dorothy Boulware; in Stories for Christmas, ed. Mary Virginia Robinson (1967).
- Barth on the virgin birth: Church Dogmatics, 1.2 §15.3. See Matthew Dowling, Blogging with Barth, “The Miracle of Christmas” pp. 172-202; and Dustin Resch, Barth’s Interpretation of the Virgin Birth: A Sign of Mystery (Ashgate, 2012).
- See also Christmas nights at home.
Update (12/19/2011), from Rachel, Onward into Light:
I’ve been contemplating the mysteries of advent, thinking about “eternity shut in a span” and God new-born. I’ve also been thinking about a girl faced with a possibility — a question, beautiful and wondrous and wild with hope — and saying yes. I think about all the amazing and wonderful things that followed, things she stored up like treasures in her heart. I also think of all the sacrifices that followed that “yes” — the shame of rejection by her community, the pain of childbirth far from home; the fear, the confusion — how does one be the mother of God? — and, towards the end, the agony and heartache of watching her son suffer and die. But it was all so beautiful, so worth it. “Tidings of great joy” — a joy that slept incarnate in her arms, that shared the depths of her sorrow and tears; a joy that conquered death.