A few weeks ago Kyle Johnson and I were planning worship for this upcoming Sunday, reading the texts assigned for the day and thinking about what hymns and occasional music might point our assembly’s attention toward the messages carried in the scriptures. Generally the texts are set, though there are occasionally alternatives presented. For this Sunday there was an assigned psalm (Ps. 146: “The LORD lifts up those who are bowed down”) and an alternative: the Magnificat, the song Mary sang when she was received by her kinswoman, Elizabeth (Lk 1:46-55: “My spirit rejoices in God my Savior”). We picked the alternative.
In some ways all the texts were alternatives – alternative visions of how the world should be ordered. Isaiah says, “the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped” (Isa 35:5); Mary says, “he has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly” (Lk 1:52); and in Matthew’s gospel Jesus says, “the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them” (Mt 11:5).
As with the whole season of Advent, this Sunday we hear the prophet’s vision of God’s reign – and then we hear that prophecy has come to fulfillment in the one on whom we wait. The vision of God’s justice, mercy and healing is like a song that can be sung with many alternative tunes – and has been. This Sunday we will hear, and sing, the song of Mary as plainsong, as English hymn, as Latin chant, as Irish folk tune. And we will wait, patiently, for God’s song to be sung again – creating for us and for the world alternative ways of living and loving.