Advent Devotional 2015: The Canticles of Luke

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Here you can read devotions for the 2015 Advent Season prepared by FPC member Annie Lockwood.

Day 8: Sunday (The Benedictus)

Holy_Cross_Monastery_in_Jerusalem._Georgian_frescoes_01Week Two: The canticle of Zechariah (the Benedictus) – Luke 1:68-79

Introduction

The names given to each of the canticles are from the first word of each Latin Vulgate translation. Therefore Benedictus from Benedictus Dominus, Deus Israel, or “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel…” Remember that the Benedictus, or Zachariah’s song, is often used in the liturgy for morning prayer.

The Benedictus, like the other Canticles of Luke, holds a unique place both in the canon of Christian Scripture and in the life of the Christian Church. It is set at the heart of the Scriptures because of its literary proximity and unique poetic response to the event to which all of the Scriptures point –the Incarnation of Jesus Christ.

The
Benedictus 
was the song of thanksgiving uttered by Zachary on the occasion of the birth of his son, John the Baptist. The whole canticle consists of two primary sections. The first (verses 68-75) is a song of thanksgiving for the realization of the Messianic hopes of the Jewish nation. As of old, in the family of David, there was power to defend the nation against their enemies, now again that of which they had been so long deprived, and for which they had been yearning, was to be restored to them, but in a higher and spiritual sense. The horn is a sign of power, and the “horn of salvation” signified the power of delivering or “a mighty deliverance”. The deliverance was now at hand, and was pointed to by Zachary as the fulfillment of God’s oath to Abraham; but the fulfillment is described as a deliverance not for the sake of worldly power, but that “we may serve him without fear, in holiness and justice all our days”.

 

The second part of the canticle is an address by Zachary to his own son, who was to take so important a part in the scheme of the Redemption; for he was to be a prophet, and to preach the remission of sins before the coming or the Orient, or Dawn, from on high. The prophecy that he was to “go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways” (v. 76) was an allusion to the well-known words of Isaiah (40:3), which John himself afterwards applied to his own mission (John 1:23); and which all the three Gospels adopt (Matthew 3:3; Mark 1:2; Luke 3:4.)

Like Mary, Zachariah is visited by an angel; like Mary, he is promised a son; and yet unlike Mary, his response is disbelief. He asks the angel for a sign, “Whereby shall I know this?” (1:18), in contrast with Mary’s request for further instruction, “How shall this be?” (1:34). While Mary is blessed for believing (1:45), Zachariah is admonished for his response: And the angel answering said unto him, I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God; and am sent to speak unto thee, and to show thee these glad tidings. And behold, thou shalt be dumb, and not able to speak, until the day that these things shall be performed, because thou believest not my words, which shall be fulfilled in their season. And yet Zachariah’s story is one of redemption as well. When Zachariah does speak again, it is at the birth of the son the angel had promised, and in the very words that the Holy Spirit speaks through him (Luke 1:67).

 

Sunday: Day 8

 

The seven prayers known as the O Antiphons, which are sung at Vespers beginning on December 17, remind us that Christ, whose glorious return we anticipate and patiently await during Advent, is surrounding and sustaining us already. He is truly Emmanuel, “God among us,” for he is at once the wisdom who creates and orders the universe, the lawgiver who establishes righteousness through Israel and the Church, the redeemer who has overcome death and rescued his creation from sin, and the great king who is drawing his children from every nation and restoring them in love. Today, here, they are presented as framing devices for a period of Scripture reading and reflection.

Today’s prayer for December 20 is

O Key of David and Scepter of the House of Israel;

you open and no man closes; you close and no man opens.

Come, and deliver from the chains of prison those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.

Isaiah 22:22: “I will place the key of the House of David on his shoulder. When he opens, no one shall shut; when he shuts, no one shall open.

Revelation 3:7: “To the presiding spirit of the church in Philadelphia write this: ‘The holy One, the true, who wields David’s key, who opens and no one can close, who closes and no one can open'”.

Isaiah 42:6-7: “I formed you, and set you as a covenant of the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes of the blind, to bring out prisoners from confinement, and from the dungeon those who live in darkness”.

The key and scepter are traditional symbols of kingly power and authority. Christ, the anointed one, is the heir of David and possessor of the kingdom. Jesus himself also made use of this symbol, showing the prophetic relationship of the earthly kingdom of David to the kingdom of God. All power and authority was given to him after the resurrection, and he entrusted this power to “bind and to loose” to Peter and the ministers of his church.

In the closing petition we look to Jesus to unlock the fetters of sin that keep us tightly chained. It is he who frees us from our captivity. We recall the deliverance proclaimed by the psalmist of old: “they dwelt in darkness and gloom, bondsmen in want and in chains,…and he led them forth fromdarkness and gloom and broke their bonds asunder” (Psalm 107: 10, 14).

As you journey through Advent, I would like to encourage you again to consider keeping an Advent Journal and noting your responses to some of the questions here. Journals are a wonderful means of recollecting God’s faithfulness and observing God’s movements in your heart. Even if you didn’t begin this in Week One, consider beginning it today.

Pray that God would open your heart and speak to you in the “still, small voice.” Are you listening? Find a quiet place where you are able to be alone for a few minutes: in your car, in a cozy chair by the fire, at your kitchen table.

Read the passage of the Benedictus for the first time, slowly and prayerfully

, conscious that what you are reading is a poem or a song. Read as if the words were a prayer, for they have been so since the time of early Church. Let the poetry sink into your heart. Listen its rhythms and cadences as you read.
Augustine argued that the Lukan canticles themselves are good examples of faith, hope, and charity at work in human beings: they aim to teach the reader how to
behold the incarnation which requires faith, how to respond to it, which requires love, and how to hope
for eschatological fulfillment based on the knowledge that the promises of Christ’s first coming have already been fulfilled. If we approach the Benedictus in the way that Augustine suggests Scripture to be read, and in the way that Luke intended for them to be read by his own admission (indeed even in the way, it may be argued, that the cantors themselves intended) – namely as texts through which the charity, faith, and hope of the reader may be strengthened: then,
  1. How does Zachariah’s song require love, faith and hope as he beholds the incarnation?
  2. How does Zachariah respond to each?
  3. Imagine yourself as Zachariah, talking with the angel. What is God showing you about your own love, faith and hope? Note this in your journal.
  4. The fulfillment of the ancient prophecy is described as a deliverance, not for the sake of worldly power, but that “we may serve him without fear, in holiness and justice all our days”. From what might God be leading you to ask deliverance? What attachments or disordered desires or lack of faith is he highlighting?
  5. How does this deliverance free you to serve him “ without fear, in holiness and justice”? Consider each aspect independently (without fear, holiness, justice) and then consider how they are related in your own lif

 

Prayer

: Offer a prayer to God, asking him, in Jesus’ name, to grant you the Holy Spirit’s power so that you may from what you need deliverance and grace and know in your heart how you may serve God “without fear, in holiness and justice.”


Day 7: Saturday

Saturday: Recap of the Magnificat

 

Today we say the third of the O Antiphons, the ancient prayers sung along with the Magnificat from December 17, and collected in Rome by the eighth century, though some of the component prayers may be centuries older. These antiphons are simple in form: after addressing God in Christ with a striking Messianic title drawn from Israel’s prophetic writings, each one describes a gracious act of God and offers a petition apropos to its description of Christ. In seven various, but interrelated ways they voice the ultimate petition of Scripture—“Come, Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:20). Collectively they also suggest Christ’s response to that plea: the seven titles in Latin
Sapientia, Adonai, Radix Jesse, Clavis David, Oriens,
Rex Gentium, and Emmanuel—in reverse order form an acrostic ERO CRAS which means “I am coming soon.”

 

Traditionally during the final Advent vesper (evening) services on December 17 through 23, one of these antiphons is said or chanted before and after the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55)—allowing each antiphon to cast its distinctive light on Mary’s rejoicing over the gracious acts of God to Israel that are being fulfilled through her. Today, here, they are presented in a similar way—as framing devices for a period of Scripture reading and reflection.

 

The O Antiphon for December 19 is:

O Root of Jesse, you stand as a sign for the peoples;
before you kings shall keep silence and to you all nations shall have recourse.
Come, save us, and do not delay.

 

Isaiah 52:13, 15; 53:2: “See, my servant shall prosper…So shall he startle many nations, because of him kings shall stand speechless. …He grew up like a sapling before him, like a shoot”.

 

Isaiah prophesied a restoration of David’s throne – a new branch budding out of the old root. Christ is the root of Jesse in a two-fold sense: he is the descendant of David, who was the youngest son of Jesse, and he inherited the royal throne. The angel foretold to Mary, “The Lord God will give him the throne of David his father. He will rule over the house of Jacob forever and his reign will be without end” (Luke 1:32-33).cOur hearts more and more urgently cry out for God’s reign to extend over all humanity: “Come, save us, and do not delay”.

 

During this week, we have explored together the wonderful riches of Mary’s Song, the Magnificat. Think back over the week’s contemplation. Look through the pages in your Advent journal. Note your responses to these questions:

 

  • What has God led you to discover about Mary’s song that speaks into your life?
  • How can you employ a discipline of “remembering” in your life in order to practice living in the presence of God each day?
  • What transformation is God leading you towards? In what areas of your life is he shining his light?
  • How is God leading you to reflect this transformation in your actions and choices? To what specific actions does this transformation point? How does it change how you will choose to live and what you will choose to do?
  • What have you learned about your vocation for the life of the world through Mary’s example?

 

Before we move on to the Benedictus tomorrow, let’s take a moment to consider how Mary’s song, as well as the other songs we will study in this Advent journey, embody the theology of ancient Hebrew poetry and music.

 

The concept of sacrifice for the Jewish people, was by its very name an act of thanksgiving and praise. Because of this, Hebrew music was closely linked to musical praise. Such musical sacrifice was the idea behind Psalm 107:22 (“And let them sacrifice the sacrifices of thanksgiving, and declare his works with rejoicing.”), a verse alluded to later in Hebrews 13:15: “By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name.”

 

The theology of this concept of sacrifice characterizes much of the music in the Old Testament. Other prominent examples of this type of praise are the Israelites’ Song of the Sea, following deliverance from Egypt (“I will sing unto the Lord, for he hath triumphed gloriously: the horse and his rider hath he thrown into the sea,” Exod. 15:1); Jonah’s prayer to God in the belly of the great fish (“I will sacrifice unto thee with the voice of thanksgiving,” Jonah 2:9); Hannah’s song, praising God for the birth of her son (“My heart rejoiceth in the Lord, mine horn is exalted in the Lord…I rejoice in thy salvation,” 1 Samuel 2:1); and many of the psalms of David.

 

The Hebrew word “song” associates Mary’s poem through allusion with a particular type of Hebrew religious music. In alluding to Psalm 69:30, Mary’s song is thus associated with the vocal music present in ancient Jewish worship. The same Hebrew root word for song used by Mary is present in another verse with which Luke 1:47 may be identified: Isaiah 12:2 (“Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and not be afraid: for the Lord Jehovah is my strength and my song; he also is become my salvation.”). The Hebrew for the last part of this verse is almost a direct quote of Exodus 15:2, (“The Lord is my strength and song, and he is become my salvation”), from the Israelites Song of the Sea following their deliverance from Egypt. Verse 47 of Mary’s Magnificat (“my spirit rejoiced in God my savior”) echoes the identification of God with salvation, and therefore implicitly with song. Perhaps it is not too big a stretch to imagine that Mary’s song was not only sung, but also put to instrumental music by the early Christians, inheritors of the ancient Hebrew musical worship

 

We have seen from the 2 Samuel passage and several other examples that music in the Hebrew Bible most often takes the tone of thanksgiving in response to the covenantal and saving presence of God in the lives of His people. As we looked forward to the canticle of Mary (as well as the other canticles) in Luke’s Gospel, we have seen that it recapitulates the theology of thanksgiving for the covenantal presence of God.

 

In addition to expressing thanksgiving and praise for God’s presence, ancient Israelite music and poetry also expressed a longing for future salvation, often referring to the Savior who was to come. Indeed, in the Hebrew Bible, the word Savior is first uttered in poetry. The name of God’s Son is spoken first by the man who wrestled with God, who saw the face of God and yet lived, who bore the name of Israel (Genesis 32: 22-32). In Genesis 49, nearing death, Jacob/Israel prays in these words: For your salvation have I waited, O Lord – Genesis 49:18). Israel’s prayer is echoed in the psalms and in Isaiah (e.g. Ps. 25:5; Is. 25:9; 33:2). Hebrew poetry expresses longing and waiting as well as joy and declarative praise – both are responses to the present or future salvation. From beginning to end, Mary’s Magnificat reflects the theology of Hebrew musical texts.

 

  • As you read through the Magnificat consider the concept of sacrifice as linked with thanksgiving and praise. What is your song of thanksgiving and praise to God?
  • Sing your own song, highlighting why you are thankful, and record this in your journal.

 

Prayer:

Read back through your observations this week. Thank God for giving you this beautiful song of Mary and praise him for offering you the opportunity to be transformed by his presence and through his lead. Thank him for the riches in both the Old Testament texts that pointed to Christ, and for the fruition of our longing for “God with us,” which was fulfilled in Christ’s birth in your heart and for the life of the world. Pray the Magnificat as your own beautiful song to God.
Listen to this beautiful Magnificat by Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jvz3XGpNsts


Day 6: Friday

Friday:  Rest in 

Prayer and Thanksgiving

The seven prayers—the Great Antiphons, or O Antiphons, sung each day beginning on December 17 along with the Magnificat—are among the richest treasures of Advent. With a montage of haunting biblical images of creation, redemption, and ultimate restoration they remind us that Christ, whose glorious return we anticipate and patiently await during Advent, is surrounding and sustaining us already. He is truly Emmanuel, “God among us,” for he is at once the wisdom who creates and orders the universe, the lawgiver who establishes righteousness through Israel and the Church, the redeemer who has overcome death and rescued his creation from sin, and the great king who is drawing his children from every nation and restoring them in love.

 

The O Antiphon for December 18 is:

“O Adonai and Ruler of the House of Israel, you appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush and on Mount Sinai gave him your law. Come, and with outstretched arm redeem us.”

 

Exodus 3:2: “An angel of the Lord appeared to him in fire flaming out of a bush. As he looked on, he was surprised to see that the bush, though on fire, was not consumed”.

 

Exodus 6:6: “Therefore say to the Israelites: I am Yahweh. I will free you from the enforced labor of the Egyptians and will deliver you from their slavery. I will rescue you by my outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment”.

 

“Adonai” is Hebrew for “my Lord”, and was substituted by devout Jews for the name “Yahweh”, out of reverence. With this second antiphon we progress from creation to the familiar story of God manifesting himself by name to Moses and giving his law to Israel as their way of life. We are also reminded of the Israelites’ deliverance from bondage under pharaoh – a foreshadowing of our own redemption from sin. The image of God’s arm outstretched in power to save his chosen people also brings to mind the later scene of Jesus with his arms outstretched for us on the cross.

 

Today, we will explore the last theme in Mary’s Magnificat, before concluding the first week of our journey tomorrow with a discussion of Hebrew music and how Mary’s song brings together many of the aspects and themes of the beautiful theology of Hebrew song. Sunday, we move on to our next canticle, the Benedictus, or Zachariah’s song. As you read today’s devotion, remember the walking we have done all week thus far, and rest in God’s presence. Simply “be with” God as you open yourself to a deeper learning of his Word. If you feel drawn back into the Magnificat, follow the lead of the Spirit. After the resting, take the phrase, sentence or word that stood out to you as you read Mary’s song this week and listen to it, reflect on it, pray over it, and rest in it as time allows during the day. Allow it to become a part of you.

 

The sixth and final theme that we will explore from Mary’s Magnificat is the pair of contrasts between rulers and the poor, hungry and rich. As mentioned in chapter one, verses 52-53 of Mary’s Magnificat, these contrasts form a literary chiasmus, or “crossing.” A chiasmus is a figure of speech in which two or more clauses are related to each other through a reversal of structures in order to make a larger point; that is, the clauses display inverted parallelism.

 

The theme of the reversal of fortunes is a major one for Luke, and for Christianity as a whole. Max Wilcox, in his book “The ‘God-Fearers’ in Acts” describes it this way:

 

“That God has reversed the normal order of things by raising Jesus from the

dead was an insight which seemed thoroughly to have impressed itself on

first-century Christians. ‘The stone which the builders rejected has become

the head of the corner’ (Lk. 20.17 and other texts). Moreover, the

establishment of a church of the ‘foolish in the world’ reversed natural

expectations (1 Cor. 1.26). And those who preached the Gospel, it was

claimed, had ‘turned the world upside down’ (Acts 17.6). There seems to

have been a strong sense among early Christians that God, by his acts

among them, had definitively reversed the natural order of human life.

Verses 52-53 of the Magnificat may be influenced by this widespread

Christian perception.”

 

Read Luke 6:20-23

A good place to begin exploring Luke’s development of this theme is Luke 6:20-23, the Beatitudes of Jesus. The Beatitudes begin with a blessing of the two groups that the Magnificat also makes mention of in Luke 1:52-53: the poor and the hungry. Mary says that God “lifted up” the poor; Jesus blesses them with the “kingdom of God.” Mary says that God filled” the hungry; Jesus also promises that the hungry will be filled. To these reversals, Jesus adds two more: the sorrowful will turn into the joyful, and the hated will be rewarded in heaven.

 

Although the references in the Beatitudes are to physical realities of “lowliness,” we see from Luke’s development of this theme that blessing will only to come to those who are lowly of heart, as well. Jesus urges his disciples to a humility toward their neighbor in Luke 14, and a humility toward God in Luke 18:

 

In the first passage above (Luke 14), the exalted man is the one who is humble before his neighbors, giving to others honor and prestige in place of himself. In the second passage (Luke 18), the exalted man is the one humbles himself before God in recognition of his sin and need for mercy.

 

  • Why does Jesus so clearly link being lowly of heart and being filled? Consider Mary’s example. How did her posture allow her to be greatly blessed by God?
  • What can you learn from Mary’s example about humility? Why is the exalted one the one who recognizes his sin and his great need for mercy?
  • How might God be leading you to embrace a “lowliness of heart” so that your life might be filled and blessed?
  • How does Christ’s coming turn the world on its head and render the natural order of human life “upside down”? How should this new order change your approach to your life and transform it each day? How does it turn your own world upside down? How is God leading you to reflect this transformation in your actions and choices?

 

Prayer:

Rest in God’s presence in thanksgiving and praise. Thank God for his coming as Emmanual (God with us) and transforming our lives with his presence. Ask God to give you the grace of being “poor in spirit” that your life might be filled and transformed by him.


Day 5: Thursday

Thursday: Respond (Act)
Today is the first day during Advent when Christian liturgy begins singing the “O” Antiphons. Sung since at least the eighth century, they are the antiphons that accompany the Magnificat canticle of Evening Prayer from December 17-23. They are a magnificent theology that uses ancient biblical imagery drawn from the messianic hopes of the Old Testament to proclaim the coming Christ as the fulfillment not only of Old Testament hopes, but present ones as well. Their repeated use of the imperative “Come!” embodies the longing of all for the Divine Messiah.

The antiphon for December 17:
O Wisdom of our God Most High,
guiding creation with power and love:
come to teach us the path of knowledge!

In today’s reflection, following the progression of the four “movements” in the Lectio Divina method of spiritual reading, or reading with God (Read, Reflect, Respond and Rest), we will consider not only the movement within our own hearts, and what Mary’s songs means for us, but we will explore what it means for the life of the world and our role in the world. Lectio is a way of listening to the texts of Scripture as if we were in conversation with Christ and He was suggesting the topics of conversation. Yesterday, our response took the form of prayer for guidance. As you study today, consider what it is that Christ may be leading you to do and how you will Respond to his leading.

For the past few days we have been noting that Mary’s Magnificat serves as an exposition of themes that Luke continues to develop in his narrative, just as Mary herself is an exposition of the humble servant and saved believer who magnifies God and rejoices in Him. We have explored the themes of Magnifying God (1:46), Joyfulness (1:47), Salvation (1:47) and Servanthood (1:48). Today we will consider how Mary’s song embodies the
God-fearing 
individual or nation.

In Luke 1:50, Mary sings, “And his mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation.” In both his books (Luke and Acts), Luke demonstrates an abiding interest in the relationship of God with the Gentiles as well as with the Jews. Highlighting the theme of godly fear, Luke develops the idea that Gentiles, as well as Jews, may be counted among those who do indeed “fear God.”

Read Acts 10

Luke’s emphasis on the god-fearing qualities in both Jews and Gentiles may be seen by the description of Cornelius, Luke’s  Gentile protagonist, in Acts 10. Cornelius is introduced in verse 2 as “a devout man, and one who feared God.” Luke’s description is reinforced by the men who are sent to find Peter on behalf of the Gentile (v. 22), and then affirmed by Peter himself at the end of the episode: “Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: but in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him” (v. 35).

The scholar Max Wilcox, in his book “The God Fearers in Acts,” explores what Luke means when he speaks of this kind of piety.

“Luke 1:50 applies the term God-fearing to a devout Jew; Acts10:2, 22, 35 permit us to predicate it also of a pious Gentile. In this connection it is perhaps a little surprising that Luke 7:2-10 does not use it of the centurion described there as so highly regarded by the Jewish community. This raises the question of what Luke means by “pious”. It is spelt out in two places: Acts 10:35, ‘fearing God and performing righteousness’, and 10:2, ‘giving alms generously to the people… and praying to God continually’. That is, it is defined in terms of good works. What we have here is thus not so much a picture of Cornelius as a description of how Luke understands true piety –whether of Jew or Gentile.”

As Wilcox observes, Luke’s focus here is drawing out the characteristics of a “true piety” that transcends distinctions of race and culture. Such piety is found in fearing God and in performing works for God that develop that fear in an active sense.

In an article ‘Fearing God” in
Christianity Today
William D. Eisenhower puts it this way:

“Unfortunately, many of us presume that the world is the ultimate threat and that God’s function is to offset it. How different this is from the biblical position that God is far scarier than the world …. When we assume that the world is the ultimate threat, we give it unwarranted power, for in truth, the world’s threats are temporary. When we expect God to balance the stress of the world, we reduce him to the world’s equal …. As I walk with the Lord, I discover that God poses an ominous threat to my ego, but not to me. He rescues me from my delusions, so he may reveal the truth that sets me free. He casts me down, only to lift me up again. He sits in judgment of my sin, but forgives me nevertheless. Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, but love from the Lord is its completion.”

 

  • How does Mary’s observation that God’s mercy is on ‘them that fear him’ work together with the earlier themes (particularly Joyfulness and Salvation) we have explored in her song?
  • What truth is God revealing to you through Mary and Luke’s description of God-fearing that will set you free to be the person God intended? From what delusions might he be rescuing you? Where might Jesus be showing you that your attachments may be dis-ordered in such a way that they are keeping you in bondage?
  • What wisdom is Jesus offering you in your life and how might embracing his love complete that wisdom and work in you? How can you embody this wisdom as Jesus did, by observing Luke’s exhortation to “pray to God continually”?
  • Considering the threats in today’s world, how does cultivating a God-fearing heart change our posture towards current events?
  • Listen attentively to Jesus’ call as you read. Considering Luke’s definition of God-fearing, where might Jesus’ whisper to your heart be leading you to demonstrate love in your life? In the world you inhabit?

 

Prayer:

Pray that God would show you the attachments and delusions that keep you from fully understanding his truth (wisdom) and exercising true freedom in the world. Ask God to show you how embracing his love, as Mary did, might be employed for the life of the world.


Day 5: Wednesday

 

Wednesday: Reflect (Pray), part II

 

In looking deeply at Mary’s music, her song to God, we have explored three distinct themes from the Magnificat: Magnifying God (Day 2), Joyfulness (Day 3) and Salvation (Day 4). The fourth theme, which we will explore today, is Servanthood. Today in  your time with these devotions, try to respond spontaneously as you continue to listen to a phrase or a word.  A prayer of praise, thanksgiving or petition may arise. Offer that prayer, and then return to repeating the word or phrase in your heart.

Read Luke 1:54-55.

The last two verses of Mary’s song (Luke 1:54-55) are not difficult to relate to the theology of the Old Testament, since they refer by name to the nation of Israel and to its father, Abraham. “He has come to the help of his servant Israel, for he has remembered his promise of mercy, the promise he has made to our fathers, to Abraham and his children forever.” (Luke 1: 54,55) These lines allude to the prophet Isaiah, who describes Israel as God’s “servant” (Isaiah 41:8-10; 42:1; 44:1-2, 21; 45:4; 48:20; 49:3). Mary also makes reference to the important OT action of remembering, which is not merely cognitive, but refers to God’s bringing his promise into operation.

St. Augustine, in his book “City of God,” wrote about his spiritual rebirth as a moment of revelation that took him on a pilgrimage deep inside his imagination, his memory. He discusses remembrance in a similar manner as Jesus did at the last supper: “Do this in Remembrance of me.” Augustine wrote: “It was an awe-inspiring mystery, an unfathomable world of images, presences of our past…” He wrote as if he was recovering it, not discovering it. What he needed to do was remember; what he was looking for was something he already knew.

How can we recover something we already know? Mary, as the first among believers, is the model servant of God: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord” (Luke 1:38). She reiterates this theme in her song, saying that God has looked upon the lowliness of her state as a servant. Simeon also refers to himself as a servant in his Nunc Dimittis (Luke 2:29). Taking both Mary and Simeon as models, Luke develops the theme throughout his book, narrating key qualities that a true servant of Christ should possess in two lengthy parables spoken by Jesus.

Read Luke 12:35-48.

The first of these parables is found in Luke 12:35-48, and in this parable Jesus underscores the true servant’s watchfulness: A model for the watchful servant is found in Simeon, who patiently “[waited] for the consolation of Israel” (Luke 2:25). In the parable of Luke 12, Jesus reveals that his servants must remain watchful for his second coming as well. He prepares his disciples for a time when he would leave them, a time when they would inhabit the world as servants waiting for the return of their master. Jesus stresses the need for faithfulness to the kingdom of God over attending to earthly affairs (As he says in Luke 16:23, “No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.”). He sternly places this responsibility in the hands of all of his followers. Luke 12:35-40.

Read Luke 19:11-27

The theme of the faithful servant awaiting his master is reiterated in the second of Luke’s longer parables on servanthood (Luke 19:11-27). As the Luke 12 parable focuses on a good servant’s watchfulness, this parable highlights his stewardship while he is watching. While his disciples are expecting the immediate appearance of the physical kingdom of God (19:11), Jesus brings them down to earth by preparing them again for the events that would shortly occur (his death, resurrection, and ascension) and for the role that their lives would take in relation to the kingdom of God and Himself as its master. This time he emphasizes the need for His followers’ gifts to be made profitable for the kingdom of God.

Mary is the model servant. She was “watchful” in the sense that she was prepared to take immediate action when the angel from God addressed her with the divine plan, and she was a faithful steward in the sense that she gave her gifts to God for His use. Just as Jesus promised to his faithful servants, Mary is called blessed – not only by God but also by men and angels. She is called “blessed” by both the angel Gabriel and Elizabeth, and in her song she prophesies, “All generations will call me blessed.

 

  • Allow yourself to enter deeply into your imagination. Consider your song to God as a deep remembrance, presences of our ancient past and its songs of worship. What comes to mind? What might God be suggesting that you “recover”? By “remembering,” what promises is God bringing into operation in your life?
  • When Christ speaks of the last supper and exhorts his disciples to “Do this in remembrance of me,” he is speaking of the recognition of his presence with us. Perhaps it is this of which Augustine speaks, the deep memory of God’s saving presence with us. How can you employ a discipline of “remembering” in your life in order to practice living in the presence of God?
  • How can becoming a faithful servant make you blessed? In what ways might God be leading you to embody the qualities of watchfulness and stewardship? Note this in your journal.

Prayer: Ask God to grant you the grace of a deep remembrance of his presence and the discipline to practice living in this presence. Ask him to show you how to demonstrate watchfulness and stewardship in your life as a faithful servant.



Day 4: Tuesday

Day 4: Tuesday: Reflect  (Think)  

Read the passage ‘The Magnificat’, Mary’s prayer, one more time, slowly. As God speaks to you, reflect on his Word by “ruminating” on it in your mind. Relish the words. Let them resound in your heart. Be attentive to what it speaks to your heart.

 

  • Consider the word or phrase you noted in your journal yesterday. What might God be saying to you? Note this in your journal.

 

Read 1 Samuel 2: 1-10. The specific form and themes of Mary’s praise closely resemble those in Hannah’s prayer, which comes after the birth of that woman’s son, the Prophet Samuel.

  • What themes are common to both?
  • What might God be suggesting to you through the prayers of these two women?

 

Read 2 Samuel 7: 8– 9, 16. The angel’s comments to Mary appear to echo God’s promises to David (as conveyed by Samuel), who as king was a kind of foreshadowing of Jesus. Both Mary and David were transformed by God’s presence.

 

  • During Advent we wait in the present for a renewed sense of God’s presence with us now. Our challenge as we draw near to the birth of Christ and Christmas Day, is to wait with an open spirit. How can you be more open to God’s presence?

 

  • Imagine yourself as Mary in this story. Can the Spirit of God hover over you and do the same, this time for a new, renewed creation in your life? Where are the places you sense God may be stirring as we have looked at Mary’s question and her submission?

    How might the experience of God’s presence open your heart to transformation? What comes to mind?

The third major theme we will explore from Mary’s Magnificat is that of Salvation. Howard Marshall, in his book “Luke: Historian and Theologian” (Zondervan, 1971) argues that the key to Luke’s Gospel is his theology of salvation:

“The central theme in the writings of Luke is that Jesus offers salvation to

men. If we were looking for a text to sum up the message of the Gospel, it

would undoubtedly be Luke 19:10: “For the Son of man came to seek and

to save the lost.” With this verse Luke concludes the story of the ministry

of Jesus in Galilee and Judaea…The saying of Jesus, therefore, stands as

the climax of his evangelistic ministry and sums up its significance: Jesus

came to save. In singling out this feature as the decisive characteristic of

the ministry, Luke was doing something novel as compared with the other

Evangelists, and yet at the same time he was not imposing a new motif

upon the Gospel tradition….Each of the Gospels is evangelistic; each of

them is concerned to present Jesus as the Savior. But, whereas the stress

in Mark is on the person of Jesus, in Matthew on the teaching of Jesus, and

in John on the manifestation of eternal life in Him, Luke’s stress is on the

blessings of salvation which He brings.”

 

Marshall’s claim is perhaps reinforced by the fact that salvation is the most prevalent theme in the other canticles as well. Mary, Zachariah and Simeon all praise God for his salvation that is come through Jesus. Luke also develops the sense of nearness and immediacy of Jesus’ salvific presence that the angels proclaim (“For unto you is born this day…a Savior”). In Luke 19:9-10, Jesus says to Zacchaeus, “This day is salvation come to this house…For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.” Christ’s saving, incarnational presence becomes his immediate gift to those who repent and believe in him. Luke spends quite a bit of time developing the idea that salvation is a gift that may be accessed by all people – Jews and Gentiles alike.

 

  • How can God’s gift of salvation, “the ‘nearness and immediacy of Jesus’ salvific presence” as proclaimed by the angels come fully to your house? In what way is God suggesting that your life today, in the present, be transformed by this immediate gift? Think about the word of phrase that stood out to you in the passage. How is this related to this immediate gift of salvation?

 

Prayer: Thank God for his tremendous gift of salvation and ask him to make known to you how this saving presence might transform your present. Like Mary, let your spirit rejoice in God your savior.



Day 3: Monday

Day 3: Monday: Read the Scripture Passage again slowly (Luke 1:46-55). Listen with the “ear of your heart” and Reflect. Let an attitude of quiet receptiveness permeate your reading. What phrase, sentence or even one word stands out to you? Be attentive to what speaks to your heart. Allow that phrase or word to settle deeply in your heart. Think about what it means for you.

  • What Phrase or Word stands to you? Note this in your journal.
  • Imagine yourself in Mary’s place. How does Mary’s song strengthen your own love, faith and hope as you behold the incarnation?
  • How do you respond to each? In what ways is God encouraging you to be transformed through Mary’s example?

The second theme we will explore from Mary’s hymn is that of joyfulness (v. 47). Luke uses the verb ‘to rejoice’ very carefully, distinguishing it from a kind of ordinary happiness or joy. Mary’s spirit is filled with a deep and abiding joyfulness in God her savior. This kind of joy is expressed only one other time in Luke’s gospel: when Jesus himself rejoices over his seventy apostles returning from their ministry missions (Chapter 10). When speaking of Jesus, Luke employs the word rejoice to speak of a deep, inner joy: “In that hour Jesus rejoiced in spirit, and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes: even so, Father; for so it seemed good in thy sight” (Luke 10:21).

  • Is there a connection between Mary’s joy and Jesus’ joy? Consider that on each occasion, the identity of Christ is being revealed. As Mary rejoices at the identity of the Son in her womb, Jesus rejoices in revealing His identity to His apostles. In both cases, Jesus is revealed as the promised one, the “tabernacle” of salvation
  • How does understanding Jesus’ identity bring you joy?

Read Acts 2:46 and Acts 16:34. Both (and the only other) times Luke employs the same verb, the strong version of ‘to rejoice,’ he is speaking of the great joy Christians know when breaking bread together. Luke highlights the joy of the believers as they break bread together, because as they do, Christ himself is made known (present) to them. Luke uses this same form of the verb ‘to rejoice’ to illustrate the deep, abiding joy that one feels in the presence of his or her Savior. Luke’s account of the two disciples at Emmaus emphasizes Christ’s revealing of himself at the moment of His breaking bread and blessing it.

  • Sit quietly in the presence of Jesus, your savior, pondering Jesus as the tabernacle of salvation in your heart.

Prayer: Offer a prayer to God thanking him for the deep joy of knowing him  him as your savior.



Week One: Day 2

Week One: The Canticle of Mary (the Magnificat) – Luke 1:46-55

 

Day 2: Sunday

 

As you journey through Advent, consider keeping an Advent Journal this year and noting your responses to some of the questions here. Journals are a wonderful means of recollecting God’s faithfulness and observing God’s movements in your heart.

 

Read the passage of the Magnificat for the first time, slowly and prayerfully, conscious that what you are reading is a poem or a song. Read as if the words were a prayer, for they have been so since the time of early Church. Let the poetry sink into your heart. Listen its rhythms and cadences as you read.

 

St. Augustine argued that the Lukan canticles (and Scripture in general) themselves are good examples of faith, hope, and charity at work in human beings: they aim to teach the reader how to behold the incarnation which requires faith, how to respond to it, which requires love, and how to hope based on the knowledge that the promises of Christ’s first coming have already been fulfilled. If we approach the Magnificat in the way that Augustine suggests Scripture to be read, and in the way that Luke intended for them to be read by his own admission (indeed even in the way, it may be argued, that the cantors themselves intended) – namely as texts through which the charity, faith, and hope of the reader may be strengthened: then,

 

  • How does Mary’s song require faith (beholding the incarnation), love (responding to the incarnation) and hope (the fulfillment of prophesy in Christ’s first coming)?

 

The first theme we will study from Mary’s Magnificat is that one for which the song is named: the act of magnifying the Lord. More than any word other in the poem this gives Mary’s song its character. It summarizes what the rest of the song will unpack: that the Lord is great and worthy to be magnified. Mary also urges others to magnify the Lord through allusion to Psalm 34:3: “O magnify the Lord with me!”

 

Mary is often referred to as the “first among believers” because of her immediate acceptance of the angel’s words at the annunciation. Not only was Mary the first among believers, she was also the first upon who the Holy Spirit descends (Luke 1:35). Her song, her Magnificat, is a testament to her belief and the Holy Spirit’s power. Why is this the case? Why is the act of magnifying God especially indicative of the presence of the Holy Spirit? As the Greek theologian Origen understood, this word actually poses a theological question: “Now if the Lord could neither receive increase or decrease, what is this that of which Mary speaks?” Essentially, how is it even possible that Mary could “magnify,” literally “make great,” the Lord? St. Ambrose in his exposition on Luke thus explains that the only way that Mary, or the Gentiles in Acts, or any believer for that matter, can truly magnify the Lord is through “dedication of the soul and spirit to the Father and the Son.” The praise of the lips is an outward sign of the inner commitment.

 

 

  • How does Mary’s inner commitment lead her to praise and magnify God? What is God showing you about your dedication of soul and spirit? How might your own open heart leave room for the Holy Spirit to descend upon you, filling you with his power?
As you enjoy the Sabbath day, consider listening to Bach’s Magnificat in D major, BWV 243. What was the composer suggesting in this music?

Prayer: Offer a prayer to God, asking him, in Jesus’ name, to grant you the Holy Spirit’s power so that your inner commitment magnifies his name. Ask him to grant you the dedication of soul and spirit that leads to praise. Praise him, from whom all blessings flow.



Introduction: Day 1

Day 1: Introduction 

The Canticles of Luke are among the most beautiful poetry in the Bible. Canticle means song, and these four songs are not only winsome and lovely in themselves, they are works of art, which for two thousand years have inspired some of the greatest music and art the world has known.

As we study these four passages in Luke over the next four weeks, pay particular attention to the literary devices employed by Luke: the language and cadences, the allusions in the poetic writing. We will journey together, asking God to open our hearts to his leading and our souls to his music. St. Augustine wrote that the Way is made by walking. As we walk together, and alone, we will tread the paths of the ancients, for the poems and songs we will study, though written in Greek to reach new audiences, were most likely originally written in Hebrew, a language known for its layers of meaning. Hebrew music most often takes the form of Thanksgiving, and so we will learn to offer the praise that rises from the thanksgiving in our hearts. We will study the Old Testament texts these songs call to mind, not only in their content, but in the meter and cadence employed. As we journey through Advent, imagine yourself as Mary, or Zechariah, or Simeon, and enjoy the beauty of the form as well as the language and content. Allow that beauty, which is of God, and all that is good and true, to wash over you. Open your heart to its lead.

These next four weeks are very much about transformation. How the journey of salvation transforms us, not only for eternity but for the whole of our lives in every aspect, is a big theme in these chapters. This transformation is not only within and contemplative, but the end of all contemplation is to draw near to God, and that drawing near changes our hearts. And so it is also outward-focused, for the life of the world. The Canticles are quite revolutionary, morally (“He scatters the proud in the plans of their hearts.”), socially (“He casts down the mighty…he exalts the lowly.”) and economically (“He has filled the hungry…the rich he has sent away empty.”) And in each of these instances, the transformation is both of the heart and for the life of the world.

The texts we will study have inspired so many composers: Pergolesi, Vivaldi, Purcell, Buxtehude, Monteverdi, J.S. Bach, J.C. Bach, Mozart and contemporary composers including Peloquin, Gelineau, and Rutter (whose choral and orchestral version is absolutely charming). It has birthed much beauty, not only for the story, and the truth it proclaims, but because that truth has been the inspiration for so much great art. The Christmas Season is often busy and stressful. As you walk through Advent, consider listening to some of this great music to still your mind and heart. Each week, I will suggest some pieces to enjoy. Music is a powerful reminder that our hearts belong elsewhere.

The Canticles hold a unique place both in the canon of Christian Scripture and in the life of the Christian Church. They are set at the heart of the Scriptures because of their literary proximity and unique poetic response to the event to which all of the Scriptures point –the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, in whom all beauty and wisdom is found. In the Church, the canticles have been used from the early centuries of Christianity in liturgies, as Christians adopt the words of Mary, Zachariah, the angels, and Simeon as their own. This idea reflects upon the four canticles both textually and also, metaphorically speaking, musically. The canticles achieve for Luke’s narrative a hermeneutical “harmonic,” in that they provide a synthesis of ancient Jewish and early Christian theological themes. They thus both recapitulate many theological themes from Hebrew poetry in the Old Testament, and serve as an exposition for theological themes that Luke develops in the rest of his Gospel and Acts. We will study these Old Testament themes together as they become a song of praise in our hearts.

The names given to each of the canticles are from the first word of each Latin Vulgate translation. Therefore, Magnificat comes from Magnificat anima mea Dominum, or “My soul doth magnify the Lord…,” the Benedictus from Benedictus Dominus, Deus Israel, or “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel…,” the Gloria comes from Gloria in altissimis Deo, or “Glory to God in the highest…,” and the Nunc dimittis from Nunc dimittis servum tuum, Domine, or “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart…”

Each Sunday, we will begin one of the Canticles and meditate on it and the old Testament passages it references during the course of the week. Before we turn to the Magnificat tomorrow, ask the Lord to open your heart to his leading and to walk with you and lead you. Ask for the grace of a thankful and teachable heart.



Advent Devotional by Annie Lockwood Starts December 12: The Canticles of Luke

Editor’s Note: FPC member Annie Lockwood will be writing a daily Advent Devotional, starting on December 12. So visit the devotional at our website and on Facebook and Twitter to read her daily devotional. Below is her preview.

The Canticles of Luke: A Little Meditation for Advent

For each Canticle we will study over the course of Advent (the Canticle of Mary, the Magnificat; The canticle of Zechariah, the Benedictus; The canticle of the angels, the Gloria; and The canticle of Simeon, the Nunc Dimittis; we will follow the four “movements” of the Lectio Divina method of spiritual reading of Scripture, first developed by Benedict of Nursia (480 – 547) and later followed by Benedictine Monks and by all who seek to benefit from a prayerful reading of God’s Word. These four “movements” are: Read, Reflect, Respond, and Rest.  As you follow along with us, please keep in mind that we begin slowly, with a prayerful reading looking at what stands out to us and listening for the “still, small voice of God” to speak personally to us; then with some prayerful reflection on what God is saying to us about our beliefs and desires; then our prayerful response to what he is calling us to do for ourselves and for the life of the world; and finally the The Lectio Divina process ends resting quietly in God’s arms. No words are necessary at this point. God’s Word has focused us on Christ’s indwelling presence.  So we simply stay there with Christ in love, joy, and peace. We’re tasting the Lord’s goodness (Psalm 34:8).

Join us this Advent Season as we follow our Sermon Series throughout the week, prayerfully exploring the beautiful Canticles of Luke, their magnificent, life changing and fascinating Old Testament Themes, and what these mean for us in our lives today and for the life of the world.