I am delighted to post this advent homily by Dr. Mary Schertz, AMBS Professor of New Testament and Director of the Institute of Mennonite Studies, one of three powerful sermons she preached for AMBS chapel during advent worship services, this one on December 9. — Sara Wenger Shenk
Psalm 103 and Mary’s song, the Magnificat, have some things in common.
Both of these ancient hymns begin with intensely personal statements.
“My soul magnifies the Lord; and my spirit rejoices in God, my Savior,” sings Mary.
“Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me bless God’s holy name,” sings the Psalmist.
Like Mary, the Psalmist goes on, then, to make poetry of all the reasons he has to praise God.
He is speaking to himself:
God did not forget you;
God forgave you;
God healed you from sickness;
God redeemed you from despair;
God provided steadfast love and mercy;
God satisfies you with good;
And the result of all this blessing?
Your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
Verses five and six mark the significant turn that Mary also makes, later on, in her Magnificat.
That significant turn is the shift from personal thanksgiving, to giving thanks in the name of all the people.
Mary interprets her personal good news as good news for the people. The Psalmist interprets his personal good news as good news for the people.
“The Lord works vindication and justice, for all who are oppressed,” he sings in verse 6. He goes on, then, to spell out what that means.
He sees God’s vindication and justice in the history of the people of Israel; he sees this initiative of God in terms of forgiveness; of being judged with mercy.
As a father has compassion for his children, he says, so God looks with love upon these mortals made of dust.
Most of all, God has established covenant with the people, God’s kingdom is that place of justice where even the mighty obey.
At the end of the Psalm, the singer rejoices that all the hosts,
all the ministers,
all God’s works,
bless the Lord.
Finally, poignantly, the Psalmist returns to the personal. “Bless the Lord, O my soul,” he concludes.
As we read these ancient texts,
words we and our ancestors have read from time immemorial,
words that shaped our Advent services,
the word from the Lord for us this day has to do, I think, with that shift in perspective, the turn Mary and the Psalmist both made from the personal good to the common good.
“The Lord satisfies you with good as long as you live, so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. The Lord works vindication and justice for all who are oppressed.”
For Christians, our Advent waiting, our pinning our hopes on Jesus, involves a crucial step of empathy, of solidarity.
It is as we identify with humanity, sinners all, all recipients of God’s grace, as we stand with all who are oppressed, that the possibilities of Advent open to us.
Jesus said: “Inasmuch as you have done to the least of these, you have done it unto me.”
And the just ones asked, “When?” because they did not recognize the poor as the least, but as their sisters and brothers.
We stand with the poor,
not because we are good people,
not because we have so much to give,
not because we ought to do this,
not because we are filled with the Christmas spirit,
not even because Mary and the Psalmist show us the way.
We stand with the poor, because as Mary, the Psalmist, and all just ones know, that is where we belong.
It is with the crush of humanity, the world God loves, sinners all,
all recipients of God’s grace, where we are truly at home,
‘Tis a gift to be simple; tis a gift to be free;
‘Tis a gift to come down where we ought to be.