For the World is About to Turn

I’m always in awe of Mary’s declaration to her cousin Elizabeth. After being visited by Gabriel and having her world turned upside down, she arrives at Elizabeth’s to be welcomed and affirmed for the blessing she is and the blessing she will birth. In some ways her words are a lament for the state of the world but instead of focusing on the world as it is she proclaims a foretold future of closeness with God and the world being brought into wholeness again.

Every year, by the time we arrive to hear Mary’s words, they are a poignant reminder that the world is not yet as it should be. Sometimes I become complacent, assuming that this is the best we can do, and then allow myself to be distracted by the hustle and bustle of the season. Yet, Mary is not content to let us accept the world as it is and be at ease. Her words are like a shot in the arm or maybe even a jolt of electricity meant to wake us up to see that the kingdom has not yet come to fullness and that wonders still lay before us.

One of my favorite settings of Mary’s Magnificat is “The Canticle of the Turning,” which can be found in the Glory to God Hymnal “My Soul Cried Out with a Joyful Shout,” #100. Part of what makes this setting of the Magnificat so meaningful to me is the way the composer, Rory Cooney, based it on the tune “Star of the County Down.” Unlike most things in Northern Ireland, where cultural touchpoints are divided along community lines, this traditional Irish tune is unique in that it is claimed by both the Protestant & Catholic communities; it’s a crossover point. When he composed this hymn in 1990, this conflict showed no signs of ending and the cessation of the violence seemed like a far-off possibility. By choosing a tune that was shared between these two communities and placing the Magnificat onto it, he shared a glimpse, not of the world as it stood but of the world as it will be, as foretold by Mary.

In the 30 years since its composition, they’ve had the Good Friday Agreement, which was a negotiated peace, agreed to by the two largest political parties from the Protestant & Catholic communities. It was then put before the people of Northern Ireland, who voted to accept it. Though still requires much work, this ushered in a new era of possibility and peace that has given space and opportunity for these two communities to work together for a common future. This is one small reminder that there are glimpses all around us of Christ’s power in the world to bring about peace, justice, and healing.

We invite you this Advent season to look for the places where Christ’s redeeming work is at hand in your communities. Hold fast to the promises in the Magnificat that the world is in the process of being made new for as The Canticle of the Turning’s chorus sings:

My heart shall sing of the day you bring.
Let the fires of your justice burn.
Wipe away all tears, for the dawn draws near,
and the world is about to turn.

Indeed, as we prepare to celebrate the arrival of the Christ Child, we know, as do the angels in heavens above, that with Christ’s birth the world was never the same. Friends, behold, Christ is coming, and the world is about to turn.

Luke 1:46-55

Mary’s Song of Praise

And Mary said,

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the lowly state of his servant.
    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;
 indeed, 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 imagination 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 sent the rich away empty.
 He has come to the aid of his child Israel,
    in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
    to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”