Minnesota Episcopal
Commission (MEESC)

Episcopal Church in Minnesota

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Lectionary Reflection

Year C, Advent 4
Episcopal Standard Lectionary and Revised Common Lectionary

Luke 1:39-56

In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord."

And Mary said,

"My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness 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.
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 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 helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever."


Reflection on Luke 1: 39-56
by John G. Gibbs, PhD

Mary's Magnificat (first word in Vulgate translation from Greek) is a natural choice to express Luke's programmatic interest in social justice. As the Harper Collins Study Bible suggests, in this hymn of praise Mary interprets the events that Luke claims had surrounded Jesus' birth.

Here God appears as "God my Savior" in whom Mary's spirit rejoices, God the Mighty One who is holy in his power, and whose mercy perdures "from generation to generation." In the birth of Jesus God has "helped his servant Israel," remembered his mercy, and kept the promise that has endured from Abraham to Mary. (God is designated as Savior also in I Timothy 1:1, 2:3, 4:10; Titus 1:3, 2:10,13, 2:13, 3:4; 2 Peter 1:1; Jude 1:25. Cf. Psalm 106:21; Isaiah 43:3,11, 45:21, 60:16.)

One of the most prominent motifs in Luke is divine reversal of the present order: "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." That theme recurs in the name "John" (which means "God has shown favor"), and in Zechariah's prophecy (the Benedictus) of John's birth that initiates rescue from enemies, brings light "to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death," and "guide[s] our feet into the way of peace."

Divine reversal leads to God's expansive Shalom (peace), and that is the case not only according to Zecharias' Benedictus, but also in the "Nunc Dimittis" from Simeon (2:29). The peace that God's reversal of the present disorder brings is then explicated by John the Baptizer in his exhortation that everybody "bear fruits worthy of repentance" (3:8). The people must "share" their clothing and food, tax collectors should collect no more than what was prescribed, and soldiers should not extort money from the populace or make threats and false accusations in order to gain money and power for themselves. God's Shalom requires that we share and be fair.

Instead of life as we have known it so often in the public square, the Lucan vision sets before us God's expansive Shalom that reorders public existence no less than personal life. Luke leaves no doubt that the unpretentious beginnings at Advent are aimed providentially beyond Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria "to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8). Without doubt, too, Eco-Justice is an essential part of the Shalom to which we are called.

A clear trajectory leads from the social justice that Luke so movingly adumbrates onward to justice for plants, animal, earth - justice over against human exploitations from polar regions to the equator, from boreal forests of North America to rice paddies of China, from drought in our great plains to floods in Bangladesh; and justice for the preservation of species, the restoration of watersheds, the reconstruction of essential habitats, and our embrace of future generations of humans and all other creatures.

Printable version



To Reflections on other Readings for Year C, Advent 4:

Reflections available at the active links
Standard (Episcopal) Lectionary
Revised Common
Old Testament
(Hebrew Scripture) Reading:
Micah 5:2-4
Micah 5:2-5a
Psalm 80
Canticle 3 or 15 or
Psalm 80:1-7
New Testament Reading:
Hebrews 10: 5-10
Hebrews 10:5-10
Luke 1: 39-49 (50-56)
(this page)
Luke 1: 39-45 (46-56)
(this page)

John G. Gibbs, PhD, resided in Park Rapids, MN, when he wrote this reflection in 2012. John and we welcome your comments. Please address your comments or additional reflections to John G. Gibbs or any MEESC member, or mail them to:

c/o C. Morello
4451 Lakeside Drive
Eveleth, MN 55743-4400 USA

The MEESC assumes that all correspondence received is for publication on this web site. If your comments are not for publication, please so note on your correspondence. The MEESC reserves the right to decide which items are included on the website.


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