“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.’” (Luke 1:46-48, NRSVUE)
The day after Thanksgiving every year, my family trudges over to the local Christmas tree lot in search of a Christmas tree for our living room. We started this tradition as a way to support the local organization that puts on the Christmas tree lot every year, and we have continued it because the act of going out to find our tree has become a meaningful way for us to prepare ourselves for Christmas.
Before we can get a tree, we have to make room for it. We rearrange our living room furniture, clean the picture window and dust the blinds. We head out to the garage and retrieve the tree stand and Christmas tree skirt, and we test the long strands of lights to make sure none of the bulbs have quit working over the previous year. We clean, prepare, and make room, and this has been a tangible way for me to enact the “making room” or “getting ready” of Advent as we await the coming of the Christ child.
This year, however, our plans changed. Right before Thanksgiving, my children got COVID. The day after Thanksgiving, my husband and I fell ill with COVID too. There would be no day-after-Thanksgiving trip to the Christmas tree lot for us, and none of us had the energy to get ready and make room. We were happy if we had the energy to make and eat lunch. What does it look like to make room for Advent when you’re too worn out to do much of anything at all? What does it mean to make room for the coming of the Christ child when you aren’t sure you have anything left to give?
“What does it mean to make room for the coming of the Christ child when you aren’t sure you have anything left to give?”
As I’ve reflected on these questions, I’ve been drawn to the beginning of Mary’s song in Luke, sometimes called the Magnificat. After learning she would give birth to a child, and after hearing the news that her older relative Elizabeth was also expecting a child, Mary rushed to be with Elizabeth. When Mary greeted her, the child Elizabeth was carrying “leaped in her womb.” Elizabeth blessed Mary, and then Mary resounded with praise: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”
I have wondered what it means to “magnify” the Lord. What are our souls anyway? And how do our souls magnify the Lord? Let’s take these questions one at a time.
- 1. The word for “magnify” is a word that means “to make great” or “exalt,” but it also carries with it the more metaphorical meaning of “making something known” or “making something conspicuous.” Magnifying the Lord is about allowing other people to see through us that God is great, or enabling others to see God in and through us.
- 2. When we think about “souls,” we might think about an invisible part of ourselves that is separate from our physical selves. We might imagine the soul as the spiritual part of ourselves, while our bodies are the fleshly, less-than-holy parts of who we are. We can thank Greek dualism for our understanding of the physical and invisible parts of who we are, but Scripture has a much more nuanced understanding of the soul.
The word for “soul” in this verse is the word “psyche,” and it is a word that refers to our breath. We are alive because God breathed into us, and that life-breath is our soul. Our soul is not something separate from our physical body. It is the invisible part of us that makes us who we are–living people created to glorify God.
- 3. Keeping in mind the answers to questions 1 and 2: what does it mean for our souls to magnify the Lord? I have come to believe that our souls magnify the Lord when we are most fully who God created us to be. 2nd century bishop Irenaeus is famously quoted as having written, “The glory of God is a human being fully alive,” and while that translation isn’t exactly what Irenaeus wrote, I believe it is a true statement of how we magnify the Lord with our souls.
“We are alive because God breathed into us, and that life-breath is our soul.”
Mary knew that opening herself up in faithfulness to God’s calling on her life meant that she was making room for seeds to grow in her heart. Those seeds would grow, thrive, and produce fruit that would leave little doubt that God was doing something in and through her. As a young woman with little to no agency in the world in which she lived, she magnified the Lord in her faithfulness, and she proclaimed the coming of Christ’s kingdom in which a powerless person like herself would be asked to participate in bringing the upside-down kingdom of God to earth.
Whether you are abounding in energy to deck the halls with lights and greenery, or you are just barely making it through this holiday season, you can make room for Advent just by being who you are. May God give us the courage to be vulnerable today as we invite Love to make room in our hearts. As Love takes root and grows, our souls will magnify the Lord as we live the authentic and human lives our God calls us to live.
Prayer: Advent God, you are drawing near and we are not ready. Our homes are not decorated. Our to-do lists are long. And we wonder how we will find the time and energy to get it all done. Remind us this day that we glorify you by being ourselves, and not by meeting some list of arbitrary, seasonal expectations. Grow in our hearts today. Amen.
Read other pieces by April Fiet of our 2022 Advent series: