Monday, December 7, 2009

Canticle of the Turning

by Clare Brauer-Rieke

Ever since I first heard it, Canticle of the Turning has been one of my favorite hymns. Inspired by a traditional Irish melody and Mary's beloved Magnificat, the lyricist has captured beautifully what it means to be in Advent:

My soul cries out with a joyful shout that the God of my heart is great, And my spirit sings of the wondrous things that you bring to the one who waits. You fixed your sight on the servant's plight, and my weakness you did not spurn, So from east to west shall my name be blessed. Could the world be about to turn?

Advent has often been explained to me as a time of waiting: "We are waiting for the baby Jesus to be born," for example. I remember that, as a child, this was quite the let-down-- waiting to hear the end of a story you already know is not engaging. It does no justice whatsoever to the palpable tension of the season. Advent is not a time of waiting; it is a time of anticipation, expectation, an electric buzz in the air that reminds us that something great is afoot. It is a misleadingly quiet and reflective time, and for that I have always loved it more than any other liturgical season (or secular season, for that matter). We the church are like Mary, pregnant with a tremulous hope for change.

Though I am small, my God, my all, you work great things in me. And your mercy will last from the depths of the past to the end of the age to be. Your very name puts the proud to shame, and to those who would for you yearn, You will show your might, put the strong to flight, for the world is about to turn.

As we sing the words of this hymn, we are reminded of our own doubts, insecurities, and smallness. Yet, for me, the miracle of Christmas is this: There seem to be few figures from history or literature as humble as Mary, in either demeanor or circumstance; but, it is she who bears Christ into the world. I hear it often, but register it infrequently: however ordinary or irrelevant we may feel at times, the work of the Sacred in us -- the work that we do -- makes us extraordinary. We draw strength, vitality, and purpose from the Spirit that inspires us to act.

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.

As this season of Advent continues, I invite you to carry -- as I do -- Mary's refrain in your heart. Her words are as relevant now as they were two thousand years ago, gaining increasing significance as we engage a century in which major changes are taking place every day. We are on the accelerated path to radical reformation in our world. In this way, Advent is a time of pregnant expectation for the revelation of the living and present Christ in each of us.

This Advent season, tell your children: the world is about to turn.