Over the past few weeks, we have looked at different prayers during Advent – the prayers of intercession, lament, and silence. Each of these types of prayer take us outside of our own circumstances and invite us to see things from a different perspective, a Kingdom perspective. This week, we will look at the prayer of praise from a Kingdom perspective.
It is generally fairly easy to praise God when things are going exceptionally well. We can even usually remember to offer thanksgiving when things are pretty normal. The difficulty comes in praising God when things are not going well.
If we are honest with ourselves, we judge God’s praiseworthiness by our own feelings and circumstances. From a Kingdom perspective, God is worthy of our praise not because of what He does for us but because of who He is. Sometimes, it requires the discipline of praise to give us this perspective.
The Magnificat provides a form for this discipline. Luke records this prayer of Mary as she “went with haste” into the hill country of Judea to visit her cousin Elizabeth. Because we know the rest of the story, we can easily forget the danger and despair of Mary’s circumstances. Unwed and pregnant, Mary faces danger that Joseph could have her killed or with mercy “dismiss her quietly” (Matthew 1:19) which did not offer prospects any better for a woman in first century Judea or Galilee. The angel’s words that Mary was favored by the Lord must have seemed very distant from the circumstances in which Mary found herself. Yet, as Elizabeth hails her as blessed among women, Mary responds with this beautiful song of praise that we repeat at the end of each day as a canticle in Evening Prayer.
My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.
For he has regarded
the lowliness of his handmaiden.
For behold, from now on,
all generations will call me blessed.
For he that is mighty has magnified me,
and holy is his Name.
And his mercy is on those who fear him,
throughout all generations.
He has shown the strength of his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He has brought down the mighty from their thrones,
and has exalted the humble and meek.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent empty away.
He, remembering his mercy, has helped his servant Israel,
as he promised to our fathers, Abraham and his seed forever.
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit;
as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be,
world without end. Amen.
I invite you to spend some time with this prayer of praise this week. Perhaps, you might pray this prayer at the end of each day between now and Christmas. Allow the stress, excitement, disappointment, and anticipation of this busy time of the year fall away into a Kingdom perspective that does not discount or cover over the trials of our current circumstances but reminds us of the power and promise of God within those very circumstances.
Just as we often judge God’s worthiness of our praise by our own feelings and circumstances, we also often judge our own worthiness of God’s love based on our feelings, actions, and circumstances. The discipline of praise reorders our judgements to align with the Kingdom perspective. God is worthy of our praise because of who He is and we are worthy of His love because of who He is. Indeed, let my soul magnify the Lord!