Sunday, December 20, 2009

Her Own, Her Ancient Song

The story of Mary is another important part of the Advent season. Visited by an angel with a wonderful prophecy, she agreed to her part in it and to the profound change that would overtake her life. Her prophetic song from the first chapter of Luke, which we now know as the Magnificat, tells of the coming reign of justice and mercy foretold by God.

This carol from the nineteenth century first appeared in Carols For Use in Church (1894), collected by R.R. Chope and published in London. Along the journey to Bethlehem, Mary relies on her own song for comfort and relief, aware of its powerful message.

Away! with loyal hearts and true,
O’er hill and dale they pressed
Full four score weary miles, to do
The C├Žsar’s high behest;
And Mary sang “Magnificat,”
Her own, her ancient song;
For well knew she that God’s decree
Was bearing her along,
Was bearing her along.

Away! through fields and meadows green,
O’er purple heather-bed,
By mountain pass, or dark ravine,
The faithful couple sped.
And soft and sweet, where’er they went,
To glad the weary way,
Sang Mary that “Magnificat,”
Her own, her ancient lay,
Her own, her ancient lay.

O’erhead the storm clouds often wept,
And tempests o’er them passed,
And cold around them often swept
The bleak December blast.
But still she sang “Magnificat,”
Through weather foul or fair;
For all was rest within her breast,
’Twas always sunshine there,
’Twas always sunshine there.

And when the pilgrimage was o’er,
And of their royal kin,
Not one would open wide the door,
And bid them enter in;
Still Mary sang “Magnificat,”
With ever joyful tone;
“Whate’er betide, our God,” she cried,
“Is mindful of God's own,”

“Is mindful of God's own.”

Worn out at last, and ill-bestead,
Right glad were they to find
Within a sorry cattle shed
A shelter from the wind.
And Mary sang “Magnificat”
Right through that wondrous night;
And, ere the birth of morn on earth,
Was born the Light of Light.

Was born the Light of Light.

Then let us all with one accord
Join Mary’s song and say,
“My soul doth magnify the Lord,”
For ever and for aye.
Loud let us sing “Magnificat,”
That dear and ancient lay,
For God’s own Son with us is one,
And Christ is born today;

And Christ is born today.

J.B. Gray, 1894; alt.

Just stop and think of how much of the lore that we know about the Christmas season to come derives from just the brief section of Luke 2: 1-8. Author and composer Gray speculates a bit about Mary and Joseph's journey, but the carol still ends up in very familiar territory.

One Year Ago: The World So Long Had Waited

1 comment:

Dorothy said...

My observation is that most protestant denominations shy away from anything focusing "too much" on the Magnificat. I suppose that's for fear of stepping too close to the worship of Mary of the Roman Catholic Church. That's understandable, even laudable, but I think there is much we can learn from her heartfelt song of Luke 1:46-55. There is certainly some speculation in this hymn but the subject matter is still worth contemplating.