It’s hard to wait. Think back to when you were a kid: it seemed to take forever for Christmas to come. And yet, by the time you started thinking about Christmas, it was only a month away. But that month dragged by.
Now imagine waiting for something long promised—like Christmas—but for generations. Imagine being part of a people long oppressed yet holding desperately onto a promise, and wondering as decades turned to centuries if that promise would ever be fulfilled.
Now imagine you were told—by an angel no less—that it would be fulfilled. And one more thing: you’re a fourteen year old girl living in a culture where women were powerless and virtually property. You are the very definition of “lowliness” and, as impossible as it seems, it is you who will be exalted.
The above image is from the Church of the Visitation in Ein Karem, Israel. It is one of a large number of plaques that bear the words of the Magnificat in forty-one languages, bringing the good news of promised redemption to the whole world. Words that in any language are still decidedly Judaic in their demand for justice.
The words of a woman—really a girl—from a time when women’s words were seldom heard and almost never recorded. A girl who knew a kind of oppression that we can’t begin to imagine. Now the words attributed to her in the Gospel of Luke have been translated into every language spoken on earth. She has the last word over all the oppressors who have long since been silenced by the passing of time.
And yet we still wait. Advent is about waiting: while we remember his first coming in the manger at Christmas and wait to celebrate it yet again on a day we can all mark in the calendar, we await his second coming in glory at a day and hour we cannot know.
Like Mary. Like Israel. Waiting.
In keeping with the theme of waiting, here is another ancient hymn of expectation, attributed to St. Ambrose of Milan, in an updated musical setting: