Soul Proclamations: Be Not Afraid

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Luke 1:39–55

In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”

And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.

He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

Meditation for Sunday December 20, by Tom Breidenthal

Today we are brought alongside Mary, as she races through the hill country to visit her cousin Elizabeth. She has just been informed by Gabriel that she is to give birth to the Messiah by the power of the Holy Spirit. No doubt she is motivated by the need to share what has happened to her, to seek the advice and encouragement of a trusted adult, and to sort out what is real from what she may have imagined in her impressionable heart. But Mary’s driving emotion is excitement: any self-doubt is the byproduct of her whole-heartedness.

Mary has received a call—one so sudden and so new that even now she cannot know for sure whether new life has been conceived within her. When she questions Gabriel— “How can this be, since I have not known a man?”—he says she will be overshadowed by the Holy Spirit. Luke uses that expression only one other time in his Gospel, when he describes the cloud that envelops Peter, James, and John as they see Jesus transfigured in glory on the mountaintop (Luke 9:34).

Some have identified this overshadowing cloud with the dark night of the soul, the “dazzling darkness” we enter into when all the normal props of life are removed, and we are simply in the presence of the living God. Luke notes that Mary was among the disciples when the Holy Spirit lighted on them on Pentecost. Was this a reprise for her? Or perhaps nothing noticeable happened after her yes to Gabriel: I am the Lord’s servant—be it to me according to your word. In any case Mary believed what she had been told by Gabriel and proceeded accordingly. Can we who have been promised so much do the same?

The Rt. Rev. Thomas E. Breidenthal was consecrated as bishop of the Diocese of Southern Ohio in 2007. With a Master’s degree from Church Divinity School and a Doctor of Philosophy in Theology degree from Oxford University, Breidenthal has served congregations in Oregon, Oxford, England, and New York as well as serving as a high school chaplain. He taught at General Theological Seminary from 1992 to 2001 and served as dean of religious life and of the chapel for five years at Princeton University. He is the author of two books, Christian Households: The Sanctification of Nearness and Sacred Unions. He lives in Cincinnati with his wife, Margaret Garner Breidenthal. They have two adult daughters.

Soul Proclamations: Singing the Magnificat with Mary is a new collection of daily meditations for the Advent season. Authors include broadcast journalist Ray Suarez; Christopher Wells, editor of The Living Church; Kate Moorehead, dean of St. John’s Episcopal Cathedral; Thomas E. Breidenthal, bishop of the Diocese of Southern Ohio; and Christine McSpadden of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London.

The book invites you to share Mary’s journey through the Advent and Christmas seasons. To walk with Mary each day this Advent, order a copy of the full volume of Soul Proclamations ($5).