Mary and Elizabeth

Jeff Shrowder: During a week in the Taizē Comminity in France some years ago I explored the Church of reconciliation outside the scheduled prayer times. Large, cavernous and quiet. A series of small, modern stained-glass windows contributed to the subdued lighting. I photographed the one depicting the meeting of Mary and Elizabeth.

What might it have meant for our early listeners to have Mary revered and celebrated so strongly – indeed depicted as the ideal follower whom we should emulate? As listeners and followers today, how might we in our lives be a womb, or be a manger? How might we become a holding place for love to be born anew?

There are many traditional symbols for Mary in worship and art.
The apple is a reference to Mary as the second Eve.
A book, when closed is a reference to Mary’s chastity; when open, wisdom.
A fountain or a garden is a reference to Song of Solomon (4:12).
The lily (or fleur-de-lis) is a flower representing the Annunciation.
A mirror refers to Mary’s nature as a reflection of God.
The rose is a symbol of Mary as Mystical Rose, the “rose without thorns.”
A well, closed up, refers to Mary’s virginity (Sol. 4:12).
(Source: Jenny Gallo, Carrot Top Studios)

Magnificat (a haiku)
One young and one old,
pregnant with the fullfilment
of what was spoken. © Jeff Shrowder, 2015.

Mary and Elizabethwhen the little become the leaders of the mighty;
when the least get the most of our attention;
when the lost find their way into our hearts;
when the last become the ones we follow,
then all our lives will be secure. (c) 2015 Thom M. Shuman

Modern Magnificat
My soul sings in gratitude.
I’m dancing in the mystery of God.
The light of the Holy One is within me
and I am blessed, so truly blessed.

This goes deeper than human thinking.
I am filled with awe
at Love whose only condition
is to be received.

The gift is not for the proud,
for they have no room for it.
The strong and self-sufficient ones
don’t have this awareness.

But those who know their emptiness
can rejoice in Love’s fullness.
It’s the Love that we are made for,
the reason for our being.
It fills our inmost heart space
and brings to birth in us, the Holy One.
(Source: John Shelby Spong’s website “A New Christianity for A New World” 19 Dec 2007)

Singing as an act of resistance – a poem
Notes from a flute
or a Medieval recorder.
Madrigals sing
bringing calm to disorder.
Notes, songs, harmonies
– the silence in-between –
create spaces in the human heart
open to new scenes.
Deep yearnings cry in new songs
while tyrants silence the arts.
Yet, deep, deep, deep in the underground
A new sound is being born.
So sing, Oh, blessed Mary,
radical zealot, gentle mother;
sing of the Time of Jubilee
coming in our newborn brother.
Sing blessed Mother.
Magnify the Lord.
Sing of longed-for justice.
Embody God’s new Word.
“The haughty rich now brought low;
the humble poor lifted high;
no more vast inequities!”
Your cry up to the skies.
Sing, blessed Mary,
become a new song;
birth earth’s longed-for Messiah
who rights our every wrong.
Teach us, Oh Mary,
the song of new birth,
so all of us can embody
God’s peace here on earth.
@A Poem a Sunday – December 14, 2015 – Kenn Storck

Canticle of the Turning (Magnificat)
– a hymn by Rory Cooney

1. 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 ones who wait.
You fixed your sight on your servant’s plight,
and my weakness you did not spurn,
So from east to west shall my name be blest.
Could the world be about to turn?

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!

2. 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.

3. From the halls of power to the fortress tower,
not a stone will be left on stone.
Let the king beware for your justice tears
ev’ry tyrant from his throne.
The hungry poor shall weep no more,
for the food they can never earn;
There are tables spread, ev’ry mouth be fed,
for the world is about to turn.

4. Though the nations rage from age to age,
we remember who holds us fast:
God’s mercy must deliver us
from the conqueror’s crushing grasp.
This saving word that our forebears heard
is the promise which holds us bound,
‘Til the spear and rod can be crushed by God,
who is turning the world around.

Call to Worship (Isaiah 7: 14)

We look for an extraordinary sign of hope for our world
but God’s sign is most ordinary of all:
A young woman is with child.
We look to power for strength in our world
but God points to the most vulnerable:
She gives birth.
We look far and wide for a key to God’s mystery,
but God points us home:
She calls this child Immanuel: God-with-us!
Let us rejoice, and worship our God
in our ordinary, vulnerable lives:
(c) Susan A. Blain

Surprising God,
you make your presence known in unexpected ways,
and challenge our comfortable assumptions about how you work.
Meet us here today
and open our hearts to recognize you in our midst
calling us to live into your new thing:
a world where your love takes shape in justice and peace.
In the name of the One who is coming, we pray: Amen!
(c) Susan A. Blain

Thankful for Joy
Source of joy,
We are thankful for joy,
Joy – that which opens up our living,
Enriching the quality of life.
We are thankful of your taking joy in us,
Our achievements for good,
Our living of love,
Our growth and development as we discover our potential for good,
And live it into being.
May we ever seek to find joy in others as you find it in us.
May we ever continue to be a source of joy for you and others.
We are thankful that joy take joy in creation,
The wonder of the universe,
Brought into being for the joy of creating,
Myriads of evolving connectivity,
Infinite expansion of relationality.
May we ever seek to find joy in such wonder, and in our part within it.
May we ever continue to be a source of joy in our connections and relationships.
We are thankful for the joy of living,
What amazing potential lies within us and before us.
Even in struggles and suffering, joy can be found in aspects of life –
Joy which nurtures us and upholds us and resources us in bad times.
What joy that you would join our existence as the Christ,
Being born as love, humbly as a child,
Living our days and knowing our life with its limits,
Loving us through your being in our being.
May we ever seek to find moments of joy as we journey in life
May we ever continue to be a source of joy in our living and loving
In this Advent,
May we savour joy and give thanks,
For its source is you
And such a gift it is.
In joyful thanks we pray. Amen.
(Source: Jon Humphries, Facebook post, 2018)

Prayer of Confession
In this last week before Christmas,
The busyness and the anxieties of this holiday season
May overwhelm us, and keep us from feeling the wonder of these days.
Let us take a moment to re-order our lives in this reality:
In Jesus Christ, the Love, Compassion and Justice of God
is breaking into our world. A silence
 is kept. 
Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel! You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth:
Stir up your might, and come to save us!
Restore us, O God;
let your face shine,
and change our lives with your justice.
O God of hosts,
how long will you be angry with your people’s prayers?
You have fed us with the bread of tears,
and given us tears to drink in full measure.
Restore us, O God;
let your face shine,
and heal our lives with your compassion.
Reveal to us your Promised One,
the one whom you made strong for yourself.
Then we will never turn back from you;
give us life, and we will call on your name.
Restore us, O God;
let your face shine,
and delight our lives with your love.

Assurance of Pardon
In Christ, the light of God’s love shines in our hearts,
and we are forgiven and given strength to forgive.
Let us give thanks that in Jesus, Emmanuel,
God is truly with us.
Let us celebrate this great grace by offering to one another a sign of Christ’s peace.
Passing the Peace
(c) Susan A. Blain

Call to Offering
The Love of God is born new in the world
as often as we embody that love
in the works of compassion, peace and justice.
Let us offer our gifts in a spirit of generosity and hope. (c) Susan A. Blain

Prayer of Dedication
With these gifts, dear God,
accept the praise and thanksgiving of our hearts,
which rejoice in your goodness and love.
Let our gifts point to your presence in the world,
and further your dream for the world
through Jesus, Emmanuel, God-with-us. Amen. (c) Susan A. Blain

Let us go forth with eyes to see and ears to hear and voices to proclaim:
In the ordinary and the vulnerable: God-with-us!
In the challenge of the unexpected: God-with-us!
In love giving life in justice and mercy: God-with-us!
In the work of peace: God-with-us! (c) Susan A. Blain

(*Rev. Susan A. Blain, Minister for Faith Formation; Curator for Worship and Liturgical Arts, Local Church Ministries. Copyright 2015 Local Church Ministries, Faith Formation Ministry Team, United Church of Christ, 700 Prospect Avenue, Cleveland, OH 44115-1100. Permission granted to reproduce or adapt this material for use in services of worship or church education. All publishing rights reserved)


The difficulty in finding hope and God in the midst of devastation has deep roots in many privileged people’s theology. The privileged life is all about transcendence, living a life that lies beyond the limits of ordinary experience. It’s about avoiding, escaping, or anesthetizing systemic/societal pain. It is quite effective as a system of transcendence in that most privileged people are deeply disconnected from the ordinary experience of many.

In 2017, a woman of color regularly faces food insecurity, violence, and/or housing instability. This is the norm. Since privileged people have agency and mobility, we can typically choose which neighborhoods we want to live in, which schools to send our children to, and which churches to attend. Most privileged people make choices that shield them from the realities of those who are excluded from such stable, safe, and prosperous communities. Intentionally or not, when privileged people choose to participate in economically- and racially-stratified neighborhoods, schools, and spiritual communities, they isolate themselves from the majority of people in their region who experience systemic oppression.

Given that transcendence is central to the privileged experience, it’s not surprising that many spiritual practices that are common among privileged people support a theology of transcendence, a belief that God lies beyond, not within, the limits of ordinary experience.

I recently attended a silent meditation retreat in which we spent all day alternating between walking and sitting meditation. Over course of the week-long retreat, we concluded our daily meditation practice by watching hundreds of chimney swallows gracefully circle the sky and eventually acrobatically swoop into the retreat center’s brick chimney for rest. The meditation teachers invited us to allow the “liturgy of the chimney swallows to wash over us,” and the act of watching this stunning natural theater was coined the “swallow meditation,” thus designating it a distinctly spiritual activity on par with the walking and sitting meditation that we had done all day.

I absolutely loved the swallow meditation and found it to be deeply edifying. And yet, as the only person of color at the retreat, I wondered whether a focused, curious meditation on the devastating effects of environmental racism in predominantly black and brown neighborhoods would have also been designated a spiritual activity. I’ve never been to a meditation retreat that included a “contaminated water meditation.”

Turning our attention toward systemic pain is not something we typically associate with spiritual nourishment and liberation, but what if it is? What if we can’t truly experience the hope of the Divine until we are able to experience the Divine in the most hopeless situations?

Throughout human history, the oppressed peoples of the world have, out of necessity, intentionally turned their focus on God in the midst of the most painful experiences.

Within the Christian tradition it is taught that Mary conceived of the Magnificat while living in dire circumstances as a Jew under Roman occupation, further endangered by her status as an unmarried pregnant woman of color. In her song, she articulates a theology of immanence, the belief that the God of hope is precisely to be found in the midst of uncertainty and distress.

Mary’s theology of immanence has three parts. First, she affirms that God has graced her particular situation, that God is by her side as she experiences oppression in her “lowly” social location:
“My soul proclaims your greatness, O God,
and my spirit rejoices in you, my savior.
For you have looked with favor
upon your lowly servant,
and from this day forward
all generations will call me blessed.
For you, the Almighty, have done great things for me,
and holy is your Name.”

Second, she affirms that God is a God of justice who works on behalf of the systemically oppressed:
“Your mercy reaches from age to age
for those who fear you.
You have shown strength with your arm;
you have scattered the proud in their conceit;
you have deposed the mighty from their thrones
and raised the lowly to high places.
You have filled the hungry with good things,
while you have sent the rich away empty.”

Finally, she looks to the future with hope, affirming that God is coming to her aid and will fulfill the promises that were made to her ancestors:
“You have come to the aid of Israel your servant,
mindful of your mercy –
the promise you made to our ancestors
to Sarah and Abraham
and their descendants forever.”

Unlike the privileged life, Mary’s life as a “lowly servant” fell within the limits of ordinary experience. She was unable to transcend the realities of the oppressed women of color of her day. As theologian Grace Ji-sun Kim teaches us, theology is biography. Mary’s theology grew out of her lived experiences of oppression. Her lived experiences required a robust theology that could withstand the pain and disillusionment that she regularly faced. Her understanding of God had to be intimately linked to her pain, so much so that hope and God were found in pain.

What would it look like for privileged Westerners to intentionally turn toward the very pain that we so often avoid, intentionally seeking out evidence that God is present, active, and bringing hope? Because in the end we must ask ourselves: How can we seek hope and God in the midst of devastating systemic pain if our whole lives are about escaping the reality of such pain?


O Come O Come Emmanuel (Susan Wickham)

I heard a version of Come thou long expected Jesus set to the tune of Hyfrydol (“Love Divine, All Love’s Excelling”), just for variation. I do like the traditional version however – there’s something about the longing of the Advent season that is captured in the music. 

(Hymn use permission: Carolyn’s hymns are copyrighted and are not covered by any organization (such as CCLI or OneLicense) that gives churches permission to use church music. If you would like to use this hymn, please contact Carolyn and Bruce Gillette ( for permission and to get a copy of the hymn in MS Word format for bulletin use and a PDF of the hymn with music. Donations for hymn use can be sent to Carolyn by PayPal at the email address or mailed to her at P.O. Box 577, Owego, NY 13827. THANK YOU! Carolyn gives permission for free use for her hymns related to gun violence and other disasters (California fires, Hurricanes), but appreciates donations for using her other hymns).

Tune: ASH GROVE D (“Let All Things Now Living”)
I sing to my Saviour, for God has shown favor
on one who is lowly, of humble degree.
Now each generation, with great celebration,
will speak of God’s mercy to people like me.
They’ll pass on the story that God who is holy
Shows mercy to those who respect God’s good ways.
Though times are distressing, I know of God’s blessing.
My Spirit rejoices! I give thanks and praise.

I sing of God’s power o’er those who devour;
God scatters the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
God casts down the mighty and lifts up the lowly;
God offers us justice and hope and new starts.
God fills up the hungry, surrounds them with plenty,
and sends out the rich people, empty, away.
As God has long promised to save and to bless us,
So God walks beside us in love every day.

(Biblical Reference: Luke 1:46-55; Tune: Traditional Welsh melody
Text: Copyright © 2018 by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette. All rights reserved.
Email: New Hymns:
The hymn was written for Erin Schubmehl Jacobson at the time of her ordination as a Presbyterian Minster of Word and Sacrament on December 1, 2018; the Magnificat is a favorite text of hers and was the sermon text that day.

The following hymn celebrates Mary’s whole life of faithfulness as the first disciple.

BEECHER D (“Love Divine, All Loves Excelling”)

Mary heard the angel’s message: “Greetings, Mary, favored one!
Do not fear, for God is with you; You will one day bear God’s Son.”
Filled with questions, filled with wonder, She proclaimed her faith in God:
“May it be as you have spoken; I’m the servant of the Lord!”

When she heard her cousin’s greeting, Mary’s heart was filled with joy,
So she sang of God’s great blessing Promised in her baby boy:
“God has looked on me with favor, So I sing this song of praise.
God has worked, the proud to scatter… Humble, hungry ones to raise.”

Mary heard the shepherds’ story, Words she treasured with delight.
Then an angel gave the warning: “Flee with Jesus in the night!”
Mary wondered in her anguish, What would be the pain he’d know?
Fleeing then, she held him closely… One day she would let him go.

Mary heard, “Who is my mother? Who is in my family?
All who do my Father’s bidding — All these ones belong to me.”
Later, on the hill she heard him, “Woman, see your new son there!
You, my friend, behold your mother!” So Christ formed new bonds of care.

When they learned the Lord had risen, Christ’s disciples met to pray.
Mary was among the faithful, Bound in love, on Jesus’ Way.
God, we see her, Christ’s disciple, Loving, learning, serving, too.
Like her, may we hear and answer, “We, your servants, live for you.”

Biblical References: Luke 1:26-56, 2:1-20; Matthew 2:13-18, 12:46-50; John 19:25-27; Acts 1:12-14
Tune: John Zundel, 1870
Alternate tune: HYFRYDOL, Rowland Hugh Prichard, 1830 (“Alleluia, Sing to Jesus”)
Text: Copyright © 1999 by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette. All rights reserved.
Copied from “Gifts of Love: New Hymns for Today’s Worship” by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette (Geneva Press).
Email: New Hymns:

Complete texts at

My Soul Proclaims That God is Good
Luke 1:39-45 The Magnificat
GREENSLEEVES with Refrain (“What Child Is This?”)

The Lowly Will Be Lifted Up
Luke 1:39-45 The Magnificat
ST. ANNE (“Our God, Our Help in Ages Past”)

He Shall Be the One of Peace
Micah 5:2-5a
HUMILITY D (“See Amid the Winter’s Snow”)

Mary Gladly Told Her Cousin
Luke 1:47-55
IRBY (“Once in Royal David’s City”) (MIDI)
Mary rejoices in the promise of Jesus before his birth with song, the Magnificat (Luke 1:39-56)

Mary Heard the Angel’s Message
BEECHER D (“Love Divine, All Loves Excelling”)
HYFRYDOL D (“Alleluia, Sing to Jesus”)
Books: Gifts of Love, Voices Found
This hymn celebrates many biblical stories about Mary, from before Jesus’ birth, fleeing from Herod, his teaching about his family, her presence at his death and with the disciples after his resurrection.

All the Music Sung and Played Here
Luke 1:46-55
NETTLETON D (“Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing”)
Book: Songs of Grace
A hymn celebrating the gift of music, good any Sunday as well as for choir dedication Sunday, hymn sings with this line: “Mary sang your saving story in her long, expectant days.”

The Candle of Hope
John 3:16-17; Luke 1:26-38; Matthew 1:18-25
LYONS (“O Worship the King, All Glorious Above!”)
HANOVER (“Ye Servants of God, Your Master Proclaim”)
A verse for each Sunday of the Advent Wreath Candles.

My Heart is Overflowing
My heart is overflowing
with gladness and with praise.
The God who guards my going
gives meaning to my days.
Holy the Rock of Ages known in word and deed.
Giving the victory, fulfilling my every need.
The Living God has spoken,
Earth answers with a song.
Weapons of war are broken,
the week are feeling strong.
See, we no longer hunger, crying out for bread.
Our God restores to life and raises us from the dead.
All who are poor and lowly
will have a heavenly home.
The humble and the holy
shall surely know shalom.
God lifts the needy from the ashes of despair,
favors the outcast and the downtrodden everywhere.
The power of compassion
can turn the world around.
The firm in faith will fashion
garlands from barren ground.
Echoes of joy are found resounding from the tomb.
Cheerful the childless woman: life stirs within her womb.
The One who once created
and now sustains the earth,
boldly anticipated
we too would bring to birth.
Love conquers evil, setting all the captives free.
Praise God for life begetting life for eternity.
(Words and music by Miriam Therese Winter, © Medical Mission Sisters 1993, 1995)

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Rev Sandy Boyce is a Uniting Church in Australia Minister (Deacon). This blog may be a help to people planning worship services.
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