The Advent of Joy
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.
My grandparents had a magnifying glass that fascinated me as a child. It had a well-worn black wooden handle holding a large, round magnifying glass secured in place by a silver metal band. The lens was unlike any glass I had seen. When I looked through it, whatever I looked at was enlarged and clarified many times over. I could take it outside and put it between the sun and a dried leaf on the ground. Once properly focused, the magnifying glass concentrated the energy of the sun’s rays sufficiently to set the leaf on fire. It was an amazing device that allowed me to see the incredible detail of otherwise unseen features, like the intricate web of veins in a rock. For observing the subtle intricacies of something, or for setting small fires, that magnifying glass was amazing.
When Mary responded to the angel Gabriel’s message that she was pregnant with the son of God, she said, “My soul magnifies the Lord…” That is such an interesting and profound statement. While I do not know if there were magnifying glasses in Mary’s day, the concept of magnification was certainly known. Whenever I read this passage of scripture I imagine my soul as an internal magnifying glass that takes the energy of the Spirit and focuses it on whatever is before me. It helps clarify details that may otherwise seem invisible or unexceptional to me. Our souls focus the power of God through us and onto our world. I do not doubt that the lens of our soul is fully capable of healing others, when properly focused.
Jesus often compared the kingdom of God to common magnifiers like yeast and salt. When added to flour, yeast magnifies the bread, making it rise and becoming more than it otherwise would have been. Salt, when added to food, magnifies the food’s natural flavor. Like a magnifying glass, our souls take whatever is before us and reveal its hidden essence. And it is through the hidden essence of the people and objects of our world that the kingdom of God is revealed.
An interesting feature of magnification is that it improves experiences for both sides of the magnifier. For the observer, the magnification allows experiencing things in more detail, seeing and appreciating more of the fullness of that which we observe. For the observed, magnification allows their unique, God-given features to be seen and appreciated.
The purpose of Advent, as I have described over the past weeks, is for us to awaken to the Christ-child within. That Christ-child is our true nature. It is our essence. It is our soul. Normally, that essence sits quietly behind the scenes, a silent and invisible observer. It is seemingly shy. It seems perfectly content to wait for our call, just like my grandparent’s magnifying glass sitting patiently on the shelf waiting for something or someone in need of magnification. It did not protest when it was not in use, but it was always ready when I reached for it. And so it is with our soul and its readiness to respond to our needs for magnifying the presence of God. In his book, Life of the Beloved, Henri Nouwen writes, “The movement of God’s Spirit is very gentle, very soft – and hidden. It does not seek attention. But that movement is also very persistent, strong and deep.” In its own quiet way, our soul – our Christ-child within – cries out for expression. Particularly in this season of Advent, it says “Come, let me magnify your experience as the beloved of God!”
The theme for the third week of Advent is Joy, and Joy shines through the magnifying presence of the Christ-child. Such magnification is not just for ourselves, however, but also for the world around us. The joy of knowing that God’s favor rests upon us is a shared joy that our world desperately needs, even as it was needed 2000 years ago.
Awakening to the Christ-child shares something in common with reaching for my grandparent’s magnifying glass – I had to take the initiative or it would remain unused in the background. In spite of appearances, hope, peace, joy, and love are always with us. We sometimes, however, need a magnifier to see and share them.
But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see – I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people; to you is born this day…a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. Luke 2:10-11
For a musical meditation on Joy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v80GSQJMKGo
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 Henri Nouwen, Life of the Beloved. Crossroad Publishing Company, 1992, p. 78.