Revolution. We think of uprisings, upheavals, often political like the American and French Revolutions. Of the earth’s rotation around the sun or of Mary’s reply to Elizabeth’s “And why am I so favored that the mother of our Lord should come to me?” Not so much. Or never.
December twenty-first was the winter solstice- the beginning of winter. The reading for that Wednesday in the Christian Liturgy was from the visitation. Immediately upon giving her fiat to the angel Gabriel, the future mother of Jesus sets off in haste for the hill country in Judea, a journey of between eighty to one -hundred miles. A very long way on foot or even in a caravan if that is how she traveled; a four to five day trip, most likely.
At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!”
We were at the daily mass at the Monastery of the Risen Christ in San Luis Obispo, California and the last thing I was thinking of was revolution. Until Benedictine monk, Father Coffey began his homily. He spoke of the solstice that had occurred around midnight as a hardly discernible shift in the magnetic pole of the earth. A shift which would, over the next six months reverse as the solar path we travel brings us closer to the sun and longer days. But at the solstices, the observed descent and ascent of the sun stops. The word solstice is derived from Latin and was understood as the sun (sol) standing still (sistere.) Our elliptical solar path is composed of rotations and revolutions which bring us closer to and farther from the sun as viewed from the North or South Poles. Revolutions which are not perceived by most of us, especially as they occur in the depth of night.
Mary’s reply to Elizabeth was also a revolution. Her Magnificat , followed Hannah’s closely. Hannah, the barren woman who bore Samuel.
My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed:
the Almighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his Name.
He has mercy on those who fear him
in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm,
he has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has come to the help of his servant Israel
for he remembered his promise of mercy,
the promise he made to our fathers,
to Abraham and his children forever.
I know it well- reciting it each day, I have pondered her words on countless occasions. But the prayer as a revolutionary one?
And yet her meaning is clear, the words stark in their precision: ‘casting down the mighty’, ‘scattering the proud’ and ‘sending away the rich empty-handed’. No strife, contention, weapons. Just silence. Amidst the noise and clamor. Today, God entered the world. Choosing to come as a helpless infant.
A revolution, indeed. Changing everything for all time but not discernible to so many.
“Into this world, this demented inn, in which there is absolutely no room for him at all, Christ has come uninvited.” Thomas Merton
O Holy Night!