One day after Mass the priest was overcome with a wave of piety and threw himself on the floor of the Church praying: “Oh God, I am so lowly, I am so poor, I am so pitiful.” The deacon sees this and himself is overcome with piety and throws himself on the floor and prays: “Oh God, I am so lowly, I am so poor, I am so pitiful.” The reader sees this and so she throws herself on the floor and prays in the same way. Finally in the back of church the custodian sees this, walks to the front of church, throws himself on the floor and prays: “Oh God, I am so lowly, I am so poor, I am so pitiful.” With that the priest lifts his head and turns it to the deacon and says: “So look who think they are so lowly!”
Mary’s Prayer in Luke, The Magnificat, does not invite us to make ourselves lowly but to realize our true lowliness. Mary does this in the face of God’s blessings made manifest through an angel. In this she is consistent in Jewish tradition and indeed in many religious traditions. In the first reading a child is dedicated to the Lord – children were not the movers and shakers of Jewish society. I learned in my research on the sweat lodge that Lakota frequently admit their lowliness when praying. This is not an intellectual proposition but a sacred realization before the divine.
We live in one of the most affluent societies in the world so the temptation is to forget our true lowliness and poverty before God, to indeed forget God and rely on things (or to desire more things). I remember as a kid, the big Christmas question was: “What did you get?” The better advent question is: “What do I lack”? Advent is the time for discovering our true lowliness and poverty (not to invent it through self-deprecation or self-hatred) so that God may fill us. It is only in admitting our lowliness that we can be truly lifted up. It is only in admitting emptiness that we ourselves can become the manger where our Lord, revealed in this time of Advent as a child, will come and fill us.
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