One of our students was sharing his new “favorite” Old Testament canticle. As he was describing the “horn of salvation” and God our “rock,” and the raising of the hungry, the barren, and the needy, I asked, “Hannah’s Canticle?”
Yes! he said.
Mary’s prayer of turning expectations on their head was not her unique inspiration. The first Thursday of Advent finds the Lectionary giving us an excerpt from the Isaiah 26 canticle used at Morning Prayer, Week III. While the Liturgy of the Hours has excised the bold text below, the Lectionary framers kept it for our inspiration at Mass. The whole passage:
On that day they will sing this song in the land of Judah:
“A strong city have we;
he sets up walls and ramparts to protect us.
Open up the gates
to let in a nation that is just,
one that keeps faith.
A nation of firm purpose you keep in peace;
in peace, for its trust in you.”
Trust in the LORD forever!
For the LORD is an eternal Rock.
He humbles those in high places,
and the lofty city he brings down;
He tumbles it to the ground,
levels it with the dust.
It is trampled underfoot by the needy,
by the footsteps of the poor.
In the apocalyptic burst that introduces Advent, we should take seriously the thought of salvation. Many believers show concern about who will be saved, and how many those might be. The prophet’s lyrical passage today suggests that if we dare to harbor expectations about God, they will likely be confounded. Will all be saved? Perhaps not so many. Will it be just a faithful few? Take care, lest prostitutes, tax collectors, and other societal riffraff edge in ahead of the virtuous older sons and daughters.
In today’s reading, the faithful city finds its strength in justice and faith. The lofty city will tumble. The faithful community will attend to God in trust, respect, and by adopting what God finds an earthly priority. The lofty community will find itself leveled. Even if it thinks of itself as orthodox, faithful, privileged, and a loyal remnant.
We are getting prepared for a most unconventional “yes” and a most unconventional savior. High places will indeed be brought low. The needy and poor will indeed be walking in the ruins and dust of the powerful. Only five days into Advent, and we’re already getting the measure of our saving God.