Mary is a critical part of the Advent story. Her name, Miryam, is the same as that of the sister of Moses, but comes to us in its present form through the Greek and Latin Maria. In a different time and place she could have been Susan or Seo-yeun or Sofia or Anna, but God chose a young Jewish woman living in first-century Palestine to become the mother of the Son of God. Mary chose to accept the task but it wasn’t an easy one. She wasn’t yet fully married, although a betrothal was almost as good as a marriage. Yet, to be pregnant and betrothed, well, that was probably fodder for back-fence speculation and whisperings, just like it would probably be today. Yet Mary and her betrothed, Joseph, became the parents of a very special child, and to this day, one of the titles for Mary is theotokos, Mother of God.
Meditatio is the second step or stage in the process of Lectio Divina. It follows the first step, lectio, where a short passage of scripture is read slowly and thoughtfully with note being taken of a word or phrase that seems to call out for attention. In meditatio, the practitioner sits quietly and examines that word or phrase. Why did it seem important? What would it have meant to those who first heard the passage as a prophecy or a letter or a teaching? Does it suggest or echo other parts of scripture? What do the words mean personally and to the culture in which the person lives? What emotion or thoughts does it provoke? This is when an open heart and mind are particularly helpful because in it the person is not just thinking but hopefully listening with the heart as well. It is there that God often speaks, quietly and without fuss. From there the person moves to the next phase, Oratio.
Myrrh is a spice, the dried resin from a desert tree, a variety of the species Commiphora that grows in Ethiopia, Kenya, Oman, Saudi Arabia and Somalia. Egyptians used it in mummies and ancient physicians as treatment for everything from leprosy to baldness. Today it is considered potentially beneficial in treating tumors, parasites and stomach ulcers although it’s most familiar use is in perfumes and incense like that used in churches. When the magi brought gifts to the Christ child, among those gifts was myrrh, It was a princely gift, to be sure, but symbolically it also represented the spices used on the dead. It is possible that it was added to the sour wine (vinegar) that was offered as to Jesus on the cross as a narcotic. When the magi brought it to Jesus, they brought a gift that could be sold for a goodly sum of money, money that would be needed by the family to escape to and live in Egypt when Herod threatened the life of that small boy child who had been born in a manger and welcomed by shepherds, wise men and angels.
One of the things that mark Advent is music, both special hymns at church and even the ubiquitous “seasonal” music on the radio and in malls. Usually sometime during Advent, in just about every town large enough to field a group of singers to form a choir, an oratorio by a guy named George Frederic Handel, written in 1751 and which has one of the most easily identifiable pieces of choral music in the world. Messiah has over 50 arias, recitatives and choruses with two purely instrumental pieces. The libretto consists of scriptural passages from the prophets Isaiah, Zechariah, Haggi, Malachi, and the books of Job, Lamentations, Psalms, Matthew, Luke, John, Romans, I Corinthians, and Revelation. Some churches perform Messiah at Easter because the story doesn’t end at Christmas with the Hallelujah Chorus but goes on to the joy of the resurrection. Still, for many, it is part of their annual Advent observances and, perhaps, a reminder of what Christians celebrate as the true meaning of this season and the one that follows it – Christmas.
It is the season for fragrant gifts and prayerful study. It’s also a season for music and singing. Sing along!