Today's reading: Luke 1:44-56
And Mary said, "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." (v. 46)
Rejoice always; pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)
In our Advent group discussion at church yesterday, we made this connection, which continues to fascinate me: that gratitude is a rich soil for growing joy!
If ever there was an example of one who practiced "giving thanks in all circumstances," it's Mary. Her people where oppressed, she was young, female (obviously), unmarried and pregnant... and yet when she raised her voice in praise to God, it was a song of thanksgiving for God's favor!
When we look for true joy in the world around us, we'll see, at best, glimpses of it in the places where God's hand has worked: in creation, in relationships, in love, in service, at the table. All signposts, really, pointing us God-ward in our search. Looking to God, the Joy-Maker, we can't help but offer thanksgiving for all the blessings we see, and even (as Mary did) those promised blessings we believe in, even if they're not yet before our eyes. Mary praised God for the raising up of the lowly, the filling of the hungry, the scattering of the proud... though she lived in a time when the rich and powerful held the cards, the poor and hungry suffered, and God's own people were oppressed. She knew, though, that God's gifts are as timeless as God's self; they are not only in the here or now, but in the everywhere and the always. Mary expressed gratitude in the language of the present--grateful for a future so certain that she could consider it already at hand.
In our day, gratitude does not play well on the news. Our consumerism depends upon us feeling we need something more, better, different. Our politicians depend upon us NOT being thankful for the people currently in office and the job they're doing... because they want to be the "someone different" we'll elect the next time around. Sometimes even our churches can get caught up in "needing" newer, bigger, better: buildings, leadership, membership numbers.
Cultivating gratitude would mean letting go of competitiveness. Letting go of fear for the future and anger that things should be better. Letting go, especially, of the terminal dissatisfaction that keeps us under the control of those who'd be happy to sell us all the joy we can afford.
Cultivating gratitude to the Creator of All would mean allowing joy to grow, and even to thrive in us... and then we could not help but sing: My soul magnifies the Lord!