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Hallo again to all.

In a goodly number of Anglican churches around the world (including the one we attended today), the Gospel reading for today was Luke's account of Mary's visit to Elizabeth (Luke 1:39-47, though not all lectionaries end the reading on verse 47). We're always reluctant to refer to the lectionary here because there are a number of Anglican lectionaries and they aren't all in agreement; we don't want to exclude those readers who heard something else in church this morning. But in any event you know the passage.

It's a little odd to think about this visitation when it's the Fourth Sunday of Advent because it obviously took place some months before Jesus was born. Typical kalendars note 'The Visit of the Blessed Virgin Mary to Elizabeth' on 31 May or 2 July, both of which are reasonable guesses as to the actual date. But we can't get 'Mary's song' out of our head:

et ait Maria magnificat anima mea Dominum et exultavit spiritus meus in Deo salutari meo

And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.

My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour.

This entire section of Luke is one for which you can spend all afternoon reading and comparing various translations. We've quoted above from the VDecember 2012 calendarulgate, the 'King James' version, and the New International Version – UK. has about a hundred different versions and translations of the Bible available.

Our church has so much tradition that we rely on frameworks such as kalendars and breviaries to help us keep it chronologically straight. If you stray too far from the kalendar you'll likely morph into a Baptist, but just because we note and honor Mary's visit during the Weeks After Pentecost, there's no good reason why we can't think and brood about it at the end of Advent. After all, isn't Advent for brooding? We can take time out from meditating on O Emmanuel to think about magnifying the Lord. And, dash it all, we will.

Last week, all over the world, thousands upon thousands of clergy wracked their brains to write a sermon on Luke 1:39ff, and we're certainly not going to turn this page into an after-the-fact sermon, musing about the difference between anima and spiritus or wondering why the Lord needs to be magnified.

So instead we'll muse about the schedule, the calendar, the kalendar, the traditions of date and time and their interactions with the secular world around us. Christmas falling on a Tuesday seems to be just about the worst in terms of temporal stress and conflict. The week of the 17th through the 21st is treated as an ordinary week by most employers and many schools. People who work in the retail sector are usually asked to work longer hours. Then comes Saturday, one day to recover and to switch mental gears from that required by your employer to that preferred by your Lord. Then there's the Fourth Sunday of Advent, and then the next day is Christmas Eve, and then of course there is Christmas. If the mix includes young children or visiting relatives or air travel or financial strain or bad weather, it becomes even more stressful.

The whole thing is a sprint through a secular mudpatch, probably with a beeping smartphone in your pocket. You somehow manage either to get it all done or convince yourself that you will be forgiven for not getting it all done. Whatever "it all" might be for you. Then before you know it you're in church on Christmas Eve and the priest says the Opening Acclamation and you give the response from muscle memory while furtively checking to make sure that you've silenced your smartphone, and you start to relax and let the full-bore Christian celebration of Christmas draw you in, draw you home.

You made it. It's Christmas in church. Traditional music, traditional decorations, traditional ceremonies. Tradition is a sort of time machine. It makes time vanish for a while. With luck you are sitting with family or friends. Maybe you're in your brother's church in a faraway town, your knees banging against the back of the pew in front of you because the church was built back when people were smaller. Maybe you're sitting on a torturously uncomfortable plastic chair that was deployed to handle Christmas crowds, and you didn't get to church quite soon enough to get a seat in a real pew. But the English words to 'O Come all ye Faithful' are the same, and you know them, and you sing them, and you start to breathe more rhythmically, and you relax.

Your spirit doth rejoice in God your Saviour.

See you next week.

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23 December 2012

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