I had the happy privilege of serving on the Committee on Preparation for Ministry in North Carolina. We coached, encouraged and challenged potential candidates for ordination in the PC(USA). I read and listened to what felt like countless sermons and brief worship services. On one occasion, a candidate for ordination shared a hymn that was unfamiliar to me, and she taught us the hymn as she played it on the piano. The hymn has quickly become one of my favorites. I shared it with the church I serve in San Diego this Advent. It is “Canticle of the Turning” and is inspired by Mary’s Magnificat.
Mary’s Magnificat in Luke 1 is arguably one of the most radical texts in the Bible. Mary sings of God’s coming presence in the community. God scatters the proud; this is a moral revolution. God casts down the powerful and lifts up the lowly; this is a social revolution. God fills the lowly with good things and sends the rich away empty; this is an economic revolution. God reverses the fortunes of the suffering; this is spiritual revolution. (Thanks to William Barclay in “The Gospel of Luke.”)
Walter Brueggemann has commented, “Jesus lived the song that his mother sang,” referring to Mary’s Magnificat. In other words, Jesus embodies the justice of God.
“Canticle of the Turning” brings the revolutionary quality and justice focus of Mary’s lyrics into the form of an anthem for a congregation to sing. The hymn moves from the hope-filled possibility of God turning the world in the first verse – “Could the world be about to turn?” – and into the present reality that God is turning the world in the final verse – “God … is turning the world around” – with each refrain ringing: “My heart shall sing of the day you bring. Let the fires of your justice burn.”
I have grown to value this hymn deeply because it crystalizes the concern for justice in the context of Advent — racial, social, ecological and economic justice.
Justice and Advent are not often associated in my experience, but they should be. Tinsel on Christmas trees hardly stirs our thirst for social righteousness, yet Advent is nothing less than a period of anticipation for the one who will embody the justice of God and bring the peaceable kingdom (see Isaiah 11, 35, 61).
Do we live the song Mary sang?
“Canticle of the Turning” will no doubt be a mainstay in my Advent practice and throughout the liturgical year.
Thanks to the ordination candidate for bringing it to my attention.
SAM CODINGTON is pastor of Faith Presbyterian Church in San Diego. He and his wife Esther have a 3-year-old son, Ezra, and can often be found running at Lake Murray and Mission Beach.
“My Soul Cries Out with a Joyful Shout (Canticle of the Turning)” is #100 in the “Glory to God” hymnal. Text and melody by Rory Cooney; STAR OF THE COUNTY DOWN.