In the Revised Common Lectionary the Advent readings (like all Biblical readings) are arranged in cycles. Over each three year period the entire Bible is read out loud during Sunday worship. The readings for each cycle are listed below.
Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19
2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16
Luke 1:46b-55 or Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26
Luke 1:46b-55 or Psalm 80:1-7
Luke 1:39-45, (46-55)
By this point in the Advent season we have spent time reflecting on both the brokenness in our world and the promised healing. We’ve looked at the barrenness and hoped for something better. We’ve learned that the something better is a someone—Christ, the Messiah—and that his coming will be sudden, look different than we expect, and that he will both resemble and aid the lowly.
This week we learn that Christ will also be a king like David. We hear directly from people to whom he has already come—Elizabeth, Mary, and the unborn baptist, John. Christ the King matures in a young girl’s womb, and the scriptures and season are pregnant with anticipation of his birth.
We want to focus on a specific passage this week – Luke 1:46-55, “Mary’s Magnificat,” as it is colloquially known. This is one of the most beautiful passages in all scripture. Appropriately, since there is nothing as anticipatory as a pregnant woman, Mary’s hymn-song captures all the joyful expectation of the Advent season.
The young woman with child is so compelling a symbol, because it so clearly communicates the “already and not yet” reality of Advent. The Messiah is here and yet not here at once. Mary’s joy is a joy that only she could know at that time, as she was the only one with the Christ-child. Now we are all like Mary. We have Christ living inside us, and yet we still look forward to his coming again. Now her song becomes our song. We are the hungry now filled with good things. He has come to our aid, just as he promised. We joyfully anticipate his arrival. Christ has come. Christ is here. Christ will come again.
Our film this week is Babette’s Feast, a Danish film from 1987. The film won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film that year, and it has since been included on multiple lists of spiritually significant films made by many groups of film-loving Christians. Babette’s Feast is about a community of devout Lutherans on the coast of Denmark who offer refuge to a woman, Babette, fleeing the horrors of the French Revolution. She works for the pair of sisters who lead the sect, and only after many, many years do the sisters learn the truth about their housekeeper after she prepares a grand feast on the anniversary of their late father’s birthday.
Mary sings of God favoring the lowly and scattering the prideful. Pride comes in many forms. It is not only the powerful and wealthy strutting about in their regality who are prideful. The poor can become prideful as well. As you watch Babette’s Feast, notice the many ways pride takes over the people’s lives. Notice how undeserving any of them are of the good they receive. Notice especially their states as the film ends. Babette’s Feast is a movie about prideful people being humbled and then lifted up. At the end of the film, I can easily imagine any of the characters repeating Mary’s words: “He has looked with favor on the low status of his servant. Look! From now on, everyone will call me highly favored because the mighty one has done great things for me.”
Babette’s Feast is also a movie about the grace that none of us deserve but which all of us receive anyway, grace given that the giver might be graceful, not necessarily so that we might feel graced. When Lorenz Lowenhielm says, “That which we have chosen is given us, and that which we have refused is also granted us,” I can’t help but think of little Mary, pregnant with a child she did not seek in any way but which she accepted and rejoiced over nonetheless once she understood the gift.
Furthermore, when Babette explains to the sisters why she prepared the feast, I am reminded that God sent Christ because God is loving, redemptive, and faithful—love, redemption, and faithfulness are God’s nature—not because we are worthy of God’s mercy and grace. As Babette longs for leave to do her “utmost” as an artist, God in Christ in Mary’s womb is doing his utmost for the world. We are simply the happy recipients of God’s utmost.
Finally, Babette’s Feast is a great film with which to end this series, because lest we think too highly of ourselves for sticking to an Advent discipline (even one as fun as watching movies), Babette’s Feast reminds us that devotion to truth and righteousness must be tempered by mercy and bliss. A little gruel is good, but so is a lavish feast. Like the film’s images of Babette and others walking across the wind-swept landscape silhouetted by the setting sun, the world is stark and beautiful all at once, full of grace and the need for it. Christ has come. Christ is here. We need Christ to come again.
After you watch the film, talk about the film and the entire Advent season together. If you need them, we’ve included a couple of discussion-starting prompts below.
1) Do you identify with Mary? How are you like her? How are you different? Which of the characters around the table or in the kitchen in Babette’s Feast do you most identify with? Why? Are any of them like Mary? Why or why not?
2) Has this Advent season “filled you with good things?” Do you feel pregnant with anticipation for Christ’s coming? Why or why not? Is anything yet standing between you and God? How will you maintain any feeling of anticipation through the coming year? How can we continue to have hope as this season turns into another?