In the week ebfore Christmas, this blog follows the daily readings of the Catholic Church
Reading 1, Song of Songs 2:8-14
8 BELOVED: I hear my love. See how he comes leaping on the mountains, bounding over the hills.
9 My love is like a gazelle, like a young stag. See where he stands behind our wall. He looks in at the window, he peers through the opening.
10 My love lifts up his voice, he says to me, ‘Come then, my beloved, my lovely one, come.
11 For see, winter is past, the rains are over and gone.
12 ‘Flowers are appearing on the earth. The season of glad songs has come, the cooing of the turtledove is heard in our land.
13 The fig tree is forming its first figs and the blossoming vines give out their fragrance. Come then, my beloved, my lovely one, come.
14 ‘My dove, hiding in the clefts of the rock, in the coverts of the cliff, show me your face, let me hear your voice; for your voice is sweet and your face is lovely.’
Gospel, Luke 1:39-45
39 Mary set out at that time and went as quickly as she could into the hill country to a town in Judah. 40 She went into Zechariah’s house and greeted Elizabeth. 41 Now it happened that as soon as Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 She gave a loud cry and said, ‘Of all women you are the most blessed, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43 Why should I be honoured with a visit from the mother of my Lord? 44 Look, the moment your greeting reached my ears, the child in my womb leapt for joy. 45 Yes, blessed is she who believed that the promise made her by the Lord would be fulfilled.’
There is a festive note in today’s readings, which is conveyed by springtime imagery from what were originally secular love-songs, and by the joy of Elizabeth and her baby at the yet unborn Messiah in Mary’s womb. The underlying assumption is that human beings desire God and God’s Messiah as a woman desires her lover. That note of delighted desire is foreign to my tradition of Presbyterian faith which constantly emphasises God’s love for us, and perhaps our returning love for God, but not our soul’s longing for the Lord. It would seem that in its present form the Song of Songs had always been used to depict Israel’s longing for her God, who is not only the Lord of all history but the ideal partner of his people. He is Israel’s bridegroom. Jesus continued this use of language in his parable of the wise and foolish slave-girls. In Luke’s story of the meeting of the mother of the Baptiser and the mother of Jesus, the sexual imagery is transmuted into the shared delight of women in pregnancy, and the recognition that faith, meaning trust in God, leads to joyful expectation.
The rich tradition of desire for Jesus is seen in Catholic and Orthodox piety, although it blossoms freshly in some expressions of evangelical revival:
“Jesus, my shepherd, husband, friend
My prophet, priest and king;
My Lord, my Life, my Way, my End,
Accept the praise I bring.”
That’s from John Newton hymn, “How sweet the name of Jesus.”
The return of this note to contemporary worship would make it more winsome.