Celebrating Carols Part 3: Canticle of the Turning

In this, the third installment on the wonder of Christmas carols, I turn to “Canticle of the Turning.”

The lyrics are a paraphrase of the Magnificat: God is great, and yet even as the great God this deity looks upon the weak, the small, and causes the servant girl’s name to be blessed forever:

    1. My soul cries out with a joyful shout
    that the God of my heart is great,
    And my spirit sings of the wondrous things
    that you bring to the ones who wait.
    You fixed your sight on your servant’s plight,
    and my weakness you did not spurn,
    So from east to west shall my name be blest.
    Could the world be about to turn?

The refrain captures the dual nature of Luke’s Christology that I reflected on this morning and as part of the Advent Blog Tour a couple weeks ago. The coming of the king is an ambivalent affair: salvation and judgment come close at hand to one another.

But more than that, the refrain (and title) strikes me as capturing something of the magnitude of the Christian confession that Jesus is Lord that we too often miss. It is the same point made by referring to our years as “A.D.”: the ages have turned, the new era of God’s reign is upon us:

    My heart shall sing of the day you bring.
    Let the fires of your justice burn.
    Wipe away all tears, for the dawn draws near,
    and the world is about to turn!

The lyrics continue to hold together the human weakness of the singer, the grandeur of God, and the world-transforming consequences of that God taking those weak people for God’s own:

    2. Though I am small, my God, my all,
    you work great things in me,
    And your mercy will last from the depths of the past
    to the end of the age to be.
    Your very name puts the proud to shame,
    and to those who would for you yearn,
    You will show your might, put the strong to flight,
    for the world is about to turn.

    3. From the halls of power to the fortress tower,
    not a stone will be left on stone.
    Let the king beware for your justice tears
    ev’ry tyrant from his throne.
    The hungry poor shall weep no more,
    for the food they can never earn;
    There are tables spread, ev’ry mouth be fed,
    for the world is about to turn.

    4. Though the nations rage from age to age,
    we remember who holds us fast:
    God’s mercy must deliver us
    from the conqueror’s crushing grasp.
    This saving word that our forebears heard
    is the promise which holds us bound,
    ‘Til the spear and rod can be crushed by God,
    who is turning the world around.

Peace is coming. Fullness for the empty has drawn near. The Merciful One will remember to show mercy to those who fear him. The dominion of plenty has drawn near to conquer the economy of lack.

The kingdom of God comes near through the birth of David’s great Son. The ages turn.

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