Of Murphy and Mary – and Hope

Of Murphy and Mary – and Hope


The Rev. Erick Olsen is the Pastor of Church of Christ, Congregational, in Norfolk, CT.

Scripture:  Luke 1:46b-55 (NRSV)

And Mary said,
‘My soul magnifies the Lord,
   and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant.
   Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
   and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him
   from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
   he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
   and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
   and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
   in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
   to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.’

Reflection: Of Murphy and Mary – and Hope

 Rev. Erick Olsen

Mr. Murphy was my high school Western Civilizations teacher. He held our attention and our hearts for many reasons, one of them: his half-joking declaration that, though he was in his mid-40s when he said it, he still wasn’t quite sure what he wanted to be when he grew up.

We chuckled when he said it, partly because it was a strange confession for an adult, and it made us a little nervous that this icon admitted to some imperfection. In hindsight, I think it struck me and stuck with me because it opened a door for me and my classmates as an invitation into a future of unending exploration, intellectual curiosity, and becoming. He was being honest about the fact that he had not arrived, that he was not yet fully formed, and he was spreading a hope (a word you’ll see much in what follows) that we humans keep learning and growing, never abandoning the adventure of the journey of life.

Who do you want to be when you’re older? What do you hope your church will be like? Your wider community? Our nation? Our world? Questions like these – and their answers – flow out of the prophetic vein of our tradition. Prophets give us pause with their lucid assessments of our plights, and they give us purpose with their incisive sense of our potential.

Mary as prophetess in the Magnificat above names the plight of our days with holy candor, a lucid assessment of how the proud, powerful and rich are living out of balance with God’s shalom vision. This critique comes hand-in-hand with promises of potential: the hungry will be have their daily bread, the lowly will know their value and integrity as beloved, and those who had been on top will get a taste of their own medicine.

It is again an affirming thing to have an icon profess to being lowly and incomplete, blessing we who hear with permission to recognize our own flawed humanity. And yet Mary also gives us hope as one lowly lifted and as one empowered to remind us of how God works in general – and particularly through and for the oppressed.

I am a few years older than Mr. Murphy was when he was my teacher, and I’m proud that I still don’t know – at least with anything like stiff certitude – who I want to be when I grow up. I do know that I don’t want to be counted among those who climbed high by stepping on (read: crushing) others, who blustered pridefully rather than listening with genuine curiosity and empathy, or who gleefully supported systems wherein some kept getting richer at the expense of those already hungry.

I hope I grow beyond my impatience, quick judgement, irritability before morning coffee, prideful love of good seats and status, ability to hold a grudge, and more. Of course, I also hope that I’m not just craftily figuring out ways to make others think I’ve shed these tendencies. Looking to Mary, who like every good prophet points me to God, I hope that someday my soul will even somewhat magnify the Lord. Or, in the words of Isaiah in another of this week’s texts, I hope to be something like an “oak of righteousness,” a “planting of the Lord” bearing not just glory to God but also fruit for the hungry and oppressed. Imagine: If more of our lives more of the time played like the Magnificat, like a song of (yes) hope in celebration of God’s goodness and mercy, what would it mean for our communities, for the nation, for the world.


I hope I am not done yet, Lord. At least, I hope that you’re not yet done with me and our world. Keep alive in me the hope for brighter days and better ways for me to magnify your grace even a little. Amen.

New Prayer Requests:

We ask churches and church leaders to join us in the following prayers either by sharing them during worship, printing them in bulletins, or sharing them in some other way. To make a prayer request, please contact Drew Page at paged@sneucc.org

Prayers of Intercession:

  • For those grieving for the more than 280,000 victims of the Covid-19 disease
  • For the compassion to make safe and reasonable choices as Covid-19 cases rise in the region and across the country
  • For Hope for all those who struggle with the Advent season

Prayers of Joy and Thanksgiving:

  • For familiar seasonal sights, smells, and sounds

Please Pray for the Following SNEUCC Churches:

Bolton Congregational Church UCC, Bolton, CT
The First Parish of Bolton, Interdenominational, Bolton, MA
First Congregational Church in Bloomfield, Bloomfield, CT
First Congregational Church in Billerica, UCC, Billerica, MA
Dane Street Congregational Church, UCC, Beverly, MA
Immanuel Congregational Church, Beverly, MA
Second Congregational Church, UCC, Beverly, MA
First Church of Bethlehem, UCC, Bethlehem, CT
First Congregational Church, Bethel, CT
First Church of Christ, Congregational, Bethany, CT
United Church of Bernardston, Bernardston, MA
Berlin Congregational Church, Berlin, CT

This Week in History:

December 8, 1980 (40 years ago) Former Beatles singer-songwriter John Lennon is shot and killed in New York City by an obsessed fan. His songs, along with the rest of the Beatles cannon, have influenced modern music for nearly 60 years. His death led to weeks of demonstrations and vigils.

“Study the past if you would define the future.”

Erick R. Olsen

pastor of the Church of Christ, Congregational, in Norfolk, CT

December 07, 2020
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