I enjoy doxologies. Notice I didn’t say “the doxology”. When we hear the word “doxology” we think of the short chorus usually sung following the offering. For United Methodists, that’s the “doxology”. In reality, doxologies are multifaceted gems by which we reflect praise back to God.
Whether found in the Old or New Testament, a doxology is a short verse which praises God. Usually, doxologies are found at the end of hymns, psalms, or verses of praise. Originating from the Greek word Doxa (a translation of the Hebrew kavod), doxologies were customary means of ending a hymn or prayer. The tradition began in synagogues and was carried into early Christian churches.
The apostle Paul was fond of doxologies. They appear prominently in the letters to the Galatians, Ephesians, and Romans. The epistle reading for the fourth Sunday of Advent (Romans 16:25-27) closes with one such verse of praise. This is a unique choice for the lectionary; of all the ways to bring Advent to a close using Paul to encapsulate the essence of salvation points us to the Nativity and beyond. His three verses of doxology capped off with a single “Amen” remind us where we go after Bethlehem.
The last verse (Romans 16:27) goes like this: “May the glory be to God, who alone is wise! May the glory be to him through Jesus Christ forever! Amen.”
Paul’s doxology is about glory. Glory is the subject of the verse. For Paul, “glory” isn’t a familiar hymn with Latin lyrics. It is a noun. Glory is something tangible; a gift which enables us to be faithful in dark times. When we are too weak or fearful to say “Amen”, glory finds the right words.
It is the same following Mary’s encounter with the Angel Gabriel in Luke 1. Mary is told that she is being honored by God. What God gives as honor the world regards as shame. The dreaded impossibility we refuse to address in our own life is suddenly becoming a hopeful, life-giving possibility. God is doing something unheard of, immeasurable, unquantifiable, unseen, and impossible. Mary says “yes” in spite of the worlds inevitable “no”. It would not be easy for Mary. Hers was an implausible tale. Who puts credence in the story of a yet to be married teenage mother?
The world is still leveling shame and dishonor on those who believe in God’s impossible yes. We are told it is impractical to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger, bind up the brokenhearted, comfort the mourning, and bring good news to the poor. We are advised that basic human dignity is an entitlement but Netflix memberships, upgraded phones, newer computers, and better vacations are middle class human rights. Those who object to these distinctions have little financial or social motivation to say “yes” to God or help Mary.
As Mary affirmed God’s call in her life, others said yes to her. Mary’s “yes” is an all encompassing attestation to God’s unquestionable “let it be” in our lives. When the Holy Family fled Bethlehem, took refuge in Egypt, and returned to Nazareth; her life and the life of her son mattered more than Caesar’s census. People of faith helped them along the way. They said yes when the world said no.
In the end, when the angel leaves, Mary offers this doxology, “I am the Lord’s servant. Let it be with me just as you have said.” That’s the Wesley Covenant Prayer summed up in two sentences; a doxology like no other. It’s also one of the hardest words of praise to admit. Yes, praise is both an act of confession. Confession is embedded within praise. Are we able to confess to being the Lord’s servant? Are we willing to let God’s will be done through us? Those are two simple questions to which most people are unable to answer “yes”. Giving God praise is easy, especially when it’s going well. Shouting Amen is sweet when the market is up.
Saying yes to God, serving God, and saying Amen (just for the sake of loving and serving God); now that’s the hardest doxology you’ll ever utter.
What is your doxology this Christmas?
Richard Lowell Bryant