Praying the Prayers of the Nativity: a daily rhythm
As we get caught up in retelling the Christmas story, it’s easy to overlook the prayers of the nativity.
Yes, the prayers.
In the Gospel According to Luke, the narrative is punctuated at various points with beautiful, ancient prayers, expressions of praise and worship and wonder, delivered by people like Mary, Zechariah, and Simeon. And while these prayers are specific to their situation — giving praise for the birth of Christ — together they form a rhythm for your daily prayer life.
Why not consider praying the following five nativity prayers each day as a way of devoting every part of your life to God.
“I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled.” (Luke 1:38)
Mary utters these simple words of committal after the angel informs her that she will conceive and give birth to a child who will be called the Son of the Most High. As extraordinary as this commission might seem, the angel insists, “No word from God will ever fail.”
Mary, though greatly troubled and confused, responds in faith, “May your word to me be fulfilled.”
On rising each morning, say this simple prayer. Reaffirm your status as God’s humble servant. Open your heart, your hands, and the challenges of the upcoming day to God, to do with you and through you as he wishes.
Artwork: The Annunciation | Paolo de Matteis
“My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed for the Mighty One has done great things for me—holy is his name.
His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, just as he promised our ancestors.” (Luke 1:46-55)
This is the song of Mary, a prayer uttered in response to Elizabeth’s blessing on her. It is passionate, even revolutionary.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer called it “a hard, strong, inexorable song about the power of God and the powerlessness of humankind.”
What a thing to pray: scatter the proud; cast down the mighty; lift up the humble; feed the hungry; send the rich away empty.
Stop at mid-morning, sit at your desk or your workspace, bow your head, and pray this.
Allow it to reorient you to the values of the kingdom, to a world of justice, love and wholeness. Be reminded again of the upside-down world that Jesus has given birth to.
Artwork: The Magnificat | Nathan Clendenin
“Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come to his people and redeemed them.
He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David (as he said through his holy prophets of long ago), salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us—to show mercy to our ancestors and to remember his holy covenant, the oath he swore to our father Abraham: to rescue us from the hand of our enemies,and to enable us to serve him without fear in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him,to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.” (Luke 1:68-79)
This is Zechariah’s song. It bursts from him. Remember, he has been mute since he encountered the angel in the temple and was told that his elderly wife would give birth to a prophet, to a man we now know as John the Baptist. After months of holy silence, Zechariah vents this extraordinary prophetic prayer.
As you pray it, give thanks that you have received “the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of sins.” God’s tender mercy has been revealed to you. Praise him.
And ask God again to use you to shine his light on those living in darkness around you, and to guide your feet into the paths of peace.
Artwork: Zechariah’s Benedictus: His Name is John Glorious Films
“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” (Luke 2:14)
This prayer of praise is sung by a chorus of angels, exultant at the birth of Christ. We might say it at day’s end, as we leave our offices or worksites, as we pack our bags or satchels to journey home after a long day’s work.
It’s easy to end a day and think that work is everything, that our deadlines are immutable, that our employer’s priorities are ultimate.
As you turn the light out in your office, or as you leave the building, look heavenward and say this prayer, acknowledging that God is higher than all the glowing neon signs on the highest skyscrapers.
Give God the glory, and accept his offer of peace.
Artwork: Angels with children | Kvams Flisespikkeri
“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace.For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.” (Luke 2:29-32)
This prayer is sung by Simeon, a devout man, full of the Holy Spirit, to whom God has promised he will not die until he sees the Messiah. He takes the infant Jesus in his arms and breathes a sigh of relief, blessed that Israel will find its consolation.
We too have seen God’s salvation. We have been bathed in the light of the Lord. As you climb into bed, say this simple prayer to end your day, “You may now dismiss your servant in peace.”
We are safe in the knowledge of God’s unending love.
Artwork: Simeon’s Canticle | Aert de Gelder