A Sermon for 15 December 2019 – Third Advent
A reading from the gospel of Luke 1:46-55. Listen to God’s word to us through a reading of words coming from the lips of a young girl when she found out that God intended to do amazing things through her. Enlisting her to bear a child in the middle of a world taken over by an oppressive empire. The young girl consents proclaiming words known throughout history as the Magnificat. Listen.
“And Mary said, ‘My soul magnifies the LORD, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for God has looked with favor 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 God’s name. God’s mercy is for those who fear God from generation to generation. God has shown strength with his arm; God has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. God has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; God has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. God has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise God made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”
This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!
Have you heard the news? God is building a new world!
Listen to the promise of the prophet. One named Isaiah who it’s believe gave voice to God’s plans when the people found themselves still in Babylonian exile – or possibly just back home in the land of Judah, scholars aren’t sure of the writing’s date so that it’s possible the people not long before Isaiah’s words had walked upon a seemingly miraculous highway of the LORD running far off in the East right back to the crumbled doorposts of Jerusalem. Whichever side of exile, the prophet proclaims: “The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus 2 it shall blossom abundantly. . . . (For) the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; 6 . . . the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy. . . . Waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; 7 the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water; the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp, the grass shall become reeds and rushes” (Isaiah 35:1-2a, 5-7). No one expects deserts to burst with beautiful blossoms of wildflowers for as far as the eye can see. Blind eyes don’t become open again, do they? Do ears unable to hear suddenly find release? People unable to walk all at once hopping and leaping and bounding all about? Those silenced, tongues unable to speak, don’t all of a sudden sing for joy, do they?
Listen to another prophet who finds herself at her aunt’s house shortly after a messenger of God interrupts her typical teenage afternoon. Gabriel, the one known by her people as God’s messenger – one standing in for God’s presence. This angel appears in a way in which she actually can communion, and the young girl known as Mary – the one already engaged, though not yet living with the man to whom she’d been given. Mary receives world-shaking news. A life-altering message that despite appearances, God is with her and her people. It wasn’t the first time such notice had been given in the most unlikely of ways to ones who traced their history through the likes of the great King David – who didn’t exactly come from the proper lineage what with his foreign great-grandmother Ruth uniting herself to Boaz. Don’t forget Moses, a salvific figure for the people, whose dicey past as a murderer, after being raised in the palace of the Pharaoh due to his mother’s shrewdness, drives him away into hiding only at last to return to a nation in need when a voice amid a flaming bush set his life upon a different path. And what about Abram and Sarai – the father and mother of them all –who doubted promises given – even laughed at God’s audacious plan? In a long line of questionable ancestors such as these; legend says, a young girl went forth one ordinary day to draw water at Nazareth’s well. She came home a completely different woman. Perplexed by how it all could be but willing to open her life and her womb to how God was building a new world.
The prophet Mary proclaims: “My soul magnifies the LORD! For God has done great things! God has scattered the proud. And brought down the powerful. God has lifted up the lowly and filled the hungry. God has helped servant Israel,” (paraphrase of Luke 1:46-55, various verses) the ones classically known as wrestlers with God – as was their namesake Jacob who would not relent until a blessing was given and his name, at dawn, turned to Israel, or: he who wrestles with God. So we can too! Make no mistake about it. For eons, God has been busy building a new world! One biblical commentator, brilliantly puts it like this: Mary’s “song is not a halfhearted praise; this is more than ‘my soul thanks the LORD and I trust that (God’ll) get me through this mess and things will turn out okay’” (Connections, Yr. A, Vol. 1, Marci Auld Glass, p. 40). Mary does, after all, find herself in quite a pickle as a pregnant, yet-unwed mother who could not only get turned away by the man to whom she had been promised for marriage. But also, according to their nation’s laws, Joseph could have her stoned for such a presumed betrayal of the bridal bed. Nonetheless, the biblical commentator reminds that Mary’s “song is much bigger” than a simple thank you, God. Her proclamation “shows that she, correctly, connects the details of her life to God’s bigger plan for the world” (Ibid.). ‘Cuz let’s face it: “If God can use a teenaged girl from a backwater town, then surely God will fill the hungry with good things and send the rich away hungry. Surely God will bring down the mighty and lift up the lowly” (Ibid.). Mary’s song, it is written: “becomes not a prophesy or prediction, but a description of reality” (Ibid.). And you know how we know: because in her singing, Mary “does not even bother to use future tense. She does not sing, ‘God will . . .’ She sings, ‘God HAS . . .’” (Ibid.). Thus, with the mother-to-be we too can proclaim: God is building a new world!
You know how else we can know? We can look to see all around us. While the national news continues to show leaders at each other’s throats. While they want us again and again to see divisions between people and nations and those perceived to be so very different from one another. You know what I’ve seen? Let’s just start with last Sunday when children of a father whose mind slipped far away came back here. Believing they would find solace in their loss – welcome in their grief and proclamation of God’s work even over death no matter that it had been a while since their family had been able to be a part of this church. Monday all sorts of interesting conversations began! I saw leaders of this congregation meet with young people to see how their gifts might undergird our own efforts in community renewal. I heard leaders among our community partners tell how new efforts could bring greater good! Tuesday – well, so many of you were here then! I saw a parlor transformed to a banquet where all could sit down to feast! Women whose wounds seem obvious and others who more easily have been able to keep things together. Felons laughing with new friends – some struggling still from the effects of addiction and the pain the disease has caused in their families – and others able just to listen. Hearts open wide because we know we need each other. And while it got a bit chaotic when about a dozen high schooler girls and boys descended upon the doorstep, did you see how God was building a new world when Trina Frierson, the founder of Mending Hearts, spoke? She told her cautionary story so they might now make positive decisions. All the while, even some macho teenage boys listened. Which reminds that we cannot know how something as simple as stories shared and encouragement given and hope of a different way allows God to build anew. When Thursday rolled round, this place was packed! Every pew full of parents and grandparents and family friends – cameras on the ready – as little children of every shade stood up here. Absolutely adorable! Have you ever heard about 80 wee voices sing things like “Up on the rooftop, click, click, click!” From Frosty the magically-come-to-life snowman to holiday songs about dreidels to joyous little mouths belting out: “We wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!” At such young age the gift of music and art and play is a part of the lives of Playcare’s children. So maybe when they are older, they’ll recognize creativity keeps them connected to the Source, who Creates us all! Another way I’ve been noticing that same One at work is through this Trader Joe’s pick-up and delivery process we’ve gotten ourselves into! Every time others hear about these Neighborhood Shares efforts, it’s like hope in humanity’s kindness gets restored. Trust in generosity and abundance and the simple gift of caring no matter the circumstance or age. So many new relationships are being forged through simple things like flowers – lives are getting impacted positively and other opportunities for connection are unfolding! It’s so cool! Yes, God is busy building a new world – re-weaving the fabric of community every time a flower is passed along, or a random stalk of brussels sprouts shows up in our narthex. For those with eyes to see and ears to hear, the joy of such grace – such gift is making a deep impact this Advent.
Mother-to-be Mary knew it was so. Some might say she sang it out ahead of time because she could see. It is through every act of compassion. Every courageous step. Each YES to Spirit’s invitation adds one more brick to the new world God is building! Don’t you ever doubt it; for the work is still the same. Through ordinary folks like Mary and Joseph and us, God is building a new world!
In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.
© Copyright JMN – 2019 (All rights reserved.)