12/23/2018 5:06:00 PM
Mary says: a blueprint for life [Sermon Manuscript]
In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he 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 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 forever.”
Pastor Marc's sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Advent (December 23, 2018) on Luke 1:39-55. Listen to the recording here or read my manuscript below.
I’m going to go ahead and say it: it’s a bit weird to be at church the day before Christmas Eve. You are, like me, probably focused on what comes next. There’s still meals to prepare, wishlists to fulfill, and a copy machine in our church office that needs to print 250 more bulletins before Monday evening. Our attention is so focused on Christmas, it feels like this Fourth Sunday of Advent has just snuck up on us. We can, if we’re not careful, let today slide right on by. But we can also accept this day as a gift. Because it’s not every Sunday when the main characters in our gospel reading are women. And it’s not every Sunday when we hear Mary’s song. This young woman who we give most of our attention to only when she’s kneeling silently in our nativity creches, is more than just a vessel of God’s work. She has a voice and that voice sings. Her song does more than bring us one day closer to Christmas; her song reminds us of our calling to make the promise of Jesus real in our everyday lives.
Mary’s pregnancy began in an unexpected way. In the verses immediately before our reading today, the angel Gabriel visited her and shared with her a message from God. Mary was told that her son Jesus would be the Son of the Most High and that his kingdom would never end. Perplexed, Mary wondered how this could happen. So the angel informed her that her cousin Elizabeth, who no one thought could have a baby, was actually expecting. Mary consented to God’s will and after experiencing God in this incredible way, she sought counsel and support from the one person she knew who might understand what she’s going through. She left home and went to see Elizabeth. Now we can imagine her journey there as being slightly uncomfortable. Mary was, at the time, young, barely a teenager, and in the first trimester of her pregnancy. Scripture doesn’t tell us how long her journey was but the road was most likely hilly, bumpy, and Mary might have walked the entire way. As she neared her cousin’s house, we can imagine Mary being tired, exhausted, worn out, and filled with joy because her cousin was near. Mary knew she could tell Elizabeth everything because Elizabeth would understand. Mary’s greeting was more than just a simple hello. Her words must have been filled with incredible hope, promise, and fear because Mary had met God in the most unexpected way. And as Mary spoke, she was heard. Elizabeth’s baby, who would become John the Baptist, kicked. And in that moment, the Holy Spirit filled Elizabeth, and she offered up an affirmation of love that Mary could only respond to in song.
Mary’s song is exactly what it sounds like. It’s not meant to only describe some kind of spiritual experience. Mary’s words are really an expansive description of who God is and how God works in the world. Now, if you had to explain who God is for you, your words might sound a bit like hers. The story we’d end up sharing would do more than point to our personal relationship with God. We would have to include what God has done for us, using our own words to mix the stories of the Bible and our personal experiences of God, together. And over and over again, our words would show how God, when we least expected, showed up. These topsy and turvy moments of God showing in our lives might have felt as exhilarating as having a prayer actually answered but it could be as mundane as walking down some stairs into a New York City subway and suddenly realizing you’re not alone. As we tell and retell the story of how God showed up in our lives, we would also find ourselves pointing to the ways God works in our world. God cares for the lowly, for the hungry, and for those who have no power. God removes the powerful from their places of leadership and sends the rich, those with enough, away empty. The God who created the world chose to be active in the world and in the moment when no one expected it, God chose to live a human life because our lives are worth living. Jesus showed up to remind us that God’s promises will never be broken. And through our faith, rooted in our baptism, we will find ourselves being turn upside down so that we can live God’s love out loud. God’s love, in our lives, is fleshed out with a song Jesus’ mom never stops singing.
We sometimes act as if Mary is a silent partner in the Christmas story because we treat Jesus as if he entered the world fully formed. We focus so much on his life as an adult, we forget that Jesus chose to grow up. Jesus didn’t magically appear in the manger. Jesus was actually born. So that means he was carried by Mary for nine whole months. And during those months, Mary did stuff. She worked; she took care of herself; and, I bet, she sang. The song she sung with Elizabeth wasn’t, I think, the only time those words came from her. Her song of the world being turned upside down was the soundtrack to her whole pregnancy. And as Mary sang, Jesus listened and he learned. Jesus’ later ministry would match his mom’s song. He would scatter proud, feed the hungry, take care of the sick, and he was killed by the Roman Emperor because the Emperor couldn’t tolerate any challenge to his throne. Mary knew exactly what her son would become because I don’t believe she ever stopped singing that initial song.
Mary’s song, sung while she was pregnant, looked forward, towards what Jesus would later do. Yet, when we look at the words she used, her song seems to be a bit of a paradox because it acts as if what God is going to do has also already been done. God’s reign of justice, where the world is turned upside down, is already being made real in our world. The implication of the incarnation and the resurrection is that, through Jesus, the world has already been saved. And instead of only looking forward towards the Advent of God’s reign come near, we are called to live as if God’s reign is already here. Mary’s song, then, serves as a blueprint for what our life with Christ should look like because a life with Christ knows that Jesus was born, he lived, he died, he rose, he’ll come again, and that he’s also still here, right now. A life with Christ trusts that Jesus actually matters. And in the words of Gail Ricciuti, “our challenge is to cultivate the ability to see God’s promises as already having come to pass” (Feasting on Word, Advent Companion, page 94). This isn’t always easy. But we can cultivate this skill by spending more time with today before rushing off towards tomorrow. And as we sit with the Jesus who promises to be with us until the end of this age, we will discover that even though we are filled with fears, doubts, joys, and praises; when we are with our God, we can only do what Mary did: and that’s raise our voice and sing a song filled with faith, challenge, hope, and love.