Note from the Pastor:
Mary's song, or the Magnificat, is the longest speech by a woman in the New Testament. It has some common themes and language with the Song of Hannah in 1 Samuel 2: 1-10. The themes of God's might and deliverance, as well as the servanthood of a seemingly unimportant woman are similar. God did speak through these women, and continues to speak through unlikely people today. To hear the voice of God we must listen to the old, the young, and those on the margins. It appears that often the powerful and wealthy speak with their own agendas.
It seemed most appropriate to give Mary her own voice this Sunday.
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.’
Move 1: Humanity of Mary
It’s hard when God’s actions don’t match our expectations. We don’t know what to think!
I expected an ordinary life: to marry as I was expected to do and care for a home -- and children too if God blessed us with them. I expected God-fearing and ordinary children who would learn their father’s trade and to keep a home. I certainly didn’t expect any child of mine to be the one promised of old to bring peace and salvation -- to change the world. And yet, that was what God chose to do. For me to carry the child of God, the Savior of the world – this was something beyond my wildest imagining.
It’s hard to believe, I know. I was a very ordinary girl from the small town of Nazareth in rural Galilee. I grew up going to synagogue, learning the Scriptures and sacred poetry, and praying at home. If I had any ambition it was to do what was right and serve God in any way that I could. But I never expected a messenger from God. I was terrified. The messenger called me favored one, which seemed rather bizarre. No one would think there was anything favored about living in Nazareth – or about my very ordinary life. And yet, the message was that I was to bear a child who would be the Son of God. A messenger from God -- It is both terrifying … and a wonderful thing to meet a messenger of God. And this news struck fear in my heart. Joy too – but also great fear.
Then I heard that my cousin Elizabeth was pregnant too! Elizabeth has lived her whole married life disgraced because she was barren, and now, here she is.... pregnant – and she's well … very experienced in life … and also very wise. I went to visit Elizabeth immediately to witness for myself what God is doing, and lo and behold, not only was she pregnant, but she knew that I was to bear the Child of Promise. And her little one couldn't hold still, he was so energized by the coming of the Lord. There is nothing usual in this story. Women old and young are becoming the servants of the Lord, to raise children called by God for special purposes. And God’s messengers are appearing to us to tell of God’s plans.
Move 2: God’s activity
God is doing something very different here. Something strange and unexpected. This is wonderful for the world! Finally, the Child of Promise is coming to live with us. God is coming to make this world home. Home for Emmanuel, God with us, the Child of Promise. And a Home for us too – a place for wanderers and nomads and those without a home. God is making a place for all who are living on the margins, who don’t fit in, who dream different dreams. This child is coming to show us God’s love in a new way, a very human way. This is the child is entrusted to my keeping.
This wonderful gift for the world is a bit of a burden on our end, Joseph’s and mine. It is hard to accept what is unexpected and strange. It is generally true that pregnancies don’t always come when we want them, nor are babies born when it is convenient. But this is all a bit beyond that. Inconvenient? We’re way past that! This is a very dangerous time to bring a baby into the world. We live in a very uncertain world in a country under Roman occupation. People here have no rights, are freely abused by those in power, and taxed almost to starvation for those of us who begin with very little – but the wealthy have tables full of exotic foods and bathe in golden bathtubs, I’ve heard. Everyone wonders if their children will have enough to eat, or will travel safely through town because our lives at risk of violence.
It is into this frightening and uncertain world that God is acting. God is coming HERE! 400 years of suffering under occupation without a prophet to share the words of hope – and now God is coming to live among us! And coming for this purpose – to bring peace and salvation to my people, the ones with no rights and not enough to eat. My song tells of God’s intentions. God promised through our story not leave or forsake our people, and I am here to testify that God meant it! God is doing extraordinary things in our midstI Who would have thought that God Almighty would come to earth as a tiny baby? Who would have thought that a poor girl from Nazareth would carry and raise him! But, I think that that's just it. We don’t think like God. God sees things that we don’t see.
We have to change the way we think. God wants to use each of us -- ordinary people. God wants us to be faithful, even when the “task” seems outlandish. God is calling us to change the way we think. When the world sees a humble girl in a poor but faithful family, God sees a chosen vessel, even a prophet. When the world sees a poor person, God blesses and lifts them up. God's purposes may seem a little backward to our usual way of operating, but perhaps it is we who have become backward. I have to tell you – because I can't keep it in – I am … hopeful. More so now than ever in my life. God is at work in the world. God can redeem this place – and each of us. God will feed the hungry. God does care about the sick. God reaches out – heavens, God is coming to earth!
And listen to what God will be doing!
“My soul glorifies the Lord 47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior…
50 God’s mercy extends to those who stand in awe, from generation to generation. 51 God has performed mighty deeds with a strong arm; and scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. 52 God has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. 53 God has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. 54 God has helped Israel, God’s servant people, remembering to be merciful 55 to Abraham and his descendants forever, just as was promised to our ancestors.”
You see? God is coming among us to turn the world right again. The powerful will be cast from their positions while the humble are lifted up. And the hungry and poor will be fed while the rich are turned away empty. God is doing the unexpected. Something completely different -- reversing our order of things to match the one designed and enacted by God.
3. It won’t be easy. God’s promises don’t make things automatically easy. The coming of Emmanuel won’t mean that things turn around quickly or easily. And of course, the powerful and rich will resist. They don’t share willingly. They build new homes to store their treasures while there are homeless begging in the streets.
There are Roman soldiers in the streets. They are quick to take offense and there is no accountability for the injuries they do our people. I see them pass and I touch my body and whisper, “Come, Holy One. Come and deliver your people from oppression. Come and bring us peace.” And I fear that their power may seek to harm my child – this one called to cast the mighty and powerful from their thrones. Armies don’t take kindly to promises of peace. They are invested in wars which keep them in power.
It seems that there are more people poor and homeless every day. Beggars in the streets ask for just a crust of bread, a bit of shelter for the night. And those who are better off ask soldiers to remove them – their poverty offends. I see them begging for mercy and touch my body and whisper, “Come Holy One. Prepare a feast for the poor and renounce the selfish ones. Come and bring us enough for all.” And I fear that those with wealth and power will seek to destroy my child who will bring a time of Jubilee to set free the oppressed and ensure that all have enough and no one has too much. The powerful and wealthy don’t take kindly to talk of a redistribution of wealth, or enough for all.
Oh Emmanuel, God with us, spirit revealed to us – come and be the hope for the world! I do not understand what God is doing. But I trust the One who has been with our people through the ages. This Child, loaned to Joseph and I for a while, is a child for the whole world. Yes, it is frightening – but it is also an amazing blessing. I remember the words of God’s messenger: “Do not be afraid, for the Holy One is with you.” And yet, I still have moments of fear. (pause a second in musing) But I also have great joy! God is coming among us!
In the face of kings and rulers, even in their anger and power, God whispers,
“Do not be afraid, I am with you.”
When fleeing in fear with no place to lay our heads, God whispers,
“Do not be afraid, I am with you.”
When we feel inadequate for the tasks that are before us, God whispers,
“Do not be afraid, I am with you.”
When all looks helpless, God whispers,
“Do not be afraid, I am with you.”
Even in the face of danger, I will hear it: “Do not be afraid, I am with you.”
And, I think, when facing death, I will hear , “Do not be afraid, I am with you.”
Emmanuel, God with us, is coming! God is coming to live among us, to be one of us. And this WILL change the world! Of course I said “YES” to God. Say “YES” with me now– we can be a part of this wondrous thing that God is doing! This unexpected thing God is doing with ordinary people – with people like me, and maybe like you.
This is a new beginning…. Oh Holy One, Holy are you. Blessed am I. Make me your home. And make a home for all of us here. O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.