Faith United Methodist Church
December 20, 2015
Fourth Sunday of Advent
Rev. Kristabeth E. Atwood
Scripture: Luke 1:46b-55, Luke 1:39-45
Prayer for Illumination:
O God, slow us down. Help us center our thoughts and restore in us a childlike wonder. Open your word to us that we may hear your message for our lives as we call on your name. Be with us an in us, Emmanuel. Amen.
Sermon: A Song of Strength
Lullabies. How many of you can remember a lullaby your mother or father sang to you? Maybe you even sang that lullaby to your own child? “Rock-a-Bye Baby.” “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.” “Hush Little Baby, Don’t Say a Word.” Songs often live on in our memories in ways that the spoken word does not. Just holding a baby can bring back the words to an old nursery rhyme, one thought to be long since forgotten.
But the song we have before us today ~ Mary’s song ~ is not a lullaby. Mary’s baby wasn’t even born yet. But it is still a mother’s song. A song pregnant with hope and expectation. Hope in the God who had done great things. Expectation for what God would do through the one growing in her womb. It’s not a song of soothing tones, but a song with undertones of challenge and transformation. A song that recognized that the baby about to be born would change everything.
But that’s nothing new, is it? All babies change everything, don’t they? At least for their parents! There is something unique and wonderful about a new life coming into the world. Perhaps that’s why Mary took the long, and probably dangerous, pre-natal journey from Nazareth to Judea to be with her cousin Elizabeth who was also pregnant with her first child. Both Mary ~ young, innocent and unwed ~ and Elizabeth ~ who was past childbearing age ~ find themselves pregnant under the most unusual and unexpected of circumstances.
Henri Nouwen describes this encounter between Mary and Elizabeth in his book The Road to Daybreak. He writes, “Who could ever understand? Who could ever believe it? Who could ever let it happen? But Mary says, ‘Let it happen to me,’ and she immediately realizes that only Elizabeth will be able to affirm her ‘yes.’” So, on the doorstep of Elizabeth’s house, these two unusual women met and shared a most unusual greeting. The baby Elizabeth was carrying leapt in her womb while Mary burst into song.
But who could blame Mary, really? She was finally with someone who understood what she was going through. Can you imagine the talk around Nazareth? The accusing? The gossiping? Probably the rumor mill was going wild. These days we recite the Apostle’s Creed with barely a second thought to the part that refers to Jesus’ birth. “Conceived by the Holy Spirit; Born of the Virgin Mary.” We say it matter of fact. Yet imagine how strange that must have sounded at the time. That innocent Mary isn’t so innocent after all! An angelic visit? Mm Hmm. The Holy Spirit? Yeah, right! As Barbara Brown Taylor put it, there was no affidavit from the Holy Spirit. And Mary’s story wasn’t the most believable one in town.
So Mary sang. She sang because there was nothing else she could do. She was bursting with hope and joy and wonder that this could be happening to her. She sang of a God who looked upon her and called her blessed. And Elizabeth, her companion on this unusual journey, heard her song.
And I wonder if there was someone else who heard her song. Someone, months later, cradled in her arms as he slept. Someone who heard his mother sing, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my Spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” Someone who listened as his mother sang of a world of justice, where the poor are lifted up and the hungry are fed. I wonder if this song ~ this mother’s song ~ became Mary’s lullaby to her baby Jesus.
And I wonder if her tones rang in the ears of the adult Jesus, just beyond his remembering, as he taught and healed and reached out to the poor. “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior…. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.” Even as he went to the cross.
One poet (Mary Frances Fleischaker) wrote of Mary,
Mary, song of holy wisdom
Sung before the world began
Faithful to the Word within you
As you bore God’s wondrous plan.
As Protestants we tend to relegate Mary to weakness and vulnerability. We emphasize the fact that she was young and poor and unwed. Yet the song-singing Mary was no Mary meek-and-mild. Hers was a song of strength. She was powerful, filled with life. This was the Mary who answered the angel, “Yes! Let it be to me as you have said.” And she sang. As one pastor put it, “We sing because we believe in something we cannot yet touch. We sing because we hope.” Young, unwed, poor ~ no one had more hope than Mary.
Have you ever been so moved by something that you felt the need to burst into song? Have you ever been so overcome that plain words just didn’t seem to cut it? St. Augustine was known to say, “He who sings prays twice.” Mary certainly had a lot to pray about…and so do we. And with so much to hope for, how can we keep from singing as well?
Mary knew that the baby she was carrying would change everything. His very life would be the fulfillment of her song. Mary sang it, Elizabeth heard it, and we celebrate it today. Yet the fulfillment has not ceased. This is the Good News. Every year, every day, every minute Christ comes to us anew and, as his followers, we can be the fulfillment of Mary’s song. Through our daily actions with the people we encounter. As we look beyond our doors to see who is hurting and lift them up. Through the choices we make with our time and money. Meister Eckhart affirmed, “We are all meant to be mothers of God for God is always in need of being born.” Christ’s hands, Christ’s feet, Christ’s love in the world. “…for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.”
Let us pray: Loving God, we thank you for our companions along our journey, those who visit us with gifts of hope. For the songs you give us and for your presence with us, we give you thanks. In the name of Christ we pray. Amen.