Rejoice!

Sermon for December 15th, 2019 Third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday

Stained Glass Window, Catholic Church in Cherokee NC

Today is a Sunday of rejoicing! We began with our litany of praise and thanksgiving for all the things in which we rejoice. Today, we also rejoice with Mary. My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God, my savior.

Now, before I say too much about Mary, I always feel like I need to make some sort of disclaimer. Most Lutherans have never concerned themselves very much with Mary, just like the rest of Protestant Christianity. I will admit that for most of my life I didn’t understand what the big deal was. She was just some girl who happened to be who God picked to give birth to his Son. Could have been anybody. After all the important part here is really Jesus.

I absolutely believe that Mary herself would agree. The important part IS Jesus. So even though we are talking a lot about Mary today, we are ultimately taking about Jesus along with her. And the truth is that maybe it could have been just any young girl because God cares about each girl, each young person, each lowly one, every single person great and small and in between. Just anyone is always someone who matters to God.

In comparison to many people in scripture, this humble little woman is remarkably faithful, having a faith that seems to exceed what we might assume of someone in her place. Abraham tried to modify God’s plan because he couldn’t see it working. Sarah laughed right out loud at God for saying she’d have a child in her old age. Jacob wrestled with God in the middle of the night on a lonely road because his whole life he did things the hard way. A large portion of the prophets protested their calls. Jonah ran the opposite direction from what God wanted him to do and was outright defiant of God’s mercy even through the end of his story. Elijah whined to God about being all alone. Amos protested that he was not good enough because he was just a farm boy.

Then there were the disciples! Nathaniel said: how could anything good come from Nazareth? That is, Jesus home town. Quite an insult! James and John searched for political power by asking to sit beside Jesus’ throne. Martha scolded the Savior when he arrived “too late” to save her brother Lazarus from dying and then sharply reprimanded him when he opens the tomb to raise him from the dead. And Peter…Peter the Rock upon which Jesus would build the church…he crumbled after Jesus was arrested and denied the Messiah repeatedly to save his own skin.

But Mary is faithful and obedient to God. And her burden all the much greater than theirs!

My Soul proclaims the greatness of our God. My spirit rejoices in God, my Savior, for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant. From now on, all generations will call me blessed. The Almighty has done great things for me and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from every generation. He has shown the strength of his arm, he has scattered the proud in their conceit. He has brought down the mighty from their thrones and he has lifted up the lowly. The he has filled the hungry with good things and the rich he has sent away empty. He has come to the help of his servant Israel for he has remembered his promise of mercy. The promise he made to our Fathers, to Abraham and his children. Forever.

That is her song. Surely, generation after generation has called her blessed because of what God has done, is doing, and promises yet to do in her Son.

When we picture the nativity of Jesus, we see his mother there, quiet and peaceful; a serene example of obedience to the call of God. Behold I am the handmade of the Lord, she had said to the angel Gabriel after receiving the startling news that she, an unmarried virgin, was going to bear the Messiah, the Son of God.

That porcelain perfect image we have in our mind of her does not entirely fit with who Mary was. She looks sweet and meek and ready to blend into the background in every pretty little nativity set. But the truth is that Mary, and specifically her song, are powerful images of revolution. God’s revolution.

Between her ascent to God’s call, standing in Gabriel’s brilliant light, and standing in a stable and placing her newborn, wrapped up snugly and laying him in the straw of a manger, we have those words. It is a song that shows us both the depth of her faith and the revolutionary intentions of our God; God’s turning the world upside down in coming to us. God is coming to be Emanuel, God with us. It is a song that has struck fear into the hearts of many and one that cannot be taken lightly. And, frankly, it might ought to frighten us.

Even at our worst, none of our financial struggles could be compared to the very poorest of this world. Who among us in this place today has been truly hungry? Not just ‘gee I can’t wait till lunch’ kind of hungry or even ‘it’s gotta be the dollar menu for us tonight till payday next week’ kind of hungry. But the kind of hungry that says: we can’t feed our children and no one else is there to help us and there is no paycheck coming next week. Or the next either or as far as the minds eye can see into the unknown future of deep, systemic poverty. My suspicions and my hopes are that very, very few of us, if any at all, have experienced that. Reality is, even though it is hard to face, we may just be the rich who are sent away empty, we might be the mighty who are thrown down from our thrones, the proud who are scattered in our conceit. From a certain point of view, should we even dare speak those words?

And yet, we do. We do speak them. And when we do, we do something that is both faithful and life changing; perhaps even world changing. We participate in Heaven’s invasion of the earth. We participate in the revolution against the evil and sin of this world. We say an unmistakable NO to the very same evil and sin that lies within each of us as well. When we speak or sing Mary’s song, we are saying a hearty Amen to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. The meek shall indeed inherit the earth, Amen! The poor are the blessed, as are the peace makers and those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, Amen! Blessed indeed are the merciful! Amen I say amen!

When we speak Mary’s song, we are given an opportunity to voluntarily step down from our high places. The high places we have earned and those we were granted by virtue of where and to whom we were born. We have a chance to see things from God’s perspective, to see God’s upside down view of the world, where the most important ones are those who are forgotten or shamed or outcast by us: the lost, lonely, broken and afraid of this world. Those who are hungry and those who are broken hearted. Those who have no power, the children, the abused, the neglected, the elderly, the outsider. Those on the bottom have become those on the top.

When we speak Mary’s song, we have a chance to see that what looks upside down to us is, in the truest light, right side up. God’s way of seeing the world is the way of seeing truth.

So what does that look like? What does it look like to sing our way right along with Mary through Heaven’s invasion of earth?

Well, here is a place to begin: seeing all people as valuable and treasured children of God. What if we looked at every single person we meet every single day just like that? The guy who cuts us off in traffic or rides our bumper down the back roads, the irritating person who always talks too loud and does not make a lot of sense, the embarrassing members of our family or social group. The unpopular, clinging, desperate, suffering people. The ones we want to ignore or walk away from or pretend we are not connected to. If we see that every single one of them is also a child of God and treat them accordingly, well, that’s a start. Perhaps we can step down from our thrones and lift up these lowly ones.

Although none of us, hopefully, will ever know what it is like to live in extreme poverty, I would guess that all of us have been or at some point will be the one who is broken hearted, the one who is lost, lonely, alone, suffering in pain, unpopular and unwanted. These experiences are common to all people at some point in their lives. The good news is that Mary’s song gives us hope because it is for us, too. It is at these times in our lives that we can most clearly that it has always been God who lifts us up. Heaven’s invasion of earth is to set us free from suffering, too.

As we draw closer to Christmas, anticipating all that this approaching Holy Day has to offer us, our families, and all those we love, let us keep Mary’s revolutionary words not just in our hearts but in our mouths as well. Let us write these words into our every-day lives. Our Souls proclaim the greatness of our Lord and our spirits rejoice in God our Savior, for God has looked with mercy on us all, and in that unfailing, unfading, ever present love, the Son has come to be Emanuel, God with us.

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