Magnify the Lord with Me!

“Magnify the Lord with Me!”

Luke 1:38-56 (1:46) – December 6, 2020

            Do you know any teenage girls? Any girls with the maturity and balance that teenaged Mary shows to us here? This kind of maturity and balance in one so young is not very plentiful among teens, believe me.

            Socially and culturally, Mary was in an awkward situation. Even, a tight spot. A young woman (for, that was what Mary was considered, in the culture of her day), pledged to be married, who turns up pregnant. Scandalous! I am sure the old biddies in Nazareth were clucking about Mary’s situation—and character—and a whole lot more.

            While we, today, may read this narrative and think, “what a nice bible story!” this reading today is much more than that. Mary decides to go and visit her older cousin Elizabeth, in the hills of Judah. Elizabeth has miraculously gotten pregnant several months earlier. (The angel Gabriel told Mary so!) Two miraculous pregnancies, two women blessed by God. Plus, Elizabeth was an older, wiser woman, able to be a companion and mentor to the teenage Mary.  

            Yes, Mary’s extended visit to Elizabeth probably was comforting and encouraging to Mary. However, my attention is drawn to Mary’s song. The Magnificat is a tremendous counter-cultural song, turning everything in the political and cultural order upside down and topsy-turvy.

            Do you have any experience with an extended situation turning our world today upside down and topsy-turvy? Any disease or pandemic that is causing nationwide—even worldwide disruption and confusion? These two instances do not have a direct one-to-one correspondence, but there are many similarities here! The political and cultural upheaval Mary sings about in the Magnificat will greatly upend the established order of things. And, in many ways today, so will the COVID pandemic and its surrounding upheaval.

            I am reminded of a fellow professor friend of one of my Bible commentators. She grew up as a missionary kid in a poverty-stricken area in the Philippines. “Growing up among that nation’s poor, Professor Malcolm has reported that when they heard Mary’s Psalm, it was the first time that anyone had told them the good news that God cares about them — the poor, the oppressed.” [1] Some people in poverty have never heard this Good News! “Christ has come to challenge the structures of sin, death, the devil, and oppression. Christ has come in the strength of the Lord to do what the Lord has always done: lift up the lowly, free the enslaved, feed the hungry, give justice to the widow, the orphan, and the sojourner.” [2]

            Imagine Mary, having the maturity and the balance to sing such a radical, counter-cultural song! Is there some secret that Mary knew about, helping her to stay balanced and level-headed during all the upset and disruption of her unexpected pregnancy and the surrounding gossip and backbiting and sometimes outright nastiness of her fellow townspeople? Did Elizabeth aid her in finding this hope and balance, this calmness and serenity?

            Knowing what we do about the marvelous words of the Magnificat, and its similarity to Hannah’s song from 1 Samuel 2, we can learn from Mary. Her strength was in her trust in the Lord. Her faith was in God’s mighty power to overthrow society’s structures and the cultural norms of her day. Although our continuing situation is not exactly similar to Mary’s, we can still rely on God, too. Our strength can be our trust in the Lord. Our faith can be in God’s mighty power to overcome society and cultural norms.

            I’d like to think that Mary had a pleasant voice. Not operatic quality, although I do enjoy the voices of people who have studied and trained their voices into wonderful instruments! I can see how Mary knowingly turned for help to the One who would never leave her nor forsake her. Singing is one deep-seated way to come to God in prayer, in sadness, in hope and in joy.

            As commentator David Lose says, “songs are powerful. Laments express our grief and fear so as to honor these deep and difficult emotions and simultaneously strip them of their power to incapacitate us. Songs of praise and thanksgiving unite us with the One to whom we lift our voices. And canticles of courage and promise not only name our hopes but also contribute to bringing them into being.” [3]

            As we come before God in these next days and weeks ahead, perhaps we may come with trust and faith. Trust and faith in the God who is always with us, even through dark valleys, even through sickness, depression, despair and death.

            And may we, like Mary, lift up Mary’s radical song of resistance. Even though there is so much oppression and evil, and so much disease and despair in the world, God has brought light and hope into the world with the birth of God’s Messiah.

            I pray that you, like Mary, find joy even in the darkness of this particular Advent season of 2020. I also pray that the songs of Advent and Christmas bring light and hope to you as you draw closer to God each day. Alleluia, amen!


[1] https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/fourth-sunday-of-advent-2/commentary-on-luke-146b-55

Commentary, Luke 1:39-45, (46-55), Rolf Jacobson, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2014.

[2] Ibid.

[3] https://www.workingpreacher.org/dear-working-preacher/a-promise-that-changes-the-world

“A Promise That Changes the World,” David Lose, WorkingPreacher, 2012.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2020: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

O Come, Emmanuel

“O Come, Emmanuel”

O come Emmanuel

Luke 1:26-38 (1:31) – December 2, 2018

Have you noticed when you saw or heard your first Christmas commercial this year? On television, or on the radio? Or, perhaps it’s the first piped-in Christmas music at the store or at the coffee shop. Do you remember where you were? This expectation we go through every year; we pause, we watch the commercials, we hear in the music, we see in the displays of holiday lights and lighted figures outside of our neighbors’ houses.

These four weeks of Advent are weeks of preparation, of anticipation, of expectation. All these things are announcements of an impending arrival. Little reminders of the anticipation of the narrative from the first chapter in Luke. Ours is a fraction of the expectation that Mary had, beginning with the announcement from the angel. The teenage Mary had the angel Gabriel burst in on her, unannounced, giving her the very first Christmas commercial.

The anticipation we feel today is only a shadow of that we find in the Bible. I suspect, the teenage Mary was surprised out of her sandals by this unexpected visitor. Mary is told to expect the birth of the Son of the Most High.

If we go back several centuries, to the time of the prophet Isaiah, we notice the prophet writing about a young woman bearing a child, too.  In the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures, Isaiah 7:14 reads “a virgin will conceive and give birth to a son.” The Gospel of Luke shows this prophecy being fulfilled. But—not quite yet. Mary needs to go through a nine-month waiting period, a period of anticipation, expectation, and preparation.

As one commentator says, “Let’s be honest. Perplexity is exactly our response when the Lord shows up. To me? Why me? Why now? I think we underestimate the impact of what it means to know that God is actually around. Here. With us. Doesn’t God have better things to do? Bigger things to take care of? More major issues to maintain besides me?” [1]

Mary has a problem. She is not only a virgin (which the angel tells her not to worry about). However, she thinks she is merely a common, ordinary, every-day-type young woman. There is nothing special or extraordinary about her! It is “only after expressing her wonder and dismay, and then hearing again Gabriel’s affirmation and promise, does she manage to summon the courage to believe that God is indeed favoring Mary by working in her and through her for the health of the world.” [2]

This week is the first week of Advent, and we are going to focus on songs during these weeks. The Advent and Christmas seasons have marvelous carols, hymns and songs written during a number of centuries. This week, appropriately, we highlight the Advent carol “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” An excerpt from a fine article on this carol is found in your bulletin.

If you look at the article, notice several things. This is one of the oldest carols we have in our hymnals today. Christians have been singing it for over 1000 years. Originally written in Latin, it was translated into English by the scholar and priest John Mason Neale in the 1800’s. The translation of this hymn lets us know how much theology was written into the original lyrics. Each verse mentions a number of biblical and theological references.

You know what this ancient Latin hymn reminds me of? Young Mary. Eileen did not read Mary’s song from the first chapter of Luke, the Magnificat, but Mary does exactly that—after the angel leaves her, she breaks into song, and praises God. Not only that, she must have been biblically knowledgeable, because her song is chock full of biblical and theological references.

We know Mary was an introspective young woman, thoughtful and contemplative, since Dr. Luke tells us so in chapters 1 and 2. Does it surprise us that she knew a great deal about the Hebrew Scriptures, as we can tell from reading her song, her response to God?

Quoting from this wonderful song, the Magnificat:

“My soul glorifies the Lord  47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me—holy is his name.
50 His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation.
51 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. 52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.
53 He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful
55 to Abraham and his descendants forever, just as he promised our ancestors.”

A modern setting of this song of Mary is the Canticle of the Turning, by Rory Cooney. I keep reminding myself not to get political in my weekly sermons—except when the words of the Scripture we read from the Lectionary are clearly lifting up some direct calling from God. Through Mary’s words, we are called to stand up in this neighborhood, this country, this world, and stand with the humble, the hungry, with those who fear God. We are called to stand against the proud, the rich, and the rulers.

In the Canticle of the Turning, this new retelling of Mary’s song is, indeed, about the birth of a baby. It also talks about how this birth turns a family upside down. Yet, this whole event—the birth of the Son of the Most High—is about God turning the world around. It is through God’s Son, Jesus, God welcomes us all. Not just welcoming the rich and privileged, but everyone, male, female, rich, poor, slave, free, whatever difference one person has from another. All means Jesus welcomes everyone. No matter what, no matter who.

Perhaps God did an extraordinary thing through Mary—just as the angel said—to show the world that through God all things are possible. Just as it was for the prophets, so it was with Mary, and so it is with us. May we all respond like Mary—“Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to Your word.”

[1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=3462

Advent as a Way of Life, Karoline Lewis, Working Preacher, 2014

[2] http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=1611

“Favored Ones,” David Lose, Dear Working Preacher, 2011.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2018: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

My Soul Magnifies the Lord!

“My Soul Magnifies the Lord!”

Luke 1-46 Mary Magnificat, colors

Luke 1:46-55 (1:46) – December 24, 2017

People have been writing songs about the Virgin Mary for centuries. Songs of praise, songs of worship, songs honoring God, and lifting up Mary for saying “yes” to God. Christmas carols might be the first thing that come to mind—but I am also thinking of music from centuries past. From the familiar first part of Handel’s Messiah, to the various settings of the Magnificat, with lyrics from the first chapter of Luke—our Gospel reading for this morning.

Some Protestants might not be as familiar with the Virgin Mary as many Catholics and Orthodox Christians. Mary is held in extremely high esteem in many denominations and faith traditions throughout the world, and for excellent reasons. I honor her greatly.

Did you know that Mary—an unwed teenager from an oppressed people-group in an occupied country under crushing Roman rule—was also a radical? A subversive? Was plotting to overthrow the existing oppressive government and replace it with the rule of God?

What surprising, even shocking things to say about the sweet, innocent Virgin Mary! Everyone associates her with travel to Bethlehem while nine months pregnant, and needing to deliver the infant Jesus in a stable, because there was no room for them in the inn.

That Mary? Radical? Subversive? Yes.

Let’s back up. Go back to last week’s sermon, where the angel Gabriel surprises Mary and tells her God would like for her to be the mother of the Messiah.

But, what about Mary’s opinion? For a teenager, Mary must have been mature and sensible. She acknowledges the angel’s statement and God’s will. Mary says “Yes, I see it all now: I’m the Lord’s maid, ready to serve. Let it be with me just as you say.”

Sure, the wonderful classical settings of the Magnificat were often sung in a foreign language, like Latin. Or, in text from the King James version of the Bible, full of “thee’s” and “thou’s” and all manner of archaic words. Listen to the first part of her Magnificat, as translated in the modern version by Eugene Peterson, “The Message.”

“I’m bursting with God-news; I’m dancing the song of my Savior God. God took one good look at me, and look what happened—I’m the most fortunate woman on earth! What God has done for me will never be forgotten, the God whose very name is holy, set apart from all others. His mercy flows in wave after wave on those who are in awe before Him.”

One well-known depiction of the Virgin Mary is one that is meek, docile, sweet, and not raising a fuss at all. But, wait a moment. Do we realize what Mary is going to sing next? How revolutionary were many of the statements in her song?

“Even more importantly, Mary’s song is an overture to the Gospel of Luke as a whole. Mary’s lyrics set the tone for Jesus’s radical and controversial ministry that is to come:

You have shown strength with your arm;

You have scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.

You have brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly;

You have filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.

“In contrast, the Christmas season leaves too many still hungry, and too many even further in debt.” [1]

Do you hear what radical things Mary is saying? If these lyrics of her song were more well-known, would our understanding of Mary be changed? Here Mary is advocating social change, rescuing victims—neglected women, forgotten elders and children, abused strangers and refugees—from being trodden underfoot, even ground under the heel of bragging, bluffing tyrants and braggarts. Turning all society as it was in her day—and ours—upside down.

What subversive idea is our revolutionary Mary advocating now? Feeding the starving? Giving the poor a banquet? Turning the unfeeling, callous rich people out into the cold? Yes, these radical words are the words found in Luke chapter 1, before we rush on to the narrative of the birth of the Baby in Bethlehem from Luke 2.

Mary was singing two thousand years ago. But, things haven’t changed much. Political leaders are still calling one another names while people starve. “Refugees struggle to find a home in a world with increasingly closed doors. The poor sleep under bridges while the rich build homes with rooms they will never need. And Abraham’s descendants—Jews, Christians, and Muslims—continue to fight over the lands where God’s messengers first spoke to all humanity.”[2]

As the Rev. Dr. Carl Gregg stated in his article on the radical nature of Mary’s Magnificat, “The Christmas story has, over time, too frequently come to have a sense of ‘preciousness,’ of saccharine sentimentality, of almost sickening sweetness as if you had eaten all the candy in your stocking all at once on Christmas morning. When this super-sweetening of the story happens, we can miss the radicality of the claim that God is found, not as the royal child of a queen in a palace, but as the son of an unwed teenager, born in a stable in a religiously-conservative small town.” [3]

Sure, we can see this saccharine sweetness of Luke chapter 2, once it is pointed out to us. But, in reality, life was not so pretty for teenaged Mary, pregnant without the benefit of marriage.

We are still in the season of Advent, the season of waiting. Today is the fourth Sunday of Advent. We still watch as Joseph and his greatly pregnant wife Mary walk one hundred miles to the town of Joseph’s ancestors (and Mary’s, too).

We still wait for the baby Jesus to be born in Bethlehem. We still hold our collective breath with all the rest of creation as we wait—and wait.

Luke, the writer of our Gospel, has a different take on things. Yes, he waits, too. But he waits with songs. Mary’s song—Mary’s Magnificat is a great example.

As Dr. David Lose says in his commentary, “Have you ever noticed how often Luke employs songs in the first several chapters of his story about Jesus? Mary sings when she is greeted by her cousin Elizabeth. Zechariah sings when his son John is born and his tongue is finally loosened. The angels sing of peace and goodwill when they share their “good news of great joy” with the shepherds. And Simeon sings his song of farewell once he has seen God’s promises to Israel kept in the Christ child.” [4]

These songs are deep expressions of the heart and soul to God and to the listeners—including us. These songs are hymns, psalms, songs of praise and exaltation, and even songs of resistance. Mary combined all of these into her song.

I’d like to close with a portion of a modern song written to Mary, asking her if she knew her infant son would truly be the Messiah, the Son of God. This song was written by Mark Lowry, and asks: “Mary, did you know that your baby boy is Lord of all creation? Mary, did you know that your baby boy would one day rule the nations?
Did you know that your baby boy is heaven’s perfect Lamb?
This sleeping child you’re holding is the great I am!

Mary, did you know? Mary, did you know?”  [5]

We are still waiting…

 

[1] http://www.patheos.com/blogs/carlgregg/2011/12/magnificat-learning-to-sing-mary%E2%80%99s-song-a-progressive-christian-lectionary-commentary-on-luke-146-55/

“Magnificat! Learning to Sing Mary’s Song,” Carl Gregg, Patheos, 2011.

[2] From An Advent Journey: Devotional Guide, Week Four. This curriculum comes from Illustrated Children’s Ministry.

[3] http://www.patheos.com/blogs/carlgregg/2011/12/magnificat-learning-to-sing-mary%E2%80%99s-song-a-progressive-christian-lectionary-commentary-on-luke-146-55/

“Magnificat! Learning to Sing Mary’s Song,” Carl Gregg, Patheos, 2011.

[4] http://www.davidlose.net/2015/12/advent-4-c-singing-as-an-act-of-resistance/

“Singing as an Act of Resistance,” David Lose, …in the Meantime, 2015.

[5] http://www.lyricsmode.com/lyrics/m/mark_lowry/mary_did_you_know.html

Mary Did You Know lyrics

(A heartfelt thank you to An Advent Journey: Devotional Guide. Some of these sermon ideas and thoughts came directly from this guide.  I appreciate this intergenerational curriculum, which is the basis for my Advent sermon series. This curriculum comes from Illustrated Children’s Ministry. Thanks so much for such great ideas!)

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2017: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)