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scripture, prayer, and creative response with communion

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Friday, December 18, 2009

SERMON on Luke 1:39-56 ADVENT FOUR 2009
The secret to good singing, my Glee Club director mused to me one day, isn’t having a great voice, though that helps, but singing with drama, with passion, with enthusiasm. And when in doubt, just say “watermelon,” and it will get through any song that you don’t know.

Christmas used to be a refuge for me and its music was the door through which I entered into a safe and peaceful place: the humble joy of the manger; the triumphant joy of angelic choirs; the dance of the night wind and the surprise of the shepherds.
Every Christmas Eve I would lose myself within those songs. My voice would join the heavenly chorus, my voice and the heavenly chorus of angels blended together singing of the midnight clear, and of the little town of Bethlehem, and gave glory to the new born king. In the music of Christmas, the words of Matthew and Luke come alive and the precious gospel enfolds us and transports us.

But what I could not conceive of then and only now am just beginning to understand is that the song of Christmas is a voice with an edge to it, a voice that troubles as much as it comforts, that challenges as much as it soothes; that confronts as much as it soothes with compassion. The song of the manger cannot be sung without the deep bass line of the cross sustaining it. How can we begin to open our hearts to joy of Christmas without the context of Easter to give us understanding? Of the fullness of the in-breaking Kingdom of God made manifest in Christ Jesus.

One year, I was perhaps fifteen, I went to three straight Christmas Eve services – I just had my parents drop me off at church for the 7PM service and they picked me up after the midnight mass. Yes, they probably thought I was nuts. But they indulged me. I was in church after all. On Christmas Eve. There I could sing and sing and sing.

But then came my last year in high school when I was burning the candle at both ends. Swim practice 6 days a week. Three eight hour shifts at Burger King on the weekends. Honors classes. Prepping for the SAT. It all built up and I wore my body past the breaking point. I got so sick that that Christmas Eve I couldn’t sing. I sat there and tried. With enthusiasm even. I sucked on cough drop after cough drop and nothing worked. I could only listen. I went home in tears. Without being able to sing, I could not enter into the safe peace and warmth of Christmas and push away the world for just awhile.

Everything in our culture works towards making Christmas the happiness of all happiness and we work hard at it and we spend hard at it and we commit a lot of our time to it. But the joy of Christmas comes from knowing that God in Christ Jesus breaks into this world and declares victory at cross. That God is willing to take on our flesh, to become fully human to do it. To suffer as we suffer. To be tempted as we are tempted. To die as we will die and in death to break the power of death forever so that our death will become just a passage, another step of our journey into blessed eternity. The joy of Christmas is the promise that God does not measure value by the scales of this world. Jesus was born to ordinary people; born in a feeding trough for animals, in a stable for animals. The Wise men come from the east bearing treasure and they go straight to the palace and Jesus is not there. Was never there. And the palace hasn’t a clue what they are talking about. Because they at the palace have everything that matters to the world.

The song that we need to listen to – the one that deepens our understanding of Christmas and moves us from sentimental happiness to a deepening joy, a joy born of promise, is the song of Mary that we call The Magnificat.
It provides us with a glimpse of in-breaking Kingdom of God. A Kingdom that embraces God’s justice; that embodies God’s love and plan for creation.

The poor are favored and will be lifted up.
The rich and powerful will be brought down.
The hungry fed. The full will experience hunger.

The truth of Mary's words begin to unfold as Jesus begins his ministry by declaring at the very beginning, by reading from the scroll at the synagogue that he has come to bring good news to the poor, to announce freedom to the prisoners, to give sight to the blind, and to free everyone who suffers.

And the powerful and rich?

Well, there are some things that we need to say .
First of all, Jesus does not hate people with money. Rich widows helped to bankroll the ministry. Jesus ate with both the poor and the rich. They had to eat after all. They had expenses. Scripture gives no evidence that when they were thirsty that Jesus got water from the rock like Moses or turned their water into wine more than once or took table scraps and multiplied the loaves and fishes on a daily basis. Could he have? Sure. Did he? The silence of Scripture is deafening. So, probably not.

Jesus knows what we all know. That money and power are two sides of the same coin in this world and that both can be used for good and for evil and that sin can grow like weeds among the wheat wherever they are found.

Sing, Mary, sing.
Teach our souls to give glory to God.
Teach us how the poor have been exploited.
How their voices have been silenced.
How many of those with power have ignored them at best or hurt them or stripped them of their dignity.
How some have grown rich by their suffering.

Sing Mary, sing.
Sing of God's anger at injustice.
God's ear for the cries of those who suffer.
Give us such an ear to hear. Hearts to ache.
Hands to help. Hearts to love.
Spirits to move us to act with the whole of our being -
in the power of the Spirit. In the righteousness of God.
Sing of the mercy of God for us and for all.
Sing of God's forgiveness, God's grace, God's love.

Sing, Mary, sing.
Teach us to do small things with great love.
Let our song be our voices calling for change on behalf of the poor. Let our song be our hands working alongside our brothers and sisters who suffer economic and social hardship. Let our song be our hearts aching for the widow and the orphan, for the grieving and lost.

Sing Mary, Sing.
May our songs this Christmas carry God’s promised future in every word, in every note and melody. May we be God’s hands and hearts and voices to realize that future here and now.

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