Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | December 20, 2015

2015.12.20 “Stand Up and Sing!” – Luke 1: 46 – 55

Central United Methodist Church
Stand Up and Sing!
Pastor David L. Haley
December 20th, 2015
The 7th Sunday of Extended Advent
Luke 1: 46 – 55

HeQi-Mary&Elizabeth

He, Qi. The Visitation, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. Original source: heqigallery.com

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.”
– Luke 1: 46 – 55, The New Revised Standard Version

 

For those who love musicals (and who doesn’t?), what’s more enjoyable than seeing again a musical we love?

I thought about this recently when – as a different twist on a Christmas party – Michele and I went to the Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire, to see the play “Elf.” While “Elf” isn’t on my Top Ten list (Will Ferrell did it so well in the movie), as I sat there I thought about how dinner theaters all across the country stay in business by re-circulating these best-loved musicals.

And I remembered some of the ones I’ve seen through the years: the first one I ever saw was on Broadway, Man of La Mancha; and of course Camelot. I’ll never forget seeing Phantom of the Opera in London; and Wicked here in Chicago. I’ve tried on two occasions to get into Lion King, in New York and Washington; I regret to say I’ve not yet succeeded. (It’s playing right now at the Cadillac Theater, doesn’t look like I’m going to make that either.)

As we watch these plays, waiting for our favorite scenes and songs, singing along quietly (or not) – sometimes the tears of remembrance run down our cheeks. Sometimes it might be all we can do not to stand up and join in. A few years ago we went to see Million Dollar Quartet, the musical about the night Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins sang together at Sun Studios in Memphis. We sat on the front row, almost on the stage, and – since I lived in Memphis for three years – it was all I could do to keep from standing up and start talking about things and places we held in common.

When we turn to today’s Gospel – the Song of Mary – it is like one of those songs in a much-loved musical, except even more so.

Have you ever noticed how the Gospel of Luke starts off as a musical, how often Luke employs songs in the first two chapters of his story about Jesus? After nine months of “not speaking,” Zechariah sings when his son John is born, in that song we know as the Benedictus. The angelic chorus sings of peace and goodwill when they sing their Gloria. The elderly Simeon sings his “swan song” – the Nunc Dimittis – once he has seen God’s promises fulfilled in the Christ child. Perhaps best of all, today Mary breaks out into song when greeted by her cousin Elizabeth, in that song we know as the Magnificat.

Let’s put it into context. One of the things I have learned this year as we have celebrated an extended Advent is this: The season of Advent is not so much “countdown Sundays before Christmas” as it is looking for and preparing for the realization of God’s promises; the coming of the Kingdom of God on earth. During Advent, we have heard the promises of God not only described but fulfilled by Hannah, the mother of Samuel, by ancient prophets such as Isaiah and Jeremiah and Micah, and even first century preachers such as John the Baptist. As we have seen, those promises were almost always spoken against the backdrop of a world that seemed to be disintegrating, as in did during the fall of Judah and both the first and second destruction of Jerusalem and the Second Temple.

Having been prepared for what to look for, now we see those promises of God begin to come to fruition, but in a way we least expect: a young woman is expecting a child – according to the message given to her – a holy Child. At this point in the story no one knows but Mary, not even Joseph. Women, mothers, do you remember that moment when you first found out you were pregnant? It was likely either one of the most exciting or most frightening moments of your life, depending upon your circumstances and whether you wanted and were ready to be pregnant. And wasn’t the first thing you wanted to do was TELL SOMEBODY (the father would be a good place to start.) Unless – under certain circumstances – such as those Mary finds herself in – it could be risky to tell ANYONE – even her parents or Joseph – for fear of the consequences. So, confused and terrified, to whom can she turn?

Who Mary can turn to is her older relative, Elizabeth, now six months pregnant with the child who would become John the Baptist. If there is anyone who might believe her and advise her, it would be Elizabeth. So Mary packs her bags to make the journey of some 80 miles, from Nazareth to the village of Ein Karem, less than an hour’s walk from Jerusalem. The fact that Mary was willing to travel nine days across three mountain ranges to see Elizabeth, says something about how she felt. She longed for someone who might believe her and help her make sense of what was happening.

When Mary arrives, upon the sound of her voice, the unborn John the Baptist – in what might be called his first prophetic act – leaps in Elizabeth’s womb. No wonder the yet-to-be-born John jumps for joy, because the long-awaited messiah is now before Elizabeth and before him. Those babies have a way of knowing, don’t they?

While Baby John may be the only one who literally jumps, you get the feeling that everyone else are about to start singing and dancing as well, especially Elizabeth and Mary. And, in fact, Mary does. We have seen this musical before, and it is one of our favorite scenes. Although there are many versions of Mary’s song, my musical favorite is the one we sang today, “Canticle of the Turning,” by Rory Cooney, to an Irish tune, because nobody knows more about turning than the Irish. But I also like the way Eugene Peterson renders it in The Message, where, as I imagine – with her hands on her belly – Mary sings:

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!

We love Mary’s song because it is a song of joy not just for herself, but for all mothers everywhere, for all the sons and daughters of Abraham, and in fact, all humanity, blessed by the promises of God to Abraham, now fulfilled in Christ.

Mary_ElizabethTwo years ago, when we did Adam Hamilton’s series The Journey, we saw that the joy Mary and Elizabeth shared upon meeting is commemorated in a bronze sculpture, which sits outside the church in Ein Karem, the traditional site of Elizabeth’s home. (Behind them, on the walls of the church, are the words of Mary’s song in many languages.) Adam Hamilton said as he stood outside he was struck by the number of women who came to this holy site. He said he watched as African women embraced each other and as European and Latina women came holding hands and laughing together, stopping to have their pictures taken near the statue of Mary and Elizabeth. As women, as mothers, they understood the joy Mary and Elizabeth shared so long ago, perhaps mirrored in their friendships with each another. Women, you understand; you have deeper relationships with each other than most of us men can appreciate.

The theme of Mary’s song is one we hear repeatedly throughout the Bible, such as just over a month ago, in the song of Hannah, the mother of the prophet Samuel (1 Samuel 2). It is a song of praise for a God who favors the humble and those who honor God, but who scatters the proud and pulls down the mighty from their thrones.

Take Mary, for example: she was from a town so small that it didn’t merit a dot on a map. Joseph was a carpenter, someone whose entire net worth could fit into a toolbox. They were working-class people who lived in obscurity, from families scraping to get by. And yet these were the people God chose to be the earthly parents of the Messiah. Mary was only singing what she’d experienced; what does this tell us about God? Not only is this the nature of God; it will be the nature of God’s son, Jesus, born in a stable and revealed only to shepherds, a man who would surround himself with nobodies, the people others had written off.

But – we might ask – what about those of us who are rich, relatively speaking, to Joseph and Mary and most of the rest of the world? I don’t want to be sent away empty, do you? What can we do?

For us, Mary’s words are an invitation: an invitation for us to humble ourselves before God and to be used by God to fulfill the first words of that line, to lift up the lowly and to fill the hungry with good things. We are called to share our resources and to pass along the blessings we’ve received. In so doing, we discover what it means to be blessed, and to join spontaneously in the joy of Mary’s song.

DecemberNational GeographicAnd so it is that this humble, unwed and possibly illiterate teen is today – as this month’s National Geographic magazine argues – the most powerful woman in the world. As the article expresses it:

“Mary is everywhere: Marigolds are named for her. Hail Mary passes save football games. The image in Mexico of Our Lady of Guadalupe is one of the most reproduced female likenesses ever. Mary draws millions each year to shrines such as Fátima, in Portugal, and Knock, in Ireland, sustaining religious tourism estimated to be worth billions of dollars a year and providing thousands of jobs. She inspired the creation of many great works of art and architecture (Michelangelo’s “Pietà,” Notre Dame Cathedral), as well as poetry, liturgy, and music (Monteverdi’s Vespers for the Blessed Virgin). And she is the spiritual confidante of billions of people, no matter how isolated or forgotten.” (How the Virgin Mary Became the World’s Most Powerful Woman, National Geographic Magazine, December, 2015.)

As we watch this universal and best-loved musical, how can we not stand up and join Mary’s song:

“My heart shall sing of the day you bring.
Let the fires of your justice burn.
Wipe away all tears, for the dawn draws near,
and the world is about to turn.”

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