A sermon for Advent 4
Micah 5:2-5a; Canticle 3 or 15 (Luke 1:46-55); Hebrews 10:5-10; Luke 1:39-45, (46-55)
She is a coupon queen. She never heads to the grocery store without them. Then again, she almost has to be; it takes a lot to feed seven kids, four of them nearly grown. So I was not surprised when she decided to accept a challenge this year to feed her family on a dollar a day, per person I think; either way, it is quite a challenge. She was very upfront about the guides she would follow, healthy was number one, and not putting her children at risk was a close second. The whole family participated, changing eating habits, and following the agreed on rules.
I was a bit surprised she managed the feat, it reveals just how fortunate we are when it comes to assumed basics like food. I was not surprised when I heard she would take on such a challenge. She has never shied away from a challenge. For several years they have been foster parents, often welcoming hard to place, and occasionally hard to manage children. Two years ago, they welcomed two children, who were both hard to place, and hard to manage. One motivation was to keep siblings together. A year ago they adopted them. I have always marveled at their capacity to welcome and to love, those who not their own.
I know there is a shortage of foster and adoptive parents. And so it is a wonder that I know three families who, in one fashion or another, are taking on children who are not their own. And I know of three families, who have taken on children who have close family relations. All are welcoming and loving of divine measure. This morning we hear a middle part of Mary’s story; her visit to her relative Elizabeth, also pregnant with divine involvement. And yes, I know I’ve called them cousins before; however, I was reminded this week, the Bible only says they are ‘relatives’ (Jacobson, Lewis, and Skinner). We presume a close relationship between Elizabeth and Mary; it is possible Elizabeth lovingly welcomes a distant, little-known, perhaps unknown, and perhaps disgraced young woman, overturning social customs (Lewis). We also heard her reply to Elizabeth’s greeting blessing Mary and her child, acknowledging the baby to be “my Lord” before Mary says anything to Elizabeth. Is Elizabeth a prophetic voice? possibly (Jones, Commentary on Luke 1:39-45). Next we hear Mary’s response, a song of praise, we know as the Magnificat.
It is not an unknown response. Recently we read Hanna’s song, her response to a divinely assisted pregnancy. We may remember Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Samson’s unnamed mother who all bear children with divine assistance (Scoopmire). But there is a difference for Mary. The other women were barren, and one way or another sought God’s help in having a baby. For Mary, it is a very different story.
Mary though is betrothed; she is unwed. She is not her own person; she literally belongs to her father and is the subject of the contract between him and Joseph (Hoezee). She has not asked to be pregnant. The truth is being pregnant is the last thing she needs. We read the story of Gabriel’s visit, the annunciation, as Mary meekly accepting what is said. We overlook that she is being asked to bear and raise a child, who is not her own. We overlook the social cost. We overlook the courage Mary shows when she accepts. While Gabriel speaks what is to be, it is not yet accomplished. It does not come to be until Mary says let it be with me according to your word (Luke 1:38) only then does the Holy Spirit come, only then does the Most High overshadows her. Mary is free to choose (Scoopmire). She chooses to welcome, bear, birth, raise and love one who is not her own. There is nothing meek or mild in Mary’s action. Her response to Gabriel’s invitation reveals abundant trust and strength. She knows who she is; she knows who is will be (Scoopmire). And that wisdom infuses her song of praise.
The vast majority of the Magnificat is Mary’s praise of God. Yet, the opening five words: My soul magnifies the Lord are perhaps the definitive words. Mary credits the Lord for overturning the status quo, and restoring justice and righteousness in the land; at the same time, she accepts her part in magnifying, making visible to all the majesty of God’s presence. For Mary being blessed has nothing to do with living a living of honor and ease (Jones, Commentary on Luke 1:46-55). Mary’s blessing is living a life that magnifies, makes visible, makes human, the works of God.
That has me wondering: How do I; how can I magnify the Lord? How do we; how can we magnify the Lord? How do others magnify the Lord? How do others magnify the Lord for me, for us? To be honest, it is a bit daunting to ponder being a sort of divine light against the bleak midwinter’s darkness (Lose). However, there is encouragement in realizing Mary’s strength comes not from her prowess, but from her lowliness. It is a reminder that in magnifying the Lord, we are enough, as we are (Burden). It is a prompt that as strangers, friends, or family cry in the darkness we are enough to magnify the Lord (Epperly).
Last Friday, The Society of St John the Evangelist’s AdventWord was ‘Prepare.’ Br. James wrote:
We have just days to get ready for Christmas, and there is a lot to do. But the most important thing is that only you can say ‘yes’ to God. Only you can build that temple in your heart where the one whom the heavens cannot contain may dwell.
The days are short, yet we can still say “yes,” we can magnify the Lord, we can welcome and love those who are not our own.
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Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary – Fourth Sunday of Advent. 20 12 2015. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly>.
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—. Commentary on Luke 1:46-55. 20 12 2015. <workingpreacher.org>.
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