A sermon for Advent 4; Micah 5:2-5a, Hebrews 10:5-10, Luke 1:39-45, (46-55), Canticle 15 (or 3) or Psalm 80:1-7
A quick history of Israel from Samuel through 2nd Kings and the time between the Old and New Testament. In
1043 BCE Saul becomes King (1 Samuel 8 – 10)
1010 BCE David is made King over Judah (2 Samuel 2)
931 BCE the Kingdom is divided (1 Kings 12, 13) by the wisest man in the world
722 BCE Israel is taken into captivity (2 Kings 17:6) never to return.
586 BCE is the Fall of Jerusalem (2 Kings 25) and her people are taken into exile
537 BCE the exiles return (Ezra 2)
444 BCE the city wall rebuilt and not long after the Temple is sort of rebuilt
33 BCE Judah is conquered by Alexander the Great along with all of Persia, and in
63 BCE she conquered by Rome
Today’s story begins around 4 BCE. It was another bad year. Herod the Great died, and all the Jews rebelled. The Roman Syrian legions crushed the Jewish rebellions and burned the city of Sepphoris in Galilee and reduced its inhabitants to slavery. Those who could not hide were killed, raped, and enslaved. Those who survived lost everything. Jesus grew up in Nazareth about 4 miles from Sepphoris. As have all the others who occupied Judea, the Romans economically exploited the Jews (Johnson).
Mary’s family likely arranged for her to travel to her aunt and uncle’s home with others journeying in that direction because it was not safe for anyone to travel alone, never mind a young girl (Keener and Walton). The road she is traveling with God safe isn’t safe either.
When she sees Elizabeth, Mary greets her “shalom”, or peace, meaning may God cause all to be well with you (Keener and Walton). Elizabeth answers with a thanksgiving that she is blessed to be in presence of her Lord’s mother and offers Mary a blessing.
Mary responds with what we know as The Magnificat, we said it together this morning. It is built on (Samuel’s mother) Hannah’s prayer and sings about the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham and God’s commitment to reversing unjust power and status (Gaventa and Petersen; Culpepper). It echoes the social upheaval and economic exploitation, speaks of how the people are still anticipating deliverance from unjust rulers and unfair law, and their belief that God is at work (Harrelson). The use of the word ‘Savior’ is evidence that the people need strength that is greater than theirs; it expresses the people’s desperation; and confesses that the need for deliverance will be met by someone else (Harrelson). The Magnificat praises God’s activity and faithfulness as (1) the warrior, who engages in battle on behalf of God’s people and brings them deliverance, and (2) God the merciful, who remembers the lowly and cares for the needy (Harrelson). It proclaims that the overthrow of the powerful will not come through strong rebellion but through the coming of God in the weakness of a child (Culpepper). It speaks of how this dramatic reversal by which the proud are scattered and the powerful deposed is the signature of God’s mighty acts. It sings of how the lowly are exalted, and the hungry are fed, while the rich are sent away empty. Mary sings of God’s redeeming work not as some future expectation, but as already being fulfilled (Culpepper). The Magnificat’s jubilant hope for the future is dangerous political language, as it speaks of upending the current power structures. Mary is not just a pregnant teen, she is God’s messenger proclaiming the arrival of a new age; an age of justice in which unjust social and economic values are turned upside down (Epperly).
After the end of WWII, we lived and worked in a world believing we faced only one real enemy, the Russian Empire, formally known as the USSR. In 1991, or there about, that Empire fell along with the Berlin Wall. Then we believed the ideology of western democracy and capitalism would dominate.
For lots of entangled and complex reasons that vision has not born fruit. The economic strength of the American middle class has given way to technology changes, overseas manufacturing, and the commoditization of most all segments of social support systems, schools, healthcare, prisons, and so on. China has emerged as an economic competitor and a growing military threat. Middle East countries rich in oil have erupted into violent interregional religious and social conflict. Despots, whose rule we thought was limited to South America and Africa, have emerged in Europe. Italy is threating to pull out of the EU. England has announced it will but doesn’t seem to know how. The Arab spring was short lived. Syria has been engulfed in a brutal civil war for 7 years. Yemen’s 3-year-old civil war is even worse. We don’t hear much about Iraq, only because everything else is such a mess, at the same time some talk of security forces behavior that likely will lead to the reemergence of ISIS. Decades of negotiations have made little if any real progress to settle the Israel – Palestinian conflict. Nuclear Arms treaties are giving way to the emergence of threats from countries who are not participants. We thought we were making progress in reducing the health effect of smoking, when vaping appears on the scene; last year teen vaping rate doubled, and just last week a major tobacco company bought Juul, the company selling the favorite e-cigarette among teens. And our own political scene is a mess with politicians acting from loyalty to their party and or campaign funders, not the country or “we the people.” Congress hasn’t been able to pass a budget without some sort of shut down or kick it down the road maneuver for years. Large corporations are buying each other and everything else up at rates concerning some economist. We cannot even agree what science is, never mind decide if it is revealing rising global temperatures and the consequences that may come or are coming or are here.
It is a different set of causes, nonetheless it is how, in our age, justice, social and economic values are corrupt (Epperly).
We proclaim that we know how God works, but we might pretend we do not, so we avoid drawing attention to ourselves, because we know such knowledge is as dangerous for us as it is for Mary (TLC). Religion is inseparable from politics, just as it was in in Mary’s time. When we celebrate God’s concern in the past, we acknowledge God’s concern and we pray for God’s concern for the present, as we pronounce our confidence that God is at work now (Johnson). We don’t use the language any more, but we pray for the return of the King, the return of our Messiah.
But, ~ we forget that the overthrow of Rome did not come about through the strength of rebellion lead by a mighty king, but through the coming of God in the weakness of a child. We forget God’s messenger was a pregnant teenage girl, from a backwater town, of the smallest tribe, in a relatively insignificant province of the Roman Empire.
As we look to the celebration of our Savior’s birth, we are also looking at how we are called to be God’s messenger, in this age, when everything is turn upside down, in its own way. And though it is not safe, it may just be your song magnifying the Lord, rejoicing in the Savior who awakens in our hearts the presence of divine strength brings shalom
peace from war,
peace of mind,
soundness in welfare, safety, and health,
peace and quiet,
covenant relationship with God (Olivetree),
right here, and everywhere, right now.
Biasdell, Machrina. Song Hope – Advent 4. 23 12 2018. <http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/stw/>.
Culpepper, R. Alan. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The Gospel of Luke. Vol. 8. Abbington, 2015. 12 vols. Olive Tree App.
Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 23 12 2018. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly>.
Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.
Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.
Hoezee, Scott. Advent 4 – Luke 1:39-45 (46-56). 17 12 2018. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/advent-3c/?type=the_lectionary_gospel>.
Johnson, Elisabeth. Commentary on Luke 1:39-45, (46-55). 23 12 2018. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2975 1/3>.
Keener, Craig and John Walton. NKJV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible Notes. Nashville: Zondervan, 2017.
Olivetree. Olive Tree Enhanced Strong’s Dictionary. Olive Tree Bible Software, 2014.
Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.
The Living Church. “Work and Joy.” 23 12 2018. livingchurch.org. <livingchurch.org/2018/08/22/freedom-and-popular-culture>.