Luke 1.39-55 Listen
December 23, 2012 The Fourth Sunday in Advent
Lately my favorite description of God is “inscrutable”, as in “my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are my ways are your ways.” Today I would say there is on other thing about the God of the Bible that I know for certain. God is ironic. Take this story of Mary and Elizabeth, two women, one young, the other old; both astounded by the child each is now bearing.
The young one, dazzled by angelic news of the God-child she is chosen to carry; the old one, astonished to be bearing any child in the womb she presumed long barren. A teenage single woman trembling in holy fear races to speak to the older woman. Went with haste, as how Luke describes it. That older woman, Elizabeth, is described as a “relative.” Hasn’t this story repeated itself so many times before and since? A young single teenager now pregnant turns to a trusted older woman for advice, consolation and courage?
Everything about this story is ordinary, and everything about this story is extraordinary. And that is one clue to the irony of God. The extraordinary event that Mary and Elizabeth are celebrating and, we along with them, is wrapped in the utterly ordinary life of a Jewish peasant woman.
If you are to discover the extraordinary gift of God’s life among us, perhaps you do best not to look where the lights shine the brightest and the answers are most obvious. The well-lit path is the one most trodden and, not coincidently, the easiest one to walk. It takes little effort of mind or body to adore a God so large and transcendent, so glorious and wonderful, so beyond all that is ordinary, that one can only bow down. That is the brightly lit path, traveled by millions of all traditions or none at all. Yet, where it leads may not be the place where God abides among us, disguised in the ordinary clothes of the poor.
Isn’t this the irony of God? Rather than choose the highest, God went right to the bottom of the social ladder to cho0se a poor teenage woman to announce the startling news that everything is about to change. There, at the bottom, in an out of the way village called Nazareth, Mary a peasant, praises the upside down world that God is bringing in.
Make no mistake; it is a personal experience that has filled Mary’s heart with praise. God’s salvation made know in Jesus Christ is always a personal experience for those who believe. To affirm it in the abstract – as one might affirm religious facts or general Church history – is hardly worth knowing and surely saves no one.
God’s salvation is personal and it comes to individuals, yet God’s salvation in Jesus Christ is also a social event. Actually it is a cosmic event because the whole of creation is involved in God’s saving grace. To think of it at as only a private, personal, individual experience is to miss the very public cosmic event that Mary announces in the Magnificat.
When God’s salvation is fully revealed: the powerful will be brought down, and those on the bottom will be raised up. The rich, who have everything, will be sent away empty, while the hungry who have nothing will be filled. Those who strut around with pride imagining themselves as the greatest thing since sliced bread, will be scattered far and wide.
BB King and U2 once sang a song about what happens when love comes to town. Everything changes. You can listen here:
Well, Mary’s magnificat describes what happens when God comes to town – our town – the earth. If the word revolution were not so abused, we could use it here. But when deodorant is described as having a revolutionary new scent, it hardly seems the right word to describe what God is up to in the world.
Yet, though Mary sang in the past of what God has done, God’s work is in the present because surely it is not yet complete. I read the other day that the income gap between the rich and the poor is wider than it has ever been. “Income inequality of the scale we have today is destroying our democracy,” retired American Airlines CEO Bob Crandall said in an interview in the Wall Street Journal. Across the planet, over a billion of God’s children live on a dollar a day; sadly our wars are not yet finished.
Clearly, the world that Mary sang about with such hope is still the world not yet born. So we hope for the day of God’s consummation of creation, fully aware that there is work to be done, in our lives and in the world. My friend, Pastor Heidi Armstrong says, “Mary’s Magnificat functions not only as a call to hope, but also a call to humility, a call to repentance, demanding that the idols of my pride of position, and relative power and prosperity be continually dethroned. The challenge every day is to stay on the right side of the revolution, to be about what God is up to in the world.”
How might we be about God’s work? Right now our hearts are still reeling with the grief of the Newtown mass killings. We don’t want to think about it and yet we know we have to think about it and talk about and take actions to prevent this from ever happening again. We know that violence is too much with us and that the child born of Mary would have us find alternatives to guns to settle our conflicts. We know the child born of Mary would have us take more seriously the suffering of people with mental illness.
For ordinary people, like you and me, we are continually given the opportunity to say yes to God and be about the extraordinary work of God in the world, raising up the lowly, mending the brokenhearted, paying no attention the vainly proud and giving no allegiance to the powers of the world.
All we ever have is the next right step. God presented Mary with the next right step, and she said Yes! Will you say what Mary said so long ago:
Here I am, Lord, let it be with me according to your word?