Sermon by Pastor Kris Tostengard Michel
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
In those days when Herod was king of Judea, when Quirinius was governor of Syria, and when Caesar Augustus was Emperor of the expansive Roman Empire, a messenger from God came…not to the halls of government or the homes of appointed officials, not even to the capitol city or a place known for commerce, but to a small, out-of-the-way village in Galilee, to the home of a poor family whose daughter was Mary.
“She met the day
as days before –
a cup of milk,
a crust of bread,
bare feet upon
the clean-swept floor
She planned her day
as days before –
the empty jug,
the tattered rug,
stray threads within
a cluttered drawer.
outside the door.” –Jeannette Lindholm, “Tryptich”
The angel’s message to Mary was perplexing. What was more difficult to believe –
that God found her, a poor, young girl from an unknown place somehow worthy,
or that she should become pregnant in such an unconventional way? In the massive chasm between impossible and possible, she considered what the angel’s words might mean; she debated how this might be imaginable. In the deep divide between incredulity and committed resolve, she felt the irresistible urge to be part of God’s grand design, a new world order. Mary recognized the call to be part of something bigger than herself, and in her youthful exuberance, she said yes.
And so she sang. At least that’s how Luke tells it. And that’s how we can remember it – through song. That’s how countless generations of Christians have come to know it – through song. Mary sang a song that echoed strains of Scripture that she had heard and sung her whole life. She sang the themes found in psalms and prophetic writings that spoke of mercy, hope, and blessing; themes of reversal, of victory over evil, and of God coming to the rescue.
Mary’s song, the Magnificat, has been intoned in monasteries, chanted in cathedrals, sung by evening candlelight in mountain villages and even here on Sunday nights and on Wednesday nights in Lent. Her words have been set to music by Bach using trumpets and tympani and to Irish tunes with penny whistles.
Mary’s song is a dream; it’s the ancient dream of Israel that one day the words of the prophet would come true – that God’s promises to their earliest ancestors, to Abraham and Jacob, would be realized – that all the nations would be blessed through them. She longed for that dream to come true, because she lived in dark days, the days of Herod the Great and the oppressive Roman Empire when violence was real, when freedom was distant, and hunger palpable. And so she said, yes.
We might imagine her being serene and reflective, dwelling in her head and feeling peaceful, but Mary’s ‘yes’ set her feet in motion. She went with haste to a town in the hill country where her cousin Elizabeth lived. Uphill and down, Mary’s feet moved. When she came to Elizabeth, Mary sang her song with full voice.
Mary’s song was the gospel before the gospel. The child she bore would live out that song – lifting up the weak, filling the hungry with good things, and scattering the thoughts of the proud. In the child she carried, Jesus was the incarnation of God’s own self, God in flesh. And in his life, death and resurrection, we saw the heart of God, the God who loves us and in whose image we have been made. In Jesus, we have come to know the God who rescues us – from sin and evil and all the things that separate us from God – and brings us back into relationship with God. We might wonder how it is that God would care about one so small and insignificant as this one – like Mary and like us – but God does.
Mary said, yes, and brought forth the very life of God. In her pregnancy, Mary was called to bear the Word, the Word that became flesh. In our own way, and in our own time, we are called to be bearers of the Word, too.
- We bear the Word in this place when we read the Gospel or serve communion or welcome others to our worship.
- We bear the Word when we tell our children the story of Jesus through our words or actions, and when we wrestle with the Word together and what it means to live out our faith.
- We bear the Word when we lift up the weak or fill the hungry with good things. That sounds grand, doesn’t it? But it happens in simple ways – when we help a friend go to a doctor’s appointment or shovel a neighbor’s walk. It happens when we share a smile or a granola bar with a homeless person on a freeway ramp, and when we write a note to someone who’s discouraged or grieving. How many times in recent days have I heard from people who have been in the hospital about the kindness of the aid who brings them cold water or answers their call button? About a spouse or parent or sibling who is caring for them through a difficult time? We bear the Word when we share one another’s burdens.
- And we bear the Word when we live out the truth that even those of us who are privileged are not entitled.
Advent is a time of waiting, a time of longing for the ancient promises to come true. We look to that future, but we know that it’s yet to be fully realized. This year, our Advent longing seems especially profound.
- We live in days when the possibility of gun violence invades places we never imagined possible.
- …when the threat of terrorism is real.
- …when millions flee their homes and leave everything behind because of extraordinarily difficult circumstances.
- And we live in days when the tension between police and African Americans has escalated in many of our major U.S. cities, including our own.
We might wonder, is everything falling apart?
In another song, Leonard Cohen sang these words:
“There’s a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.”
We are called to be bearers of the Word – to point to the Light that gets in.
- The light got in in an airport in Toronto this weekend. Refugees fleeing Syria found a welcome, warm jackets and hope for a future.
- The light got in when the nations of the world articulated a vision for the future of our planet.
- The light got in when our children told the story of Jesus’ birth at the Sunday School Christmas programs today.
Where do you see the Light? Where do you see the weak lifted up and the hungry filled with good things? Where do you see the promise of God’s abundant gift of life for all? Look for it. Name it. Be bearers of the Word. Amen.