A Sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Advent
December 20, 2015
(Micah 5:2-5a; Psalm 80:1-7; Hebrews 10:5-10; Luke 1:39-55)
Micah’s now ancient prophecy was once contemporary.
It spoke to a people offering a glimpse into the intention of God. One will be born in the tiny, forgotten town of Bethlehem. This one is beyond a time and is destined to rule both Israel and the world.
This is, however, a prediction of grace, not dominance and destruction: this unnamed one will ‘shepherd God’s flock’ and ‘be their peace’.
God is coming. God is on the move. Be expectant. Be ready. Make Israel’s repeated plea your own: ‘Restore us, O God, let your face shine, that we may be saved!’
For restoration is exactly what God is doing. This is no doomsday story. Rather, it is an account of the activity and intention of the wondrous God of Grace.
We have destructively walked for God. But God wants to restore relationship with you. God wants to restore you. God – moved from heaven to earth – by your plight.
Hundreds of years later a young girl engages in a trip of her own.
We are informed that it was made ‘with great haste’ and follows immediately after Mary’s mind-blowing encounter with the angel Gabriel. The newly pregnant Mary is seeking the shelter and understanding of someone who just may comprehend. How very human she is!
Elizabeth, with her own miraculous conception, is as close as Mary will get to someone who can understand. Mary’s is seeking solidarity. Sometimes even the call of angels needs the reinforcement of a human touch.
This young mother is greeted with a generosity beyond all expectation and hope. At her very presence, and that of the unborn Jesus, John responds physically and Elizabeth herself is ‘filled with the Holy Spirit’.
God is affirming, present, already at work.
It all signals a blessing Elizabeth can not but return. With the confidence of age she unselfconsciously reveals the strange occurrences within her womb. Elizabeth names her son’s response: ‘joy’. Elizabeth is the first to name Mary as ‘mother’ and Jesus as ‘Lord’.
God, foetal, yet unhindered, is already moving in both the old and the very, very young.
Our story holds all the hallmarks of a baby’s first kick. Perhaps Luke really did interview Mary before he wrote. What else could enable such an insider perspective? So intimate, private, personal. One almost feels the need to turn away from something we were never supposed to see.
What a strange mix of hope, peace, joy, love, and wonder rests in this newly expectant, God-ordained teenager?
Elizabeth summed it up well: ‘…blessed is she who believed…’
And Mary knows it.
This girl is so conscious of God’s blessing she breaks into song. At its core, to sing is to play, imagine, express, put voice to the heart. There is truth in the saying: ‘The one who sings, prays twice.’
And so we come to the Song of Mary.
Importantly our story has not, as yet, taken us as far as the birth of Jesus. Mary remains unknown, obscure, hidden away in Elizabeth’s home. Everything – and nothing – has changed since Gabriel appeared.
So Mary’s is a song of faith. The voice of one who waits in hope, peace, joy, and love. She acknowledges of the favour shown to her. Imagines this work of God celebrated for all time. Allows her gratitude to find wings.
And all while remaining humble enough to know that God is doing much more than simply blessing her. Mary can see the mercy of God extending across generations; the strength of God scattering the proud; the power of God mysteriously pulling down and raising up. God is on the move in Mary and is opening her eyes to see this work extending across time and space.
Words that echo Micah’s: ‘he shall be great to the ends of the earth.’
Yes, at its core, Mary’s song is a celebration of the action of God. Mary names the one she sings of from the very first line. She writes of ‘the Lord’, ‘God my Saviour’, and ‘the Mighty One’.
And from this focus there is no change. After naming her object of praise our translation uses the terms ‘he’ or ‘him’ no less than 12 (twelve) times. Mary will not let her audience be distracted to anything else but God.
A song of praise, exaltation, and worship.
Mary’s heart is singing with the impossibly close fulfilment of the ancient and celebrated vision of Abraham. Growing in this peasant girl knows is God’s promise. Jesus is the long-expected one!
We would be foolish to think that the remainder off Mary’s life was such joyous song. The salvation of God is costly – and not only to God. It is also costly to those who align themselves with God’s purposes.
Our Hebrews reading reminds us of this. We can read it all too detached from the events of the cross. It was, however, the same body, once inspiring joy from Mary’s womb, that became God’s obedient offering ‘once for all’.
And this action of God changes everything. No other offering is necessary. No further sacrifices are required. God has done all the work to restore you – to bring you home – to the place you were born to be – in the loving arms of this holy God.
And all God asks of you is your trust.
We have lit candles this Advent to remind us of the characteristics of this trust, this response, that the grace-filled action of God inspires: hope, peace, joy, and today, love.
If we are to truly wait faithfully for the action of our ever-active God, we must do so in love toward God and one another.
For we now know what love is – not that we loved God so perfectly (we didn’t) but that God has led us so perfectly in Jesus.
May we all see this love – anew or afresh – as we, once again, celebrate God’s saving action in the birth of Jesus – this undeserved gift of grace from the divine heart of perfect love.