Luke 1:39-45, (46-55) and Invictus by William Ernest Henley
Sunday December 19th 2021
By Rev. Nicole M. Lamarche
Good morning and welcome again, to what is in our tradition the fourth Sunday of Advent, a most sacred and special time of year.
This is the final in our Advent series on seeking. We are a bunch of seekers of all kinds here at Community UCC so this is core to who we are. We are more the question than answer church. And I love that it is part of who we are. Today we are exploring seeking room, or making room for the energy that is the Divine in our lives.
I invite you to take a deep breath to let yourself arrive more fully as we all prepare our hearts and minds to hear whatever word God has for us today. Gracious God, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts, be acceptable in your sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
Sometimes I wonder if we have forgotten how this all started, how this story of ours begins. Because it feels like in some places that not only have we have gotten further from the truth, we have become afraid of it, which means we try to deny it or banish it. We try to kill it or pretend it’s wrong. We speak ill of it and then claim it is the problem. But the truth is still there. And when it hasn’t worked to kill it, some try to polish it up with pretty packaging, but it is still there.
In some places the story of Christmas, the story of magi and majesty, of shooting stars and bright lights, of dreams coming true and of prophecies fulfilled, the way it all began has been forgotten, in part because I think it is simply too radical and too powerful.
But this story begins with a woman, a young woman, who was told that perhaps nothing good would come, not for or from her, not from this, not from here, not in this time…the circumstances weren’t quite right so maybe life would just be hard and things would just be like this… the powers that be, would keep taking, those who had everything would keep breaking the backs of those doing the work, the rules laid out by the men in power would keep controlling, the crush would keep rolling…but then… a new story begins.
And I have been pondering how our first century ancestors could have started this story in another place, a safer, cleaner place, but the story begins in uncertainty, in fragility, in the darkness of a womb, with a young woman rushing to share the news with family.
As you heard from the Gospel of Luke, the text says, “When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” And Mary goes on to sing, "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior…”
And I learned only recently that many churches stop there. It is by far the most lines spoken by a woman in all of Christian scripture, but still some churches stop the reading there. Many Churches, especially in this country, don’t read the rest of her song aloud maybe because they have become afraid of the truth, that we try to kill it or banish it or polish it up, but the truth is still there.
bell hooks, American scholar, womanist theologian and activist, died last week and she was a profound thinker and writer and spiritual person and she wrote, “Sometimes people try to destroy you, precisely because they recognize your power, not because they don’t see it, but because they see it and don’t want it to exist.”
Mary as she was, as she is to us, is still maybe just too powerful. Her message too powerful for the principalities for that day and for ours.
In an article in the Washington Post a few years ago, D. L. Mayfield wrote that, “Mary, in our tradition, was a vehicle for Jesus: a holy womb, a good and compliant and obedient girl. Much later in life, I was shocked to discover that Mary wasn’t quiet, nor was she what I would call meek and mild. Go read the first chapter of Luke.”
She writes, “In all my long years of being in church, of knowing the Christmas story backward and forward, I never heard these verses emphasized. Here, Mary comes across less like a scared and obedient 15-year-old and more like a rebel intent on reorienting unjust systems.”
"My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for God has looked with favor on the lowliest of God’s servants. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is God’s name. God’s mercy is for those who fear the Divine from generation to generation.
“God has shown strength with an arm; scattering the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. God has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; God has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. God has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise God made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever."
Have we forgotten how this story of ours begins?
Because it begins with a young, courageous woman who was feeling her power and letting God in so she could be a vessel. It begins not with a woman compliant to the oppression and unkindness and injustice around her, but rather a radically open heart, already in tune with God, with Source, with our Greater Love in a way that made her ready to welcome the wild, the wonderful, the surprisingly great thing.
She was not meek, even though the world seems to need her to be and she wasn’t mild- she was bold. And the song that comes out of her is one of liberation.
It is a song with an action plan: scatter the proud, ditch the thrones, lift the humble, feed the hungry…turn the whole thing upside down. So of course it is easy to see why we have polished it up and hidden the story, making it more palatable.
For the Mighty One has done great things, the Mighty One is doing great things, but not from the top down. What if the Mighty One does great things often from the bottom up? What if whatever name we have for God, it is an energy working from those tuned in, looking to use whomever is open, often those who are hurting the most.
So many have made the Christian faith about being right, or about following guidelines for future rewards, or about trying to manage others or control our fears, about helping those on the margins, instead of making a world without margins at all, but what if the story begins here with the wonder and the darkness, with a woman who was young but not afraid, what if the story begins here for a reason?
What if the spiritual journey is not about being right, but about being open, about being bold? What if it’s about refusing to believe all of the untruths that surround us? What if this story is about how God does great things often from the bottom up?
If you absorb the messages that abound in our culture, you would think Christmas is about creating the perfect scene, or curating the perfect day, or spending money you may or may not have to purchase the affection of another, you might think that Christmas is about things, and that the Jesus story is about feeling superior to others, but this story, this precious and powerful story, is more about the fact that great things can come from hard times and messy moments, from situations saturated with uncertainty, from people who those in power say aren’t good enough. This story is about how the truth can’t be killed even when human beings become afraid of it. It will remain, even when we try to kill it or pretend it’s wrong.
In London, in December 17, 1933 Dietrich Bonhoeffer, German Pastor executed by the Nazis preached on the Magnificat and said, “The throne of God in the world is set not on the thrones of humankind but in humanity’s deepest abyss, in the manger. There are no flattering courtiers standing around his throne, just some rather dark, unknown, dubious-looking figures, who cannot get enough of looking at this miracle…For those who are great and powerful in this world, there are two places where their courage fails them, which terrify them to the very depths of their souls, and which they dearly avoid. These are the manger and the cross of Jesus Christ. No one who holds power dares to come near the manger; King Herod also did not dare. For here thrones begin to sway; the powerful fall down, and those who are high are brought low, because God is here with the lowly. Here the rich come to naught, because God is here with the poor and those who hunger. God gives there the hungry plenty to eat, but sends the rich and well-satisfied away empty. Before the maidservant Mary, before Christ’s manger, before God among the lowly, the strong find themselves falling; here they have no rights, no hope, but instead find judgment.”
He said, that the Magnificat was “the most passionate, the wildest, one might even say the most revolutionary hymn ever sung.”
So beloved of God, the truth is that this story of ours, this story of Christmas, this story of how our movement began, starts with a young, courageous woman who was feeling her power and letting God in so she could be a vessel. This story is about finding a way to live fully in an oppressive system and changing it, not about being compliant to it. And this story is about how even when it feels as if the night is covering us, know that there are parts of who we are, that are unconquerable, because God uses anyone with a radically open heart!
This makes us ready to welcome the wild, the wonderful, the surprisingly great things that are coming and are already here. This story is about being courageous for our Cosmic love, about how even when we fall deep into the clutch of circumstance, even under the bludgeoning of chance, we can choose to move ahead without fear.
Great things come from messy moments and from situations saturated with uncertainty. This is a story about liberation! And what if this is a story about how God does great things from the bottom up, so make room!? May it be so. Amen.