upper room daily devotions

Friday, December 18, 2009

Advent 4C - Mary, Fear and Peace, and Wendell Berry

As I think about Sunday, too many topics roll around in my mind. It will be December 20, and we could focus on a "blue Christmas" or a "longest night" theme. We could focus on the talks in Copenhagen and how, as it seems now, they have disappointed our hopes that leaders would actually lead and offer us a vision for the future that contains hope. The texts invite me into thoughts of joy and peace, of women and community, and of anticipation and uncertainty. And somehow, in my mind, all of these are related. All of my thoughts bring me back to the angel's proclamation to Mary, "Do not fear."

It seems that fear has gripped the world. Fear, in my opinion, is the biggest obstacle to peace. Fear drives the greed that keeps us from caring for the earth or lifting the lowly to high places. It is fear that overwhelms the lonely on the longest night. Fear is the engine of war. But I don't want this Sunday to be about fear, do I? My problem is how to craft a service that doesn't wade too deeply into fear. At least I think so. And I need to discover how to usher those assembled in worship on Sunday morning into a celebration of peace without disregarding the force of fear at work in the texts and in the world today.

I read a good article about Mary in Celebration Publications from January of this year. The article is called "Mary's Magnificat: a song of shalom," and author Irene Nowell takes issue with the traditional idea that the Magnificat is a song of "reversal." Rather, she thinks it is a song of "mutuality." I like this. She uses examples of women's work taking place in pairs - mutuality. But it is her focus on God's justice as one of mutuality and not of reversal that is most interesting. She writes, "[W]hat is subversive is not just that the powerful are brought down, but that the lowly are lifted up. The Magnificat proclaims a new world order in which people meet on the same level...Mary's song can only be good news if its message is not 'reversal' but mutuality. If [one] proclaims simply that the oppressors will become the oppressed, then there is no hope for us." And she goes on to talk about the role of fear that obstructs mutuality - God's justice, if you will - and keeps it at bay.

As I ponder Sunday's sermon and I struggle to find balance in the message that I want to bring, I think of Wendell Berry's poem "The Peace of Wild Things." It is a reminder that in the struggle against that which threatens to overwhelm, a good respite is needed. Mary went to Elizabeth, after all. Berry goes where he always does - into God's beautiful natural world. And this is what he writes:

"The Peace of Wild Things
-Wendell Berry

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of the wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free."

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