upper room daily devotions

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Enter the Song: The Magnificat

(This is last year's sermon for Advent 4B).

When I was a little girl, one of the things that I loved about visiting my grandparents during the holidays is that I had a special job. My cousin and I, the two youngest kids, were tasked with ringing an old flecked green bell to call people to dinner. There were always gobs of people. We had to walk all through the house, out to the porch where people would be in the rocking chairs and swinging on the porch swing, and we would ring that bell, and everyone knew our message. For two kids who were too young to do much more with the family, this made us feel pretty special. We couldn't understand the conversations about politics or religion. We didn't care to listen about people long dead whom we would never know. We were too short to sit at the adult table. What we had was that green bell, flecked and dented from decades of being rung by the youngest members of the family. The tone of that bell was the music that allowed us a special place in the family. The music of that bell heralded something very special - that 40 or so people who saw each other once, maybe twice, a year would be sitting down to break bread as my family has done for generations. Through the clear tone of that bell, we entered into my family's ever evolving story. Now, we could have just as easily walked around and said, "Dinner's ready" or "Come and eat." But the ritual of ringing a bell passed down from youngest child to the next youngest child made the act holy. By touching the metal of the bell, by holding together the wooden handle that always threatened to fall apart, something bigger and more wonderful transpired. That sound was more than a call to dinner; it was a part of my family's unfolding story. And, it was holy.

Throughout Advent this year, I have invited you to enter into a holy story. We began the first week with an invitation to Enter the Challenge of Advent. The second week the good people from Mary's Place asked us to Enter into the Reality of Advent. Last week, I talked about Entering into the Dream of Advent. And, this week, we Enter the Song of Advent. Today Mary sings her soul for us. She pours out her faith. In the face of tremendous challenge, she is willing to enter into a terrifying reality because of the gift of God's mighty dream. And, her spirit is caught up in a song that remains a cornerstone of our faith. For those who pray the hours every day - a daily rhythm of praying with other Christians at prescribed times in a pattern of prayer that has been done for 1500 years (at least) - every day ends with the Magnificat. Almost every day ends with Mary's outpouring of faith, the dream that the Holy Spirit leaves in her. This song ushers us into a week that culminates with Christmas Day when we welcome the babe into the manger, into our world, into the mess of life.

Music touches us and changes us like no other experience. It is deeply personal.

Despite much tradition around Mary, we don't know much about her. She was probably poor, but so was most everyone around her. She is able to travel to her cousin's house. She is able to stand in the presence of an angel and hold her ground. When given an opportunity to respond to the angel's message, she responds with joy and in song. Moreover, the song that bursts from her is a song that challenges the powers and principalities of this world. She doesn't sing a lullaby or a song about domestic life with her child and husband; she sings about a new world where the rich are brought low and the poor are lifted up. She sings a song of justice and love and compassion. She sings a song born from humility at her own station, and she connects her poverty with the poverty of the world. Her song is intimate and personal, and it is grand and political. It is a song that changes everything. Through it we enter into the meaning of the Christmas, which bears us to a new hope for a world in which the poor and humble find dignity, relief, and release. Through Mary's song, we enter into a hope for how the world might be on December 26. Her words will find resonance in the mouth of her most holy and blessed son when he unrolls the scripture from Isaiah and proclaims the purpose of his life and his ministry. He comes to tear us from our sin, our greed, our self-serving. He comes to rip us from the allegiances that hurt and maim and destroy. He comes to shred the worlds that are erected on the backs of the poor and vulnerable. He comes to scatter us in the imagination of our hearts, that we might be born anew and afresh. And, he comes through Mary, who not only gives birth, but who knows that she is giving birth to this new coming. Aren't we all called to be Marys - to be joyful messengers of God's gospel - to give birth again and again because the world needs Jesus to be born oh so many times? All of us are needed to labor and groan our way to a new hope, to the light that warms the coldest hearts and chases the shadows of injustice away.

If Christmas and the Christ it proclaims are about anything, they are about a God who brings life out of places where there should be no life. Christmas is God entering into the finite, crazy, embodied world fully and without protection. Let's listen for Mary's voice and let her lead us through to the promise of Christ who is coming, of Emmanuel - God with Us. Look through the ancillary and peripheral of life. There is Mary who sings for a new world, who sings for her child whose body will bear the fullness of God's grace and love. Look through and sing with her.

This next week promises to be busy for everyone. Stop once and a while and hear Mary's song. Heck, join in with her. Let it carry you as only music can to a new place and a new hope. Stop and hear her words sung so many years ago - words we still yearn to hear and feel and know. Mary's song is a bell that calls us home, that pulls us from our places of comfort and repose, and brings us back to our story, which is ever unfolding. Let us, with her, sing, "Our souls magnify the Lord." May it be so. Amen.

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