God's Love Magnified

Luke 1:39-56
3rd Sunday of Advent
Elizabeth M. Deibert 
December 16, 2012

When words are hard to find, music is the place I go for prayer.   Words cannot explain anything this week.    Watch the newscasters trying to give information, but in the end, information never answers the difficult questions.    So we must turn to prayer.   Prayer is at the heart of worship.    And music is a way of engaging the whole self in prayer, so pray with me as I sing. (slide)

God, we have heard it, sounding in the silence:
News of the children lost to this world's violence.
Children of promise! Then without a warning,
Loved ones are mourning.

Jesus, you came to bear our human sorrow;
You came to give us hope for each tomorrow.
You are our life, Lord God's own love revealing.
We need your healing!   (slide)

Heal us from giving weapons any glory;
Help us, O Prince of Peace, to hear your story;
Help us resist the evil all around here;
May love abound here!

By your own Spirit, give your church a clear voice;
In this world's violence, help us make a new choice.
Help us to witness to the joy your peace brings,
Until your world sings!

HERZLIEBSTER JESU: Johann Crueger, 1640 (Ah, Holy Jesus)
Hymn text copyright © 1999 by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette. All rights reserved.

Today we are reading the story of expectant mothers Mary and Elizabeth, coming together in mutual joy.    Elizabeth announces that Mary is blessed among women, and blessed is the fruit of her womb.   The forerunner, the prophet John the Baptist, is leaping in Elizabeth’s womb at the presence of Mary with Jesus in hers.    And Mary magnifies the Lord.   She rejoices in God her Savior.   She sings this song about God’s love magnified in God’s bringing a lowly one like her to such a blessed place.   She speaks of the power of a holy God at work, bringing down those with too much pride, too much power, too much wealth, and lifting up those who have been needy.


Hear the Gospel:                           

Luke 1:39-56

39 In those days Mary set out and went with haste

 to a Judean town in the hill country,

40 where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.

41 When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the child leaped in her womb.

And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit  42 and exclaimed with a loud cry,

"Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.

43 And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me?

44 For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting,

the child in my womb leaped for joy.

45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment

of what was spoken to her by the Lord."

46 And Mary said, "My soul magnifies the Lord,

47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,

48 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.

Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;

49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.

50 His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.

51 He has shown strength with his arm;

he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.

52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly;

53 he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.

54 He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy,

55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors,

to Abraham and to his descendants forever."

56 And Mary remained with her about three months

and then returned to her home.  (NRSV)


Let’s think about these two expectant mothers rejoicing in their children, before and after the birth.    Elizabeth, up in age, surprised to be having John.   Mary, not yet married, surprised to be having Jesus.   Both couples, Elizabeth and Zechariah, and Mary and Joseph, visited by angels.   Think of the danger of such a moment.   Think of the risk of childbirth in the 1st century, especially for one as old as Elizabeth.   Think of the risk of rejection for a woman like Mary.   Thank God Joseph listened to the angel and offered protection and dignity.   Thank God both women were so receptive to God’s plan of salvation through them, even not having all the answers, not knowing exactly what was happening, but Mary saying to the angel, “Let it be with me according to your word.”  


Think of both couples raising children, having to avoid the danger of the killing of baby boys by Herod.   Think of the love, of the sacrifice, of the wondering about what these messages of angels would mean as their boys grew up.   Think of adolescents who were precocious, Jesus staying in the temple to query the religious authorities, of John, being a radical hippie kind of guy, making strange pronouncements about the coming of the Lord.


Think of the parents of John and Jesus having to step back when these two men began their ministry, a ministry which was powerful and dangerous, a ministry which provided healing and love and forgiveness and grace, but which made the religious authorities and civil authorities very disturbed.    Think of the parents when John the Baptist was be-headed and when Jesus the Christ was crucified.   Both of them unjustly killed.    Think of the sorrow at seeing your children die like that.


And know that the parents, siblings and grandparents, the aunts, uncles, cousins and friends of all those dead children in Connecticut and all those heroic educators who lost their lives seeking to protect them, are in the good company of saints like Mary and Joseph, Elizabeth and Zechariah, who know that pain.    They are in the good company of Leigh Knauert, seminary friend of Clay and Tricia, whose son committed suicide last week.  They are in the good company of the Kellogg family in their sadness this week at saying good-bye to Gen for now.   They are in the good company of Sue Seiter’s cousin, whose mother and little daughter were killed together in a car accident a couple of weeks ago.  


The company of the grieving includes every one of us because life is full of losses, but none so tragic as the violent and senseless loss of precious little ones, whose lives were full of such promise and expectation.   Expectation.   Think of the expectation of Mary for her son.   She, like the disciples, surely thought his wisdom, his strength, his love, his leadership would take him to a place of power.    You can hear her longing for a strong armed leader to right all wrongs in her Magnificat, but alas, it is through his death, through her loss, that all wrongs are made right.   That’s not how she imagined it.   Through his death, through her loss.   


But now God has lived and died with us and for us.    And God with us, Immanuel, Prince of Peace, has been raised for us.    And so, we know, without a shadow of doubt that the Prince of Peace, who said, “Let the little children come to me and do not stop them” has welcomed twenty more precious ones, who had lots of life left in them, but now will share all of that life fully in his presence of Christ, while their parents long to see them, to hug them again, to watch them grow up.   And we are stuck with that sickening communal sense of guilt.   What is wrong with our world?   Why cannot we provide help or healing for those who are so disturbed, so troubled that they unleash their rage on unsuspecting little children?    


I hope that a church named Peace will spend some considerable time working on that question.  

Sure, we have done some good, teaching peacemaking skills in our community, but there is so much more to do.   What good compromises could be made in the gun control debate, which would provide greater protection?  Perhaps you would be concerned enough to spend an extra hour today in Lively learning discussing how we might be more effective peacemakers in this world.

God’s love is magnified when communities of God’s people embody the sacrificial life of Jesus Christ.   God’s love is magnified when we stop trying to have answers, and are simply present and compassionate toward hurting people.   God’s love is magnified, when we like Mary, submit to God’s will, not knowing exactly what it means or what sacrifices will be required of us.    God’s love is magnified when suffering people remember that the one who suffers with us does indeed lift us up to the place where there is no more pain, no more tears.   There is a place.  

There is a Place

by John Bell and Graham Maule, dedicated to the families

of the 16 school children who died in Scotland, in 1996.


There is a place prepared for little children,

those we once lived for, those we deeply mourn,

those who from play, from learning, and from laughing, cruelly were torn.


There is a place where hands which held ours tightly

now are released beyond all hurt and fear,

healed by that love which also feels our sorrow, tear after tear.


There is a place where all the lost potential

yields its full promise, finds its true intent;

Silenced no more, young voices echo freely, as they were meant.


There is a place where God will hear our question,

suffer our anger, share our speechless grief,

gently repair the innocence of loving, and of belief.


Jesus, who bids us be like little children,

shields those our arms are yearning to embrace.

God will ensure that all are reunited:  there is a place.