Embodying Peace


3rd Sunday of Advent
Embodying Peace  
Luke 1:39-56
15 December 2013
Elizabeth M. Deibert

How big is your God?   Sometimes it seems part of our human condition that we want to shrink God down to a size we can comprehend, a size that feels manageable, not too far out of our control.   But the Holy One keeps breaking in to show us the magnitude of glory and power and love that God is.  This has been one of those years we’ve seen God breaking through our smallness to show us amazing things.  It has been fun to tell the story to people who stop by or call or ask at Presbytery.   We had a visit from a fellow Presbyterian from Northminster, who stopped by to find out what was happening with us.  He said, “I thought you had that five acre site on Lorraine Road.   What happened?”  What happened?  God happened.  God had some great plans for us that we could not see without some other plans failing.  God had some great plans for us that we could not see for fear of failure, but we learned to trust.  Even a week ago, the Admin Team was learning to trust that we would find the means to get through these next two years, preserving money for the sanctuary, but by God’s faithfulness, we are getting there.  What we have to do is listen for God’s voice, and embody Christ’s peace.  We have to welcome the Holy Spirit to impregnate us with Christ’s peace, such that we can operate out of a place of security and trust.   After hearing the startling, life-threatening news of her pregnancy by the Holy Spirit) Mary said, “Let it be with me according to your word.”   Then she went to visit her cousin Elizabeth.  Let us learn from faithful Mother Mary how to embody the peace of Christ.

Luke 1:39-56

39In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 40where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42and exclaimed with a loud cry, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy.

45And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord."

46And Mary said, "My soul magnifies the Lord, 47and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 49for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. 50His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. 51He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. 52He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; 53he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. 54He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, 55according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever." 56And Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home.

 (NRSV)


Elizabeth knows how to bring out the faith of another.   She blesses Mary and praises the God for Mary’s gift.   Think about doing that with your friends and family over Christmas.   Give them your blessing and praise God for the good things you see God doing in their lives.  Elizabeth called Mary blessed.  Elizabeth called Jesus, the fruit of Mary’s womb, blessed.  Why did she say that Mary was blessed? Because Mary believed, she trusted the word of the Lord.   That’s why Blessed Mother Mary was venerated by the whole church for 1500 years, then somewhat ignored by the Protestant part of the church, who were anxious not to call her divine, but who lost something valuable when we stopped paying careful attention to her faithfulness. 

How can we not hold Mary in highest human regard, for she is the god-bearer, the one who carried Christ, not just an ordinary child.   She embodied Immanuel.  Talk about being receptive to God!   Mary was!  Mary is worthy of our fullest regard and honor.   She is not only the mother of our Lord, but she represents the church, as we are called to embody Christ for the world.   She has shown us what it means when we sing, “let every heart to prepare him room.”   Christina Rossetti wrote a beautiful poem about gifts for Christ:  What can I give him, poor as I am, if I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb.  If I were a wise man, I would do my part.  What can I give him, give him my heart.  Mary gave him chromosomes.   Mary gave God her womb, and by her gift, a new covenant of love with us was born.   God became one of us, and by living with us and suffering with and for us, dying and rising, he defeated death for us.  We have much for which to be thankful at Christmas, but maybe today, we should simply give thanks to the One who bore for us savior, when half-spent was the night.   Thanks, Mary, for listening to the Angel and believing this incredible news so you could live courageously into it, despite the risk of all family and cultural disapproval.  

As I was working on this sermon, I remembered a setting of the Magnificat by Rory Cooney written in 1990, to the traditional Irish folk tune: County Down.   To me both the music and the words speak of the courage of a young woman, who is embodying the God who comes to bring peace and justice for all.   

My soul cries out with a joyful shout
that the God of my heart is great,
And my spirit sings of the wondrous things
that you bring to the one who waits.
You fixed your sight on the servant's plight,
and my weakness you did not spurn,
So from east to west shall my name be blest.
Could the world be about to turn?

Though I am small, my God, my all,
you work great things in me.
And your mercy will last from the depths of the past
to the end of the age to be.
Your very name puts the proud to shame,
and to those who would for you yearn,
You will show your might, put the strong to flight,
for the world is about to turn.

From the halls of power to the fortress tower,
not a stone will be left on stone.
Let the king beware for your justice tears
every tyrant from his throne.
The hungry poor shall weep no more,
for the food they can never earn;
These are tables spread, ev'ry mouth be fed,
for the world is about to turn.

Refrain:

My heart shall sing of the day you bring.
Let the fires of your justice burn.
Wipe away all tears,
For the dawn draws near,
And the world is about to turn.

And… the… world… is… about… to… turn.
 
Paraphrase of Luke 1:46-58 (Magnificat)
Words: Rory Cooney (1990)
Music: STAR OF THE COUNTY DOWN (Irish Traditional Folk Song)

It is impossible to overestimate the significance of Mary’s hymn, the Magnificat.   The only extended speech in Luke given by a female character, it casts Mary as a prophet.  In the tradition of Hannah and Miriam in the Hebrew Scriptures, Mary celebrates God’s unfolding salvation of her people Israel.   She announces God’s compassion for the lowly and introduces a key theme of Jesus’ ministry – the reversal of social structures.  “Mary proclaims the topsy-turvy future of God as an already accomplished fact—possibly because that future can already be glimpsed in God’s choice of Mary as the bearer of the Messiah. The song proclaims the reality and promise that the singer embodies…” 

Her song inspired the Feast of Fools celebration in Medieval times, as people had a little fun reversing the social status and privileges of people, not taking themselves so seriously.  (Feasting on the Word)  Her song has inspired the generosity of many at Christmas, including and invites us all to imagine that this world does not have to be so radically divided between rich and poor.  Economic injustice should always be a concern to faithful Christians, because our Scriptures call us to another way, the way championed by Mary’s Song.   We may have different ideas about how to solve the problem of the growing wedge in our economy, but we cannot be indifferent.  Mary affirms that the God who came to us in Jesus Christ lifts up the lowly and fills the hungry with good things.  And the first words out of Jesus when he began his ministry were, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me …to proclaim good news to the poor.”  

We are to embody the will of God like Mary, who one verse is saying peacefully “Here am I, servant of the Lord, let it be with me according to your Word.”   And a few verses later is boldly announcing God’s concern for justice.  That kind of courage and receptiveness to God’s word is what made her the perfect servant of God, mother of Christ, and model for the church.   “Where meek souls will receive him, still the dear Christ enters in.”   For Christ to enter, we have to get ourselves out of the way.   We cannot have an ego so large and boastful or so small and insecure that there’s no room for the Spirit’s implantation of fruit, spiritual fruits in us, Christ in us.   It takes a spacious place to hold all the fullness of God.  We cannot explain the logic of God growing in Mary’s womb any more than we can understand what happens to us in the Eucharist when we receive Christ by faith, and become Christ for the world.   But we simply say humbly and receptively with Mary, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me, according to your word.”