December 22, 2009

Sermon 12/20/2009


Sermon for Advent 4 C
Michael Coffey



Who was she?
Who was she to be pregnant with God’s love for the world?
Who was she that she should bear Christ to the world?
She was lowly.
She was a young girl.
She was of little account in the world’s accounting.
She was poor.
She was unexpectedly expecting,
and possibly ashamed of her unmarried status.
Who was she that she should bear Christ to the world?
She was lowly, and she knew it.

Now I’m saying all of that
because I also have to tell you
we, too, are pregnant with God’s love for the world.
We, too, bear Christ to the world.
As God’s people in Christ,
we are very much like Mary.
And we may wonder,
who are we to be this?
We may feel inadequate to be God’s bearers of love.
We may feel unqualified to bring God’s mercy into the world.
We may think we are unprepared to do the things of God.
We may sense we are unworthy of such a high calling.

I’m going to claim among us today
that as pregnant as Mary was with Jesus,
so is the church pregnant with Jesus,
filled up with the presence and power of Christ
in our womb, our inner being, our true self.
It’s a big claim,
not an easy one to make or accept,
but without it, this last Sunday in Advent,
this Christmas,
and any talk of mission and purpose for the church
mean very little.

Luke has already told us
that Mary got pregnant as a virgin through God’s power and plan,
and that she was only engaged to Joseph, not yet married.
So while she was waiting to give birth,
this very young woman goes off to stay with her cousin Elizabeth
for three months.
Why? Was she ashamed, like many young women would be?
Was she ostracized like many girls would be?
Was she afraid of what was happening to her body?
Who knows, but she goes off to see Elizabeth,
and Elizabeth welcomes her.
Like so many women have done for so many girls “in trouble” as is said,
Elizabeth welcomes her, loves her, helps her.

And she doesn’t something even more.
Elizabeth brings a word of blessing.
Elizabeth reinterprets Mary’s pregnancy
as blessing and gift and within the plan of God.
Blessed are you! She tells Mary.
Blessed is the child you bear! She shouts out to her younger cousin.
Blessed is your faith! She exclaims to her fellow believer.

And then Mary gets it,
and she sings her song.
Then Mary gets once again how God works.
Mary sees and accepts that in her lowliness,
in her smallness,
in her poverty,
in her unimportance,
God was doing what God always does.
God works his ways through people such as Mary.
God needs and uses people who are truly humble,
genuinely in need,
truly able to trust God above all things,
and so let themselves be small within the realm of God’s greatness.
Who was Mary that she should be pregnant with God’s love for the world?
Who was Mary that she should bear Christ to the world?
She was no one,
and she knew it, and she embraced it,
and she magnified God for it.

Who are we that we should be pregnant with God’s love in our lives?
Who are we that God should use us to bear Christ to the world?
We are no ones,
and we either know it, and embrace it,
and magnify God for it,
or we resist it,
and deny it,
and fight against it,
and try to make something of ourselves first
So that God can use us for our strength and status,
Instead of our weakness and lowliness.

I remember a number of years ago
there was a rare and amazing alignment of the planets.
Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn were all in a row in the night sky
just before Christmas time.
And I remember looking up at the sky and the planets and the stars
and getting that overwhelming feeling you can get sometimes:
I am so small.
I am such anothing.
This world is so vastly bigger than I am.
What place do I possibly have in it?
It can leave with you with a sense of wonder and astonishment.
It can also leave you feeling inadequate and fearful of your own insignificance.
I think that feeling drives a lot of us
to try to be more important and more powerful
and more successful than we really are or need to be.

But Mary’s song should put an end to all of that foolishness.
Mary’s song is radical and astounding and full of promise.
Mary’s song says that God lifts up the lowly
and needs them for God’s purposes,
and God will help the proud and powerful understand this
by bringing them down to their true humanity,
their lowly status, their true need before God.
Who are we that we should be pregnant with God’s love
and bear Christ to the world?
Absolutely nothing and nobody.
And that is exactly as it must be.

And then there’s this reality to accept:
Being pregnant is never an end in itself.
I’ve heard some women say how much they loved being pregnant,
especially around the middle months,
before they got to big and front heavy
that they can’t get up from a chair without help.
But being pregnant is never meant to be an end in itself.
Giving birth is the goal.
Bringing to life something new is the purpose.

For this fourth Sunday in Advent,
we are in a short holding pattern of pregnancy.
We are anticipating what might be.
We are listening to Mary ponder and contemplate
her own astonishment at being so small
and yet bearing something so great in her.
But we know the goal for this is to get to the birth.
If not, it would be like wrapping all those presents,
and leaving them under the tree all year round.
Who could stand it?

If we as God’s people in Christ
are pregnant with God’s love for the world
and bear Christ to the world,
then the only purpose this serves
is to actually give birth to it.
As a man,
giving birth seems foreign and fearful,
so I think we need many of you women to help us understand this.
There must be something both frightening and awesome about it.

For our lives of faith,
getting beyond merely being pregnant with God’s love for the world
means actually Living it out here and today.
And the only way to understand that
is to go back to Mary’s song.
Who needs lifting up?
Who is lowly among us that God is seeking to honor?
Who is poor and hungry and in need of mercy and compassionate food?
This is how we bear Christ to the world,
this is how we give birth to God’s love for the world:
We live out Mary’s song.
We become lowly ourselves
by serving and giving and loving.

Mary’s song might seem frightening and unhelpful
if we hear the parts about the proud and the rich and the belly-filled
finding out that they are going to be humbled and brought down
from their lofty heights.
But instead,
the song simply calls us to be among the lowly and poor,
to live join with the outcast and the humble,
to become insignificant ourselves,
because God knows we already are pretty small
in the scheme of things.



I recently showed the movie “The Mission.”
It tells the story of the Guarani natives in South America
and the Jesuit missionaries who came to serve them
during the 18th century.
It’s a story of the power that Spain and Portugal
wanted to exert over the Guarani,
controlling their land and enslaving them,
while many of the Jesuits wanted to help the natives,
set up missions and schools,
and be part of their lives.
The movie culminates in a battle
between the powerful Portuguese army
and the lowly and powerless Guarani and Jesuits.
Near the end,
the priest played by Jeremy Irons
leads the people in a service of Holy Communion.
Afterwards, they march out carring a monstrance,
the sunburst metal contained displaying the consecrated host,
the sign of the power and presence of Christ
with these lowly and powerless folks.

The priest is shot and killed,
and a courageous Guarani young man
picks it up and keeps going.
These lowly ones knew God.
They knew Christ in them.
The knew that since the presence and power of Christ was with them
they could march on humbly and faithfully
and face anything that came their way.
When you know that the power of God works in your lowliness and humility, you can face anything.
When you that the presence and power of Christ dwell in you,
you can do incredible things.

Today and every Sunday we receive bread and wine,
the body and blood of Jesus,
the power and presence of Christ in us,
the incarnation of God in sacrament and ritual and word.
We become powerfully pregnant with Christ as the church.
But we don’t stay pregnant for long.
There is life to give.
There is love to share.
There is mercy to grant.
There is a song of praise to sing,
magnifying God for all these good things God does,
even including the likes of us in God’s purposes.
Mary, to be sure, was the first bearer of Christ
but she was not the last.

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