Sermon for Advent 4 B December 18, 2011 Michael Coffey
It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas everywhere you go… Yes, it is. But we have a week to go. And that gives us a week to ponder something, something that prepares us for Christmas joy in this final Advent time of waiting: God needs an entry point. Christ needs a way into this world, and this week is our time to consider: The way Christ comes into this world matters. And Christ is still looking for ways into this world today. Mary got the news from the angel Gabriel. Gabriel, by the way, means warrior of God. So Gabriel has got some important things to get done on God’s behalf. And in this instance, it is to help Mary see and accept how it is God works God’s wonders. You can hear the conversation: Hey Mary! Yes? Guess what!? Um, ok, what? God is about to come into the world through a newborn Messiah and set people free. Oh, OK, well, it’s about time. But why are you telling me? Shouldn’t you be at the priest’s house or talking to the Jerusalem political machine? No, Mary, that’s just it. God needs a way into the world, so God is coming into the world through you. And then you can just hear a pause, a silence, a moment of bewilderment and wonder, a second to consider what is happening and how and why. At first, she is puzzled: How can this be? And the angel Gabriel reminds her: God has always brought renewal through women who didn’t fit the bill, too old, too young, too unseemly, too much outside the fold. And Gabriel says: Nothing will be impossible for God. Mary, trusting only in the God who indeed does the impossible, says: Here am I, servant of the Lord; let it be with me as you have said. Mary then takes off to see Elizabeth, who is on the other end of the spectrum of problematic pregnancy, and Mary sings her amazing song, known commonly by its Latin liturgical name the Magnificat: the magnification of God, Mary’s song of praise and protest. It is surely a song of praise, but a protest song? It’s not “Give peace a chance” or “We shall overcome” or even that “What do we want” chant you always hear at demonstrations, and people tell you when they want it now, whatever it is. But this song is different, because it comes from ancient lips and it is about amazing things and impossible possibilities that come from God alone. This song is different because it is a song of praise and protest, not merely protest. Still, you might be wondering about that word, protest. I’m particularly interested in it this week since Time magazine chose as person of the year: the protestor. Not any one protestor, but all of those persons in the past year all over the world, who have changed the direction of the world: those involved in the Arab spring, the Madison rally, the Occupy Wall Street movement, the homeowners facing foreclosure who refuse to leave. In the Time magazine article, it says: All over the world, the protesters of 2011 share a belief that their countries'
political systems and economies have grown dysfunctional and corrupt —
sham democracies rigged to favor the rich and powerful and prevent significant change.
They are fervent small-d democrats.
Two decades after the final failure and abandonment of communism,
they believe they're experiencing the failure of hell-bent megascaled crony
hypercapitalism and pine for some third way, a new social contract. Well, you don’t have to listen for long to Mary’s song of praise and protest to think that Mary might have been Time’s person of the year: 46bMy soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, 47my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48for you, Lord, have looked with favor on your lowly servant. From this day all generations will call me blessed; 49you, the Almighty, have done great things for me, and holy is your name. 50You have mercy on those who fear you, from generation to generation. 51You have shown strength with your arm; and scattered the proud in their conceit, 52casting down the mighty from their thrones and lifting up the lowly. 53You have filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. 54You have come to the aid of your servant Israel, to remember the promise of mercy, 55the promise made to our forebears, to Abraham and his children forever. Throughout generations Mary has been remembered and hailed as the great example of the feminine. And in traditions that have lost Mary as part of their faith practice, there is something lost of the feminine. However, the feminine we see in Mary and her song is not a passive, submissive, I’ll do whatever you say femininity. This is more like Mary the feminine warrior whom Gabriel called to action, Mary the great woman protestor, Mary the wonderful witness to God’s great turning of the world. We often think of the word “protest” and “protestor” as emphasizing what you are against. To protest is to be against something, in our common usage. But the word itself means the opposite: To pro-test is to speak for something, to witness for something, to give public speech for what you are seeking and dreaming. And in the case of Mary and Scripture and people of faith: to give witness to what God is for: lifting up the lowly, feeding the hungry, freeing the oppressed, strengthening the weak, tending the neglected. So there it is, right there in Mary’s song of praise and protest: What God is for, what God is about. And most important for us today: What is God’s entry point into the world: Mary realized her lowliness, her very sense of disqualification, was the entry point for God to work in this world. Mary sings praise to God, Mary gives protest for God, by singing about the way God comes into the world, the way God turns the world around: through lowliness. This itself turns the world on its head. Everyone assumes that God’s entry point into the world is through loftiness, and power, and wealth, and success, and a proven business model, and a screen tested plot, and guarantees that nothing will fail. But not this God. Not the God of Scripture. Not the God of Israel. Not the God of Mary. Not the God of Jesus. The only way this God brings the true good news into the world is through lowliness, because the good news is that human lowliness is where God is pleased to dwell. Contemplate it this week. We have a great gift this year: Advent is as long as possible. We have an extended period of time between this Sunday of Mary, and the birth of Jesus. Ponder it this whole week. Stop pondering if you can have enough money to make Christmas happen, or if you can be good enough to bring reconciliation, or if you have been successful enough this year to justify your existence, or if you have risen high enough in the ranks of human esteem. Ponder this instead: Our disqualifications are useful to God. Our lowliness is God’s access point for doing good news things. Our greatness is most often a hindrance. Our successes and prestigious positions most often get in the way. Our need to be accounted as something in the human ordering of things is a road block to God’s work in us because we get in the way. Instead of getting out of the way and following and embracing what God is about, we lead with our own agendas and our puffed up egos and our need for lifting ourselves up. What Mary sings praise to God because the entry point of God into this world comes through human lowliness, because there, and only there, can God do the lifting up of our souls so our souls will sing magnification of God and not ourselves. The Gospel is a protest message, it is a public message about what God is doing, what and who God is for, and what people who want to be a part of God’s good news are about. We can fight and resist it. We can keep trying to show ourselves worthy and better than others through our wealth and our positions above others and our materialism and our cars and our ability to control others and our power and our degrees and our intelligence. Or, we can listen to Mary’s song of praise and protest and learn from Mary herself, and reply to God’s desire to come into the world in Christ through our lowliness, and respond, as she did: Let it be. And then, we might finally be ready to get Christmas, really get it, and sing that little ditty: It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas everywhere you go…