Sunday, December 18, 2005

Advent 4 Sermon, Mary's Foolish Song

2 Sam. 7: 1-16
Luke 1: 39-56

Today’s Old Testament scripture is a good prelude to our focus on Mary because it is a prophetic account of God’s desire for a dwelling place in the world. David looks with guilt upon his palace when he remembers that the Ark of the Covenant, which was thought to be the unique dwelling place of God, still resides in a tent. The prophet Nathan assures David that he should not presume to build God a permanent dwelling place because this God prefers the mobility of a tent. He tells David that it is not we who build God a house, but God who chooses a house within us. It is in people, not things, that God wishes to live. In the Christmas story, we learn that God chooses a young peasent woman to live in in a very unique way. The Gospels tell us that like the tabernacle, the Holy Family is constantly on the move while Mary is pregnant and after Jesus is born.
If we were totally unfamiliar with Christianity or the story of the nativity, we would still be aware of Mary’s presence and perhaps her role in bringing about the great incarnation of God. All we have to do is go to the US Post office and ask for a Christmas stamp to know that this woman is the “lead role” in the Christmas story. If there were a Nativity movie that earned an Oscar nomination, Mary would definitely qualify for the “Best Actress” whereas most of the other characters would probably only qualify for the “Best Actor in a Supporting Role.” Today’s Gospel lesson would undoubtedly be the soliloquy that would earn her the coveted “little gold man.”
The song she sings is one of the most beloved pieces of scripture in the Bible. Mary, glowing with the news of her pregnancy, rushes to visit her cousin Elizabeth. Elizabeth doesn’t squash her excitement with a raised eyebrow or suspicious questions about the origins of the baby, instead she exclaims with joy and prophetic zeal. “Blessed are you among women, and the fruit of your womb! What makes me so special that the mother of my Lord would come to visit me?” She tells Mary that she is also with child, and the two babies they are carrying are connected in a very special way, because the two are going to change the world together.
Then Mary erupts into a song the church calls by its first Latin word—Magnificat anima mea Dominum. My soul “magnifies” the Lord. The Magnificat is a song of great awe and wonder and intimacy with God. If anyone is qualified to sing it, it is definitely the woman who is carrying the very incarnation of God in her womb. The song is radical, it is bold, and some would say it is foolish.
The foolish song of Mary celebrated a God who doesn’t really seem to stand up to the test of “reality.” Perhaps Mary just has her head “buried in the sand,” but it does not seem that God ever “brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly.” Israel had a long history of being dominated and subjecated by whatever Empire happened to be controlling the trade routes of the time. At the time Mary was singing her song of praise, Israel had been dominated by the Romans for 63 years. For a very short period proceeding that, Israel was ruled by a family of Jewish warlords who sold the priesthood to the highest bidder and weren’t exactly “lowly.” The Greeks, Babylonians, Assyrians, Persians, Egyptians all had a chance to rule over Israel. Did Mary simply make bad grades in her History and Social Studies classes at school?
What about the idea that God “fills the hungry with good things and sends the rich empty away?” When has this ever happened? There may have been times when the hungry have been filled with good things, but I don’t know when the rich have ever been sent empty away, except perhaps in the Marxist revolutions! Is Mary a Marxist? We all know that system of government just doesn’t work!
Perhaps it is because I was a child who desperately wanted to be an archaeologist and would dig in my back yard and out in the field by my house with all my tools, but upon reading this passage of scripture this past week, I literally pictured Mary’s soul as a magnifying glass. I mean, she does say that her soul “magnifies” the Lord! But perhaps Mary’s song, Mary’s faith and joy and glowing pregnancy is indeed a magnification of how things really are. You see, with a magnifying glass, you can see quite a bit of detail that is imperceptible to the unaided eye. If I look at the bulletin with the magnifying glass, I can see the places the printer put more or less ink on each letter.
To return to the foolishness of Mary’s song, her proclamation that the “Lord has looked with favor on the lowliness of His servant, and that the Lord has blessed her” on the surface would seem to ring hollow in her ears as she watched her son 30 years later go off on a rambunctious mission that she herself would try to talk him out of, and that in return Jesus would seemingly disown her in favor of his ragtag band of fishermen, tax-collectors, and prostitutes. But through her magnifying glass, Mary perhaps can see that no matter how much a mother would cling to her son, and that no matter how horrific the sight of him hanging on a cross for the very things she tried to talk him out of, his life was lived for her and for the world in a way that no else could have.
So how does all this reconcile? We wouldn’t be here today if we just shrugged our shoulders at these inconsistencies between the proclamations of her song and the facts. What is the key to Mary’s foolish faith? IF we hold up the magnifying glass of our faith, how does her song ring true? Perhaps our magnifying glass could see a small detail that might uncover the meaning of her foolishness. Her song sounds a little less ignorant when we consider something called Kairos.
You see, Kairos is a Greek word for a type of time. Kronos is an aspect of time that we can measure. Kronos is the clock that this world operates on. Kairos on the other hand, is an aspect of time that moves at a different pace. It is not measureable. It is a quality of time that some theologians say is apprehended in the mind of God. It is the quality of time that is spent rocking a baby, or holding a dying person’s hand while they exhale their last breath.
Whether you know it or not, Time is a central aspect of this season. Advent itself means “coming.” We wait for something that has already happened, and at the same time has not yet happened. The magnifying glass of our faith gives us the sight that God’s time is fundamentally different from our own. In the mind of God, something that we are waiting for is already realized. God plants the vision of what has been realized in our minds and draws us nearer to it, but we must take the initiative to grasp that vision. This is what Jesus means when he grows up and says to the Pharisees in Luke 17: 20, “The Kingdom is not coming with signs that can be observed…the kingdom is already here in your midst and you do not see it.”
Though Mary’s song sounds ignorant or foolish or even idiotic at first glance, if we realize that Elizabeth and Mary are “filled with the Holy Spirit” when they are making such proclamations, we might be able to understand that they are seeing more deeply than what is on the surface. They are viewing the world in Kairos time. Kairos encourages us to wait and have joyful anticipation for an event that happened 2 millenia ago.
When we hold up the magnifying glass of our faith, when we see the great detail and complexity of a life lived in hope and anticipation, we begin to understand that what we know as wisdom in this life is great foolishness compared with the great transcendent wisdom of our Father.
When we look at the idea that the hungry are given food and the rich are sent empty away through the magnifying glass of faith, we can see the details of truth that show us our riches and belongings are distractions from the path of Christ and that a heart hungry for truth and justice can be much more filling than one hungry for more possessions. Through the magnifying glass of faith, we can see that the proud and powerful are indeed brought low by their insatiable egos, while the lowly are lifted up by their example of humility.
Ultimately it may not be Mary’s song that is foolishness, but what we generally perceive to be “the hard facts” that are “foolish.” When our hearts beat in Kairos time, it is more apparent that the things we generally put a premium on are worthless and the things we spend our life ignoring are precious jewels. Christmas is a time when this truth attempts to break through the veneer of our common distractions. God born in a barn….A poor virgin being impregnated by the Holy Spirit…Wise men from the East tracking down a star only to find a poor peasant boy, and then giving him gifts of gold, frankincense and muihr. The circumstances all bend our expectations—they prepare us to receive a great gift, which is beyond us and at the same time in our midst, behind us and at the same time before us, within us and at the same time around us.
The story of Christmas turns our usual ideas of power and importance and glory and all on its head, and Mary’s song celebrates this great, insane vision of a world in a way molded by the prophets, and brought to a new kind of reality in the life of the little baby she carries. Though the church may have lost touch with the revolution this song calls for, it is still captured in the fervent anticipation of advent, when we wait for the coming of a man who would boldly proclaim The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." and would understand that reality within his own heart. This we believe is the nature and presence of Christ. When we strive toward this mission, we strive toward Christ’s mission, and Christ becomes born anew in our midst! Thanks be to God, amen!


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