Sermon, Advent 4C, Sunday December 23, 2018
Luke 1: 46b-55 Song of Mary
Luke 1:39-45 Mary visits Elizabeth
39 At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, 40 where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 In a loud voice she exclaimed: ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! 43 But why am I so favoured, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!’
I marvel at Mary. Always have. Not in the sense of worshipping her, but in the sense of taking her lead. I think that is why Luke tells us about her; because there is a good lead; a good example; a good lead for us who worship Jesus the Messiah.
I have no doubt the video was right. Mary must have asked heaps of questions about the calling placed on her life. I can hear Mary asking; How did all this come to be? Will I say yes? Will I say yes to this high calling to bear the Son of God when it is all pretty scary!
This is part of this Christmas Dilemma we have been pondering in Advent. We live in two stories – this Christ-child with Mother Mary story, and the alternative one the world tells. It is hard to figure out how to listen to this biblical story the most, in a culture that is replacing it and overpowering it.
I read an excellent article by Greg Sheridan in The Australian, yesterday where he tells of the Chinese city of Langfang where the authorities have legally banned the decorations and celebrations of Christmas. Sheridan says that this suggests that Chinese Communist Party actually knows what Christmas is – a symbol of a movement – a subversive movement – Christianity. A movement that Beijing cannot control and that contradicts the communist (and I would say human) ideal by proposing that there is a higher authority than the Party (or than human ideals and visions).
I know people who genuinely want the values and the practices of Christian faith, like honesty, just rule of law, faithfulness in marriage, work ethic, care of the planet, spiritual disciplines and etc, but without the faith from which the values come.
People want the values without the faith; the Christmas without the religion, the good life without the gospel movement of repentance and confession of faith.
If I am honest, this includes many Western Christians who may have lost what we actually have. This at time includes me. It’s more natural to me to be my own truth and control my own life (even though I am kidding myself that I can!)
In the end the article rightly says that the values without the faith, the festival with the tinsel without the confession of faith in Jesus as the King who says he is The King of all kings and highest authority in my life is impossible.
Without the living Spirit breathing his living word which creates living faith in Jesus in people, the values eventually wither and die. This is because we naturally pull away from truth and deceive ourselves into being our own truth.
“The starting point is belief. Once the ineffable mystery of Christmas was embraced by our culture. The tinsel served the truth. The truth cannot be reshaped merely to serve the tinsel” (Greg Sheridan, The Australian, Dec 22, 2018, https://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/inquirer/without-transcendence-its-just-tinsel/news-story/f2dcbb37ca7093209de983fe132e1c70)
So, Christmas raises question for us: Will we let our heart go to this biblical story of a real God, a real person, in action in our world and in our lives since the world began, since the first Christmas and every Christmas since?
Will we say yes to his calling to repent and love as easily as we say yes to gifts and trees and family and food? If we say yes to this God calling in this child, it may be a scary yes.
It is a scary yes for Mary. She says yes sensing that saying yes to God’s invitation to be involved personally in his saving work in his broken world will probably mean many “yesses” for all her life. Even more, Mary may sense already that this child himself will have many more and difficult yeses to say before his life is complete.
This yes, to the call of the Christ-child to repent and believe in his gift of hope and life is scary because it is impossible for us. I know I am not enough to keep saying yes to his calling and his working in my life. I know I don’t know enough. I see that I can’t see enough. I hear that I can’t hear him all the time. I believe that I live with unbelief. I trust that only he can make his kingdom come in me and in his world.
I want to see. I want to hear. I want to have dreams of a good life, a better world in which children can flourish and grandies can love. But how and by whose power and promise?
Mary has dreams too. Mary dreams for this boy she loves. She knows that her single yes to bear him for the world will require much from that day onward. She knows that he himself will be required to say yes to things too difficult and dark for all of us.
Same for you and me who give our heart to this biblical witness to God’s coming. I sense that we will all have many yeses to speak as the long road of life continues if we are to be found in him at the last.
Advent says we are called to say yes to this impossible news – God in a human frame and flesh. Saying yes may be scary because we know it not a once-off yes; it is a life-long relationship that requires much even if it is the best news and the best life we could ever receive.
And the reward for this yes to Jesus and his calling at Christmas? Mary tells us. Mary sings us. Mary sings her delight at the yes she said. Mary calls out her invite to us to join her in singing and saying yes to this Advent King coming to change the game of life, shift the goal posts of success, swing things in favour of his story, his justice, his peace, his gracious love of every sinner on the planet.
Mary’s song; the Magnificat….
With all my heart I praise the Lord,
47 and I am glad because of God my Savior.
48 He cares for me, his humble servant.
From now on, all people will say
God has blessed me.
49 God All-Powerful has done
great things for me,
and his name is holy.
50 He always shows mercy
to everyone who worships him.
51 The Lord has used his powerful arm
to scatter those who are proud.
52 He drags strong rulers from their thrones
and puts humble people in places of power.
53 God gives the hungry good things to eat,
and sends the rich away with nothing.
54 He helps his servant Israel
and is always merciful to his people.
55 The Lord made this promise to our ancestors,
to Abraham and his family forever!
‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear!’
Blessed are you woman or man or child of faith in Jesus the Advent King! He has favoured you in the font, in the Body, in the meal, in the gifts of his Spirit and given you the calling of Mary – to bear the Son of God in your body, mind and spirit.
He is making his promises to you again today. Tomorrow he will stun you with his commitment and love again.
Say yes. Keep on saying yes. It is our delight. It is our heart story and our light for the journey.