Luke 1:46-55 New International Version (NIV)
46 And Mary said:
soul glorifies the Lord
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
holy is his name.
50 His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
51 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
53 He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful
55 to Abraham and his descendants forever,
just as he promised our ancestors.”
Mary’s song is also referred to in modern days as The Magnificat, as it’s signature line in Latin says, “My soul magnifies the Lord”. The actual musical piece called The Magnificat was written by Bach in 1723 and later put to words by others. It is known, especially in the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions as a canticle, a song or poem that is meant to be sung or chanted.
Of course, we do not know exactly the words of Mary when she found out about her becoming a mother, but in whatever oral tradition or story that was created by her or those around her at the time, her words as written in the Gospel of Luke, are to show us a faithful and loved child of God. A young woman that would become famous and known throughout generations as the mother of the Christ child and the way in which God came to us on earth.
The song of Mary also tells us that she knew what the Messiah was supposed to do for the world and what he was to be like, in his ancestry from Abraham, down through the lineage of David; to the giving of hope and sustenance to the hungry and poor; to scattering the rich and proud so that they are humbled. It was all part of God’s plan!
In the book of Isaiah, chapter 35, verses 4-6, Isaiah’s author says,
those with fearful hearts,
“Be strong, do not fear;
your God will come,
he will come with vengeance;
with divine retribution
he will come to save you.”
5 Then will the eyes of the blind be opened
and the ears of the deaf unstopped.
6 Then will the lame leap like a deer,
and the mute tongue shout for joy.
Water will gush forth in the wilderness
and streams in the desert.
The miracles will start when God comes to earth to save us. When God comes to guide the lost and we stop fearing the harsh realities of this lifetime. (This is about the time that I stop reading and thinking, if in my living room, and I look silently at the lit Christmas tree, in awe and thankfulness because the harsh realities can grip us so much of the year.) For God will have revenge on our enemies, it says, and he will take revenge on those that we really wish we could have vengeance upon. God will be the one to retaliate and save us. Then the miracles will occur of the blind seeing, the deaf hearing, the lame being able to run, let alone walk, and “water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the dessert.”
Now, if that is not the message of what God will bring through the Word (Jesus) made flesh and blood, and brought into the neighborhood a reality from his miraculous birth from Mary. I don’t know what is.
In our first week of talking about Advent, we spoke of hope and of the need to be patient and listen for God, not only every day, but every minute, and that we need not to rush through our time of Advent to get to the prize of Christ’s birthday, without taking in the greatness of hope and the growth of our endurance that waiting for Christmas day brings. It “attunes us to God’s timetable, says author Mark Villano. (Time to Get Ready, p. 69)
We spoke in the second week of faith and how a growth in faith cannot occur if we simply put our faith on the shelf until we are desperate to lean on it, or simply see it as the sacred china or special candy that can only be brought out for holy and special occasions. Advent may see like it is a once a year tradition and it is, but it is a set of 4-5 weeks that is not just a holy time, but a time to tell the first of our faith’s stories from the Gospels, to introduce the one we know already has come, and who will come again, Jesus our Lord and Savior, the Christ or Messiah; born on that faith-filled night in Bethlehem.
We can start a new year with the new word, repeated as a beloved part of our history, not a fable or fairy tale, and certainly not as a boring or unneeded part of our past. Faith leads us to places of mystery and into peace with the fact that we are not God and we will never understand everything about God or about this lifetime on earth. Not now, at least, but that is ok. That is why it is called faith. That is why we sometimes have to ask ourselves to look beyond what we see and what we can fully appreciate, to an understanding of the heart and an openness to what God will allow us to comprehend at any given moment.
Today, with the third week of Advent being about joy, we come, tells Mark Villano, to “Guadete Sunday”; a term meaning ‘rejoice’ in Latin. (p.74)
It is not that with our day to day lives we are always rejoicing. It is not that we will have joy in our hearts and have no other moods or emotions. No, it is not that easy. But the joy part comes with the knowledge of God’s tremendous love and grace for us; knowing God has given the ultimate gift to us and come incarnate to us. God has prepared all that is around us, especially when we sit and take in the stories of Advent and Christmas time, preparing ourselves for Christ once more. Then we rejoice, because as Christians, we hopefully realize just how much God has given us by coming to us through Christ. The joy is to be eternal, because God’s gift of Christ is eternal and is a never ending show of God’s love for us.
Someone asked me once if I ever had doubts. I wanted to laugh a deep full laugh, but I think I just chuckled a bit. I tried not only to say that all of us have doubts when it comes to faith. Doubts are normal and expected, as humankind wants everything to be pure black and white, yet God is not. But if we have temporary doubts or struggles, because of how hard it is to believe in something so grand and so far beyond our complete understanding, we can look back and see that we are in good company. Many of God’s most faithful have had doubts. Even Jesus’ cousin, born specifically to Elizabeth and Zechariah so to aid in the announcement of Jesus’ coming, had his doubts. Doubts that came even though Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptist, had himself prophesied that Jesus was the one and was at hand.
The Gospel of Matthew tells us clearly of John the Baptist’s doubts, even though John has already acknowledged who Jesus is when he baptizes him. He has already claimed to Jesus that it is he who should be baptized by Jesus, not Jesus by him. No doubt, John’s parents and others in their family have told him all of his life about who Jesus is and yet when he is later imprisoned and Jesus is already 30 years old, but just starting his ministry with the 12 disciples, doing miracles that he is hearing about when in prison, John sends his own men to question Jesus. He wants to know if Jesus truly is the Messiah and he wants to hear it from what Jesus will say.
Matthew 11:1-5 NIV
11 After Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and preach in the towns of Galilee.[a]
2 When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples 3 to ask him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”
4 Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: 5 The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy[b] are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.
Jesus was telling John from the words of Isaiah and Jeremiah, from the times of Zephaniah and other prophets of the Old Testament, that he, Jesus, was the Messiah. He was doing as they had all said he would do, and people could see it happening with their own eyes. The good news was to be proclaimed….The time of the Lord was at hand.
Joy, like Faith, is a hard concept to keep ahold of 100% of the time. No matter who you are, what you have been taught from childhood on, or what you want to believe, it can disappear quickly, if not practiced, thought about and prayed about. One moment it is so apparent, you can taste it in the air. The next minute, our fear and wish of proof takes it and smothers it out, like the light of the candles we lit this morning. Joy though, is much like the Kingdom of God that was the good news Jesus brought to the earth. It is here and now, starting with Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. It is here and now because of the eternal love God always had for us yet had to reconcile us to because of our fears, by having the Lord become flesh and become our neighbor at least for a while, physically here with us.
The Kingdom of God is always still to come though too. It is only fully understood in the future, when with God ourselves. But fear not, sisters and brothers, our vulnerabilities in not understanding or knowing “for sure” all that we wish to, is not something to ruin or temper our joy in knowing God. For through Christ, we see that God loves us just as we are and wherever we are…here and now…forever and ever.
Just as the prophets and saints of yesteryear lived, we live in times of natural disasters, war, famine, economic and political shifts that bring about panic and create barriers to our peace and joy. Yet, that is what Advent and Christmas are to remind us…God came to us that Christmas day, because of God’s love, and by the birth of the Lord, the one who came to us, is always still with us through the Holy Spirit, and who will come again. This faith story is one to tell and retell for all ages and time periods. It is how we have a joy that is never-ending and all in God’s hands… so Rejoice and Again I say Rejoice! Amen.