The Rev. Dr. C. Steven Teague, Rector
Fourth Sunday of Advent
Miracles alive! Liz is going to have a baby, finally after all these years. Hold on before you start planning a shower, it gets better. Liz’s cousin down the road is also pregnant! Of course, I’m speaking of Elizabeth and Mary from the gospel. They are excited and filled with great joy – but how many others will be? Liz joined AARP years ago. She’s, well, up in years. She’ll provoke glances and whispers, “Who does that old crone think she is? A baby at her age?” And Mary, engaged, not married, and pregnant. It’s not the sort of news that parents joyfully share with the neighbors.
And think about it – an old woman, an unmarried teenager – about to give birth to little Forerunner and Messiah. How like God to bet the house and lift up two lowly women – an old speechless husband and a fiancé who’s still weighing his options. Are these people crazy enough to believe God calls the likes of them to be world-changers? They have no voice, no status or power. The women simply trust God, while old Zechariah and Joseph sit on the sidelines scratching their heads. These are ones God uses to get things done in His world – the lowly and powerless.
Mary goes to visit her cousin. Liz gushes all over Mary – “Blessed are you and your fruit. Why does the mother of the Lord come visit me?” Both have learned their roles in God’s future. Then Mary breaks into song, one you may know, “Magnificat” – Canticle 15 in the Book of Common Prayer. Mary must be an Episcopalian.
And what a song she sings. God has restored the world order. For Mary it’s a done deal: proud scattered; powerful pulled down; lowly lifted up; hungry are filled and the rich get sent away empty – God’s great reversal of injustice. Promises made to Abraham, his descendants, Moses, David, prophets, are fulfilled in what’s about to happen. What will happen already has in God’s time zone.
I don’t know whether the headline was a cry of despair or a call to action. In response to the mass shooting in San Bernardino the New York Daily News asked if prayer is still appropriate. Their headline reads: “God Isn’t Fixing This.” Over the years prayers ascend, as more shootings take place, and more victims accumulate. Nothing changes. Yet here are two powerless women trusting God. They talk like God’s already fixed everything. Who will you trust, these two women, or media that tell us there’s more fear afoot now than just after 9/11? Who do we really trust?
God recruits Mary to birth the only counterterrorism plan that can right what’s wrong with us, with how we run this world, including creation, and treat others, including enemies and strangers. We need divine, not military help. In God we trust – well, let’s do just that. Even if the proud still strut; the powerful wield power; the lowly stay low; the rich are filled, and the hungry starve – who will we believe and trust? Maybe Mary’s mixed up on her verb tenses. One day, maybe, God will right the wrongs and redistribute justice – taking from the rich and giving to the poor, until everyone gets a fair share – and all shall see God’s salvation plan. If you can’t believe Mary’s song, when that day comes, look out. We are likely the ones God will bring down a notch or two so others can have something. Mary is so confident she sings as if it’s happened. Could listen closely to her confession? That’s the light Advent sheds on the world’s darkness. It’s up to us to sing it – to live it – to work with God’s restoration plan already started and finished, yes – and one day on earth fulfilled – righting wrongs, making all things new, standing with those in pain and despair, whispering, “This is not all.” We look forward to something better because our hearts, like Mary and Elizabeth, are centered in God. We can sing boldly, declaring hate, fear, violence, and degradation of anyone are being defeated as we allow God to shine divine love through us. Mary’s confession lifts us from despair into a hope that moves us beyond our suspicions, hurts, and fears. In God we see one another as God sees each of us now – gun totters, Muslim haters, Christian bashers, our enemies, and especially — politicians these days. All are our brothers and sisters in Christ. God’s love working on us takes us out of ourselves and into God’s realm; God who favors us enough to save us to do something useful in this world. Maybe God wants us to fix what’s wrong. I believe it’s called taking Jesus seriously.
How will God do this? Sorry – I don’t know. I never learned the details – just the faith. And that faith startles me all over again, as we sing, “O come, O come, Desire of nations, bind in one the hearts of all mankind; bid thou our sad divisions cease, and be thyself our King of Peace.” Can you pray that and mean it? Then we are the ones bound to the King of Peace for our kith and kin, and people we don’t yet know. When at Christmas we sing “Joy to the World,” are you an instrument of helping others meet the joy that God is come among us? We have alternative news for headlines we read, and for the fear, hate, despair and terror we hear these days. When fed fear and doom, don’t “inwardly digest” that stuff. God has the last word, and has shown us. Set your hearts upon God’s love and work with God to transform this world.
So let your soul magnify the Lord, your spirit rejoice. God looks with favor on you, calls you blessed – because you are. God has done great things for you. That’s good news – the only light that can overcome the darkness of our world, our sin, our brokenness. God’s love and grace keep coming after us until one day– all fear, all darkness, even death cease. It’s already happening. Magnify the Lord! Amen and Amen.