This is our last Christmas together. When I thought about what I would like to give you today, I knew that you have heard a hundred thousand words form me. Deb paid me a beautiful compliment in a meeting a few weeks ago when she read a mission statement that she said I could have written. It was grounded in how much we are loved by God. If there is one thing I want you to hear from any sermon, it is how much you are loved by God. Deb’s comment told me that you’ve heard me. So I decided to share with you some of the words I love, words that feed my soul, that inspire me, and that make my spirit dance. What you will hear this morning are mostly not my words, but on this day when we hear Mary’s heart song, I want to share some reflections on her song that make my heart sing.
But first, since I think it’s often hard for us to hear the scriptures as a love song, I thought we could hear Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s classic love poem, “How Do I Love Thee?” Could you hear these words as God’s love for you and yours for God?
How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.
I love thee to the level of every day's
Most quiet need, by sun and candlelight.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
I love with a passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints, -- I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life! -- and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.
If I could tell you one thing . . .
The Christian faith is not a system of ethics, although ethics or right living is central to our faith.
It is not a philosophy of life, although faith is about every part of our life and the way we understand our being.
The Christian faith is an epic love story between God and humanity. The Creator of the seas and mountains and stars loves you and me with a passion that is searching and constant. According to theologian Ed Foley, “The scriptures are the narrative of God’s relentless pursuit of us. At its core, this is a narrative of extraordinary love through creating and covenanting, redeeming and reconciling, and always relentless pursuit despite our wanton neglect of the eternal initiative and our frequent truancy from the divine path. The One who brought us into being incessantly broods over us.” Storyteller John Shea describes God as “a wide-eyed insomniac pacing the night sky scheming to get us back.”
You want to see miracles in your life? Return God’s passion for you! Allow God’s passion to be born in you. Say yes to God as Mary did.
You might begin with these words:
I trust you to love me and to provide for my every need.
I want what you want.
I give my life to your vision.
Imagine giving your life to God’s vision as Mary did. Poet and pastor Steve Garnaas-Holmes envisions a conversation with Mary to learn the secret to her openness:
can I sit with you,
this dark and silent season,
and learn to open myself?
Will you teach me
to listen for the penetrating voice of angels,
to say yes to God,
to allow love to grow within me?
Will you sit with me
in my questions and doubts,
and teach me not to be afraid of the dark?
Will you teach me
what it is to surrender
to God’s passion,
to desire God’s desire for you?
Can I wait with you,
the two of us, inadequate and chosen,
swelling with sacred promise,
will you wait with me,
my heart enfolded in blue and gold,
God conceived within me?
Can you imagine God conceived within you? That God would make God’s home within you or work from within you? How do you imagine God’s love for you taking shape or form? Where does that love reside? Is it outside of you, or inside?
The Christian faith makes another claim in this love story. God loves your neighbor as much as God loves you. Luke begins his gospel with two songs. We sing Zechariah’s song in the morning, hearing that we, like Zechariah’s son John the Baptizer, are to prepare the way of the Lord:
“And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
to give knowledge of salvation to his people
by the forgiveness of their sins.
By the tender mercy of our God,
the dawn from on high will break upon[h] us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
Our job every day is to offer forgiveness so that people can know how much they are loved. Making peace depends on forgiveness.
Mary’s song is sung in Evening Prayer. Mary sings of a world made new for the poor and the outcast, through God’s faithful love.
Theologian Elise Esslinger muses on Mary’s song:
...my spirit rejoices in God my Savior...
Over these past years, with many others, I have fallen in love with the beauty of Mary's Magnificat (Luke 1:46b-55), even as we are challenged by its text. This bold, prophetic canticle of praise has been sung in Evening Prayer (as well as during Advent) since early centuries of the Church. Have you wondered why? How do we embody such a song?
Certainly, the canticle invites us to join Mary in praising the Holy One who blesses and redeems all who are ready to say "yes" to God's invitation to receive Jesus: to love and follow him in faith.
...my spirit sings of the wondrous things that you bring to the ones who wait.*
Yet even more dynamically, Mary's song captures the essence of Jesus' upturning ministry: to fulfill the shalom of God in ways which demand reversal and turnaround of the way things are in a violent world, to raise up the poor ones. This is difficult and sometimes dangerous work. It is what Jesus did, and what Jesus does through us, enlivened and emboldened by the Spirit.
A rousing Irish melody supports the urgent refrain in Rory Cooney's rendition of Mary's song: My heart shall sing of the day you bring. Let the fires of your justice burn. Wipe away all tears, for the dawn draws near, and the world is about to turn! *
In our congregations, the hymns, songs and canticles of this season and its Scripture do invite us to expectant, prayerful waiting and to incarnational, prophetic living as the Body of Christ, in the spirit of the Magnificat. To turn.
May we also this season experience anew Christ as the Bread of Life -- with the poor ones at the feeding trough in Bethlehem, in shared meals, and always at the Table where all are welcome.
May our spirits rejoice in the gift of Christ Jesus, the embodiment of God's shalom, as we continue our journey of faithful formation in Christ, seeking together, boldly, to turn the world around!