Advent 4—Year C—December 23, 2012
Preached at the Lutheran Church of Framingham
Let the words of my mouth and the mediations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, oh Lord, our strength and redeemer. Amen.
I do not know if the same is true for you, but music has always played a big part in my life. My mom sung in choirs as I was growing up. My brother and I were both encouraged to play instruments and sing in school and at church. In recent years, I have tried to teach myself to play the piano and the guitar with limited success, but during both endeavors, I experienced that moment when I stopped making noise and started making music. There is something magical about that moment, not just because something that you have worked so hard for has been accomplished, but because music is such a deep way of personal expression for me.
I am moved by music in ways that a simple poem or line of prose just cannot. I am known by my family and friends as a crier at movies (only second to my mother). My dad and brother have been known to walk of a movie theater twenty steps in front of me because I am still sobbing. There have been times that have teared up at just a short movie trailer or even at the brief Welcome movie at the Constitution Center in Philadelphia. It was there, feeling absolutely ridiculous because I was crying about a seven-minute vignette about an old historical document, that I finally realized why I cry so much at movies. It is the music! If you swell an orchestra at just the right moment, I can be moved to care about an otherwise unlikable character, and yes, moved to tears about a piece of paper signed by a bunch of old white guys.
For me, music has incredible power, it is the medium by which deep, complex emotions can be expressed when words alone seem to fall flat.
And even for people that are not as musically leaning as me, music still seems to have some deep connection to our brains and our bodies. It is hard not to at least tap your foot or move your shoulders when you hear a familiar melody or a good beat. Music gets stuck in our heads. This is why advertising jingles are so effective, and why our teens and tweens can recite every word of the latest Taylor Swift or Justin Beiber song, but they cannot seem to memorize their spelling words or the facts for their science test.
Keeping this fact about music’s soul-penetrating ability, it is no surprise that music is such a central part of religion. Commonly, songs and hymns become precious memory markers in our lives, we associate them with special events and people, we resonate deeply with a verse or two, they speak the gospel of Jesus Christ to us different than anyone can by preaching or teaching or reading from the Bible.
That important tradition of music started way back at the beginning…and we have many of the earliest hymns to and about God recorded in the Bible…Miriam, Moses’ sister, sings her thanks to God after the Israelites successfully cross the Red Sea…Hannah sings after her son Samuel is born… Zechariah sings the ‘Benedictus’ after his son, John the Baptist, is born when he is finally able to talk again…Simeon sings what we now refer to as the ‘Nunc Dimittis’ (“Now Lord, you let your servant go in peace”) when he saw Jesus for the first time…and today we read in our Gospel, and sing for our Psalmody, the Song of Mary, the Magnificat.
Mary is so filled with joy and God’s presence that, like her fellow singers in the Bible, she just cannot contain her excitement, so she breaks into song, praising God!
But Mary is not simply thanking God for blessing her with A pregnancy, or THIS miraculous pregnancy in particular, she barely even mentions herself. Mary sings in response to God turning the whole world upside down…for showing mercy, and strength, and scattering the proud, and casting down the mighty, and lifting up the lowly. There is a whole new world order now, and it is this glorious work of God that makes Mary break out into song. God feeds the hungry, comes to the aid of those who need God, and keeps promises forever.
Mary sings because the world is not just turned upside and sideways for her because of the baby she carries, but because the world is turned upside and sideways for everyone, all of humanity, past, present, and future. In Jesus, God brought justice, righteousness, and love into the world in a new way:
God did all these wonderful, song worthy things back in Mary’s day.
God is doing them today.
And God promised to continue to do them into the future, and ultimately, although not on Dec 21, 2012, bring them to completion.
Things will only continue to get together as God’s kingdom continues to break into our time and space. Just like Mary sings about, we can be assured, that God is at work in the world, comforting the families and friends of those killed in Sandy Hook—lifting up the lowly, bringing peace to those who are struggling with cancer—coming to their aid, and providing life giving food and water—good things—to those who have in the past not had enough. God is no longer tied to a specific location—seen to be only at the temple and ark of the covenant, God is also no longer seen as simply a far off puppeteer, God is incarnate, in-fleshed, walks and talks, dwells among humans as a human, and so we use the name Immanuel, literally translated as God-with-us.
We can be sure of this because we do not celebrate the incarnation, the nativity, Christmas all by itself. Here in the church, as Christians, we celebrate the birth of our Savior and Lord in light of Good Friday and Easter, keeping in mind Christ’s death and resurrection.
When we celebrate communion, we see Advent and Christmas, the incarnation where the holy joins with the common. We recognize Jesus present in, with, and under the bread and wine. But we also see Lent and Easter; we remember that Jesus was broken, given, shed, died and was raised so that all might share in God’s redeeming and life giving work in this world.
So as we conclude Advent, and move toward Christmas, we move toward the cradle AND the cross, that holy wood in two forms, one holding new life in the form of a baby, proclaimed by the song of a mother and angels, and the other delivering new life through the death of one.
It is with all this good news that Mary is overcome with emotion, and moved to sing about. The lowly are lifted up, by a little baby who grew into a man, who died on a cross for you. Amen.
God bless you with the joy of John the Baptist, for your Lord has come to you!
God bless you with the hope of Elizabeth, for God’s promises are being fulfilled.
God bless you with the faith of Mary, for the Savior of the world is doing great things.
And may God fill you with Christ’s love for the world this Christmas and always. Amen.