a sermon for the 4th Sunday of Advent
Mary was not only the mother of Jesus. She was also his first disciple and witness. So what does her song teach us?
Over the years, my wife Rindy and I have collected a ton of Christmas albums. Every year, we’ll buy one or two new ones, just to hear all of the old standards sung in some new way by the latest musical groups. We have all sorts of different kinds of Christmas music in our collection – gospel, soul, rock, country, classical, choral. We have themed music like Alvin and the Chipmunks, the Charlie Brown Christmas, Jingle Dogs. We have pop singers like Barry Manilow and Barbara Streisand. We have jazz groups like Dave Grusen and Oscar Peterson, and a capella groups like The Roaches and Pentatonix. You get the idea – lots and lots of Christmas music.
For the most part, all of the songs are the on these albums are the traditional favorites. But every once in a while, someone writes a new song that tells a part of the story in a different way. In the 1950’s, the new song was “Little Drummer Boy” and it reflected the time just after the war when the country was still recovering financially from the costs of the WWII. In the 60’s, it was “Snoopy and the Red Baron” and “Let There Be Peace On Earth,” both of which were statements about the Vietnam War. In the 1990’s, we started hearing a beautiful song that was written by Mark Lowery and Buddy Green in the early 1990’s. It’s called “Mary Did You Know,” and it starts like this:
Mary, did you know that your Baby Boy would one day walk on water?
Mary, did you know that your Baby Boy would save our sons and daughters?
Did you know that your Baby Boy has come to make you new?
This Child that you delivered would soon deliver you?
This song has a haunting and beautiful melody, and the lyrics describe much of the life and ministry of Jesus: healing the blind and the lame, raising the dead, and saving us all from sin. It is a powerful song that tells us who Jesus was from the singer’s perspective. But it doesn’t tell us very much about Mary.
In today’s Gospel, we learn a lot about Mary. She traveled to visit Elizabeth after having met with the angel Gabriel. So far, she hasn’t told a single person about what she and the angel discussed: that she was favored by God, and that she would bear a son and name him Jesus. But when Elizabeth sees her, she knew immediately that Mary was pregnant with the one who would be her Lord and savior.
This is when we finally get to hear the voice of Mary, the first woman to preach in the New Testament. Most probably, she was a young woman in her early teens when she first consented to bear the child, Jesus. But that doesn’t mean that she didn’t understand the enormity of what God was asking her to do. By all accounts, she was a spiritually mature young woman who understood her role in God’s plan for saving the world. And so, instead of lifting the quavering voice of a girl who is unsure of who she or her child is, instead of questioning why God chose her to do what she had agreed to do, she lifts up a song in the strong confident voice of a worldly young woman.
My soul exalts the Lord, and my sprit rejoices in God my savior!
God will form God’s kingdom here on earth and turn everything upside down.
God will humble the proud.
God will overcome the powerful, while lifting up the lowly.
God will feed the hungry, while sending the rich away empty handed.
God will free his people, Israel, just has he promised to do thousands of years ago.
God will do this through the child that I am carrying.
Mary’s song is one of the most powerful and courageous passages in the bible. It is a song of a young woman who has committed her soul and body to God, so that God’s plan for the salvation of the world might come about. It is a song of joy and hope, of strength and peacefulness all at the same time. It is also a song of protest against the fear, violence and oppression that was so prevalent in Israel under Roman authority.
Of course, lately we’ve had more than our share of our own fear, violence and oppression. I think that’s why our generation could use a song like Mary’s, a song that reminds us that God came into the world to live among us so that we could learn not how to destroy each other but to love one another. A song that tells us that the world we live in is not what God has in mind for us. A song that shows us that like Mary, we too, are bearers of God for the poor, the sick, the weak and oppressed. We are partners with God in bringing about justice and peace in the world.
In just a few minutes, you’ll hear another song that was written in the early 1990’s, “The Canticle of the Turning,” sung by many of the women of the congregation. It’s a modern version of Mary’s song that describes how God stirs us and turns us, and makes the whole world new. How, in the birth of Jesus, a new creation is at hand.
As you listen to the song, I’d like you to think about how it depicts Mary – not as a scared, young teenager, but as a strong, young woman who is confident in her faith and her devotion to God. As someone who is literally giving her whole self to God’s mission to save the world.
Our job is not to change the world. God has already changed the world, and continues to change the world, through Jesus Christ. Our job is to live faithfully into the changes that God has already made in us. That the proud will be humbled, and the hungry fed, and rich and powerful will be sent away empty handed when we work to bring God’s kingdom about here on earth. That all this will come about when we commit our whole selves to God’s plan to save the world, seeking justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with our God.
My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my savior,
for he has looked with favor upon the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on, all generations will call me blessed.