This week we continue the journey of God's people to the manger of Bethlehem. Last week we recalled Luke's story of how Mary received a word from God through the angel Gabriel that she was: (1) not to fear because she has found favor with God, (2) going to bring God's son into the world to show God's identification with those created in God's-self image (Imago Dei), and (3) that this son would be fully human (100% human) and fully divine (100% God).
This week we turn to Mary's encounter with her older cousin Elizabeth. Gabriel consoled Mary as he announced that she would give birth with the news that Elizabeth and Zechariah, who many thought would never be able to have children, had been already blessed with the coming birth of a son. When Mary comes for a visit, the child leaps in Elizabeth's womb and a duet for the ages emerges:
Mary’s Song of Praise
- Mary sings of a spiritual revolution that comes when the Lord "scatters the proud in the thoughts of their hearts" (Luke 1:51). This past week has been a lesson in humility for me. As many of your know, my daughter got sick in the middle of the week and ultimately had her appendix removed on Friday night. I would like to think that through it all I was a rock, but the reality is this – I was scared! I may have preached last week about a "no fear" faith, but when I looked at the fear that covered my daughter's face as the diagnosis unfolded I had nothing to offer. Nothing to offer my daughter but the prayers of a father. But I knew something that Ann will get to know as she grows in her faith, I could get others to pray with me. I called my parents, sent text messages my covenant group, and "twittered" my need for prayers to Facebook and a miracle unfolded. Jim from Hawaii, Steve from Long Island, Margaret from Virginia, Cheri from Ohio, Marti from the mountains, Rich, Clint, and Laurie from the Triangle, family from across the globe all began to pray. Their notes of encouragement buoyed my spirits and brought amusement to Ann's face. "Who are these people?" she asked. I could only respond with they are the body of Christ alive and well in the world. Pay attention to Mary's words today. How many of us are too proud to confess that the uncertain times we face are causing us to have faint hearts? How many of us suffer because we have tried to go it alone for so many years? How many us need to have our pride scattered to the ends of the earth?
- Then Mary announces that a political revolution is coming with Jesus into the world. Many of us face the world uncertain about whether or not we need to support a gospel that "lifts up the lowly" and "brings the mighty down off their thrones" (Luke 1:52)? One of the prevailing myths in any society is that the rich and powerful are rich and powerful because they have been "blessed by God." Mary says "it ain't so!" When the Lord, the God of our Salvation is in charge then the mighty are brought down and the lowly are lifted up. Its not a word most of us want to hear. In fact, we usually dodge the question by pointing to others who are richer and more powerful than we are … the simple fact is folks that most of us in this room are richer than 85 percent of the world. Mary is talking about us! What I am saying is that when some folks started sitting in the front of the bus, drinking out of the wrong water fountain, and using the wrong restrooms that the Lord was on their side! We are torn between the pride we individually have that we were created in the image of God while acknowledging that someone else born in another land, living in a different skin, sharing differing body parts are also created in the image of God. We want distinctions made in this world and the world that is to come, but God makes no such promise based on the parents chose, and the choices we made about where and when we come into the world. Let's acknowledge today that we need to be more than a "chip off the old block," we need to come down and live among both God's saints and sinners.
- Finally Mary promises that the child leaping in her womb brings with him an economic revolution. Again we need to remember our place among the wealthiest 15 percent of the world's population when Mary boldly states: "the hungry will be filled and the rich sent away with nothing when my son comes into the world" (Luke 1:53). Now my son is at a point in his life when he tells me everyday that he is hungry, and no doubt this ten-year old is! But I have worked in the drought zone of eastern Africa, I have led work teams alongside the poor of the Caribbean and Latin America, and I have served with our church members when we have fed the poor with the North Carolina Food Bank, prepared meals with Stop Hunger Now, and carried food to the Mary's Kitchen. Having said that, as I look around this body (starting with me obviously) I am not gazing on the hungry – those weakened by the lack of proper nutrition. Politicians of all stripes speak words that distract our attention away from God's sense of justice for those who have and those who have not. Here is how Jesus says in Luke's version of the Sermon on the Mount: "blessed are you who poor and the hungry now for then you will be filled" and "woe to the rich and satisfied now for then you will be hungry" (see Luke 6:20-26, also see Matthew 5:1-12).
I can say more, but I must start with a personal confession. After spending eighteen months among the world's poor I personally vowed I would never forget them, but I have willingly been distracted over the past twenty-five years. What did Mary say about the proud being scattered or was it shattered? Where are you today? Where are you struggling with living into Mary's gospel proclamation? As you come to the Lord's feast today, I invite you to "taste and see that the Lord is good" and pause in reflection. Is this meal enough for me? What I am really asking is this: Is Jesus enough for you? Will Jesus satisfy your hungry heart or will you fill it with the stuff that distracts us from loving our God with our heart, soul, mind, and strength and loving our neighbor as ourselves?