Advent Week 4 - "Love Will Keep Us Together"
Today is the Fourth Sunday of the season of advent, and as we've already seen, the day we light the Candle of Love. The Fourth Sunday of Advent has been celebrated by the historic Church as a day when everything is turned upside down. The proud are made low, the fortunes of the poor are lifted--and all of this comes from the passage of Scripture that we'll be reading shortly from the Gospel of Luke.
In the Middle Ages this particular Sunday in Advent became widely known as the Feast of Fools. Wealthy and high-born people would dress like paupers and paupers would dress like nobles. The clergy would often become targets for lampooning and jest--often to what we might consider extremes.
The idea behind this celebration was simple: Through Jesus, God turned the world upside down. The old order is no more. There is equity at last. For those who have been on the bad end of things there is now justice, mercy and peace. For those who resist the kingdom of God in favor of the kingdom of this world--there will be judgement and a reversal of fortune.
In the words of the classic rock band, the Kinks, "It's a mixed up, muddled up, shook up world."
The reversal of fortune celebrated during the Feast of Fools was a symbol of how things ought to be--those on the outside are now on the inside. And all because God's great love turns everything upside down.
The passage of Scripture that we're going to be reading today is called the Magnificat, or the Song of Mary. And what we're going to discover today on this Fourth Sunday of Advent--when we ponder the great love of God for the world that he would send his Son--is simply this:
We all have a chapter in God's great big love story.
Let's read Luke 1:46-55:
46 And Mary said:
“My soul glorifies the Lord
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
holy is his name.
50 His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
51 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
53 He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful
55 to Abraham and his descendants forever,
just as he promised our ancestors.”
Let me give you just a little bit of background here. Mary sings this song after she hears from the angel Gabriel that she is going to be the mother of God incarnate, which prompted her to go and meet with her cousin Elizabeth, who happens to be pregnant.
Now Elizabeth is also pregnant by way of a miracle because she and her husband Zechariah were too old to have children--but as you recall from a couple of weeks ago, that all changed when Zechariah (who was a priest) encountered Gabriel in the Holy of Holies when he was serving there. Gabriel told Zechariah that he and his wife would have a son and that his son would be the herald of the coming Messiah.
It is likely that Mary knew about Elizabeth's miraculous pregnancy, and wanted to seek her advice, or just have someone to share her own news with--someone who would actually believe her.
And when Mary arrives to see Elizabeth, the baby John the Baptist leaps inside his mother's womb, and Elizabeth actually breaks into her own song as she realizes that Mary is carrying the Messiah---and her child is responding to the Lord, for whom he is to be the herald and messenger.
I think guys might have a harder time understanding this than women would--particularly women who've been pregnant and experienced the weird moments when their babies would go crazy inside the womb.
I love this little moment. It personalizes the great, big cosmic love story that God is writing. The world is about to be transformed, everything is about to be set into motion to bring the kingdom of God to earth---and we get to see how all of that affects individual lives in incredible ways.
Then Mary sings. She sings in the tradition of other great women in the Bible: Miriam, the sister of Moses, who sang on the shores of the Red Sea after the Israelites crossed over and escaped the Egyptians; Deborah the great judge who sang after the Israelites won a great battle...
This song is like an aria in the middle of an opera. It stops the action to celebrate God's greatness. The greatness of God rightly rouses fear in those who have the sense to understand just how incredible God's greatness really is. But Mary's song helps us to understand that the fear of God is overcome by his love for us. God's love makes us unafraid of God's greatness.
In other words, we don't need to understand all of the many ways that God is moving and acting in the universe, we just need to trust that God's great love is at the heart of all God is doing.
This love is what the Hebrew people called hesed or lovingkindess. God's lovingkindness endures, lasts forever. It never wavers, never lessens, and never leaves us.
And here's something beautiful about this song--not only does Mary remind us of the greatness and lovingkindness of God... not only does she sing about the way the world ought to be, and will be when God gets what God wants... she is singing with a particular voice.
Mary's voice is the voice of the ordinary, the marginalized, the left out, the not good enough... Her voice is the voice of a young, teenage girl in a society where young, teenage girls were basically property to be traded. She is pregnant out of wedlock, and her fiancee could very well have her put to death for betraing him if he so desired.
Her voice is a small voice---singing about great, big beautiful things. Singing about the great big love story that God is writing.
What Mary's song teaches us, if we are wiling to listen is this: It doesn't matter how small we think we are--how insignificant, not worthy or broken... We all have a chapter in God's great big love story.
What kind of song could you sing, if you were Mary? What story would your song share? Would it be a grand, epic love story? Or do you feel like your song has been lost, your voice is not good enough to sing? Or maybe you feel like you haven't really been a part of God's great big love story---that you've been on the margins of it for a very long time, maybe your whole life.
I would invite you to rethink things, if you are feeling like you've been on the outside looking in. God is a God of the underdogs. God is the God of the second chance. You have a song to sing--a song about your very own chapter in God's great big love story.
The reason why this resonates with us so deeply is because we know this--we know this deep down inside of our souls. It's printed on our DNA because we are created in the image of God, and naturally long to be in tune with the song and story that God is creating all around us.
We know this because we've experienced it. Each and every one of us can look back in our lives to the very personal moments when God used people to help write a chapter of our own story. I can think of so many of these over the course of my life.
Before Merideth and I got married I was a wreck. I was 22 years old, already divorced and developing a drinking problem. I was leaving a wake of broken relationships and bad choices behind me everywhere I went. One night I went to an arena football game with some friends, and predictably got completely hammered drunk.
It just so happened that a high school friend was sitting two rows down from me. She was only home for a short time on a visit, and had come to the game on a whim with some friends. She also happened to be Merideth's best friend in high school. Well, we saw each other and she was so upset by the state that I was in that she called Merideth and urged her to give me a call to check on me.
Merideth got my phone number from my mom and called me. She was three weeks away from getting married. She called me on a Wednesday, by Friday the guy was kicked to the curb. This was in July. By October we were officially a couple, in November we got engaged, and in January of 1992 we were married.
Years later, we had that same friend over for dinner and I told her the story and how much she meant to Merideth and I because of the role she played.
She didn't even remember it. It was a straight up miracle, and she didn't even remember it.
Many years later, Merideth and I were just getting involved in a small Presbyterian church in Tallahassee. Someone nominated me to serve on the Christian Education committee and my first meeting was on the night that they discussed what to do about hiring a youth director. I didn't know who nominated me at the time, or why. But that night I literally felt the hands of God on my shoulders as they talked about hiring someone to pastor their youth.
After the meeting I called the pastor and told him that I felt God might be calling me to apply for the position. A week later they offered it to me. There were six kids in the group when we arrived. Four years later Merideth and drove out of that church parking with all of our worldly goods packed in a moving truck---we were on our way to Chicago so I could attend seminary to become a pastor.
Almost 50 high school kids and junior highers waved goodbye to us that night, along with many of the church members---including the man who nominated me to serve on that committee years earlier. When he did it, he had no idea what he was starting.
The reason I know that I have a chapter in God's great big love story is because of what I have experienced in my own life. All the moments all the miracles, they just blow me away when I stop to think about them.
And all of those moments lead us to this one where I am standing in front of you preaching the Good News of Jesus Christ---singing my own kind of song---and telling you about how much God loves you and wants you to know you are part of the story of how he's saving the world.
I don't care who you are, what you've done, what's been done to you, where you've come from, what you've had to overcome to get here.... No matter how small you think you are, inadequate, unprepared...
We all have a chapter in God's great big love story.
And what's at the heart of God's great big love story anyway?
Well it's the story of a girl who was willing to risk it all. A boy who loved her and cherished her despite what his friends and family said about her. It's the story of a tiny baby in a manger, a group of worshipful shepherds, a star, wise men...
It's the story of a cross--a borrowed tomb and a rolled away stone on Easter Sunday morning.
It's a love story.
For God so loved the world that he sent his only Son, and whoever believes in God's Son--Jesus Christ--will have everlasting life.
We all have a chapter in God's great big love story. Tell your story, sing it if you can. Because the One who loves you beyond all love is the One who is saving the world all around us, one heart, one life at a time.