Sunday, December 19, 2021

Moriah Hurst: This is how God loves

Love...while we wait  
Advent 4  
Luke 1:39-56; Micah 5:2-5a 

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Two different practices have been giving me life lately and providing invitations into spirit filled spaces. One practice is contemplation or as the leader of the group calls it “playing and praying with scripture”. You sit with a passage and imagine what could be going on in it. We have used today's passage over the last few weeks and there is so much here! Just the first verse offers a treasure trove for the imagination. Mary would have traveled between 80-100 miles to get to Elizabeth. Days and days of travel at that time.  Mary was young, maybe around 15, would she have traveled alone? On foot? Did she have morning sickness while she traveled? She was in her first trimester. Did Elizabeth have any idea that Mary was coming or that Mary was pregnant? You can see there is a lot here to consider.

As we read the start of the Magnificat or Mary’s song I was struck by the word Magnify. (slide of little girl) My brain went quickly to a little kid with a magnifying glass excitedly investigating nature. Intrigued by a leaf, an insect, or bark. The glass allowing them to get closer and see in more detail. (slide) Maybe I’m drawn to this because this is me as a little one.

I can almost hear a child calling out in wonder all they are noticing. “Look, the grass has a hairy edge. This bark has like 10 shades of brown. I can see all the parts of this grasshopper's legs!” (slide down) Mary starts this poem song with “My soul magnifies the Lord”. To magnify, to make larger and see closer. Maybe this song is doing that for God’s heart. Mary is staring intently and deeply at God and calling out what she sees there.

A thread of joy and song bubbles up from Mary in response to Elizabeth. It’s not a fluffy song of how good it feels to be a mother or how proud she is that this gift was given to her. Not much of it is about Mary at all. It is thanks and praise to God. Naming God’s surprising, power upsetting, consistent, justice filled, motherly love for God’s people. (slide Mary and Elizabeth)

God chooses unexpected people to be the bearers of this good news and these baby boys who will change the world. Elizabeth was old, had been barren and childless, making her worth in that time even less. Mary was young, descended from no one worth mentioning, and is pregnant outside of marriage. But Mary’s song emphasizes that God is acting well within God’s character in choosing her. Because this God brings down the powerful and raises up the lowly. God takes lowly outsiders and plunks them right at the center of the story. (slide down)

Mary’s words here echo Hannah’s song just after God had granted her a son, Samuel, and Hannah had given him back to God’s work in the temple. Mary must have known these words, maybe take them to heart. I memorized the Magnificat in college for a Lessons and Carols style service. The problem was I’m not great at putting whole passages to memory. I got on stage and delivered all the words but the verses weren’t in the right order. While mine was a fumbling mistake, Mary draws upon the words of her foremother Hannah and sings her own, re-imagined song.    

 (slide two women laughing) Mary is overflowing with praise and thanks. I wonder if it had been welling up inside her needing to burst forth. Finally, with Elizabeth's prophetic words of greeting, Mary hears a human naming her coming son as Lord. Full of the Holy Spirit, Elizabeth blesses Mary in great joy. For Mary, she is faced with someone who might understand both the miraculous nature of this pregnancy and the mix of emotions that comes with it. Feelings of gratefulness and honor but also the complex situation and possible communal shame. (slide down)

And Mary sings from this topsy turvy situation about a God who turns power structures on their heads. Scattering the proud, bringing down the powerful, lifting people up, filling hungry folks with good things and sending the rich away empty handed. No wonder Jesus could preach a good sermon when his mother was singing lullabies like this over him. This is how God shows up on earth bringing justice through the generations. This is not a fluffy hallmark movie folks. This is a mother’s love, giving of her very flesh. Showing a love that both embraces by acting in mercy and also correcting.

(slide world embraced) This kind of agape love is active, a choice as much as a feeling. It's the love that Jesus goes on to live out by seeking the wellbeing of the other without expecting anything in return. Loving the forgotten ones who usually fall through the cracks. People like old women and young unmarried mothers. (slide down)

My parents taught a course with leaders from the Pacific Islands. As part of their time together Mum taught them a few songs, one being a setting of the magnificat, that many of you might know. After singing, a few of the participants came to my parents and said “We can’t sing these songs, people will get upset”. They knew that these words would challenge their social status quo and offend the rich and powerful in their congregations. Does hearing this shake us up? Should it?

The Women’s Bible Commentary put it this way “The Magnificat is the great New Testament song of liberation - personal and social, moral and economic - a revolutionary document of intense conflict and victory… Key themes for the Gospel that follows are introduced here, especially the proclamation of good news to the poor. Mary’s song is precious to women and other oppressed people for its vision of their concrete freedom from systemic injustice.” (Jane Schaberg and Sharon Ringe, Women’s Bible Commentary, p. 504)

Mary’s song captures the already but not yet of God’s kingdom in its use of tenses. Mary speaks about the future of God’s work as if it is already completed. This God who has been faithful from generation to generation and will be into the future. God who made promises to the Hannahs and Sarahs of the past and is working through the Elizabeths and Marys in this story and will continue to be faithful to the Paulas and Sabirinas of the future. Not what God will do but what God has done.

(slide) What is the song of thanks and praise rising up for you as we approach Christmas? How can we look back and forward at God’s love. Where is that love turning things upside down today and choosing the unexpected players? (slide down)

The second practice that has been helping me remember God in my life is guided meditation and mindfulness. In one practice a few weeks ago the leader invited us to still our bodies and then hold a moment of calm as we let God look at us in love. May you find time this week to become aware and let God look at you in love. May you then turn that gaze, and the work we do, towards love for those who are in the heart of God.

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