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New Athens, IL 62264 301 S Market St,

December 15, 2019

Third Sunday of Advent

Contemporary Service:

Traditional Service:

Scripture Reading: Luke 1:46b-55

Mary’s Song of Praise

46 And Mary[a] said,

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
47     and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
    Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
    and holy is his name.
50 His mercy is for those who fear him
    from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm;
    he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
    and lifted up the lowly;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
    and sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
    in remembrance of his mercy,
55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
    to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

Footnotes:

  1. Luke 1:46 Other ancient authorities read Elizabeth


Sermon: “Mary’s Christmas Revolution

Tis the season for many things, including watching classic Christmas shows. This year, a poll conducted by The Morning Consult and Hollywood Reporter came up with the most popular. Here’s a clip from number one. (Rudolph)

A Charlie Brown Christmas follows Rudolph. How the Grinch Stole Christmas comes next. Also making the list were Home Alone, Frosty the Snowman, A Christmas Story, and Miracle On 34th Street. Rudolph is a strange choice to be number one.

Look at the plot. Hermie, an elf, doesn’t like to make toys. Those who should love Rudolph most reject him because of the way he was born, with a red nose. Prospector Yukon Cornelius searches for peppermint, not gold. And, of course, there’s a whole island filled with so-called “misfit” toys.

Rudolph’s secular Christmas celebration was saved only when those once on the outside were included and their gifts acknowledged, right down to the Abominable Snowman who put the star on top of the Christmas tree. Even Santa admitted that he was wrong.

Rudolph isn’t a cartoon. It’s a modern-day parable showing how we shun, humiliate, and discriminate against people whom we consider different. What makes a sweater “ugly?” What makes a toy a “misfit?” What makes someone “other?”

“Othering” is a verb these days, and speaks to the way we separate those in “our group” from those we see as members of another group that’s definitely not ours.

We other people because of their race, religion, nationality, language, sexual orientation, gender, or economic status. We other people because of how closely they meet or don’t meet our idea of who is “able” or “normal.”

The good news, Mary sings, is for the misfits and the othered. “God has brought down the powerful from their thrones,” she exults, “and lifted up the lowly.”

Her words set the tone for the rest of Luke’s gospel. Jesus makes it very clear in Luke that when it comes to power, privilege, and wealth, those who struggle now, those pushed to the outside or shoved to the bottom, will find themselves at the top and center of God’s kingdom.

The news isn’t nearly so good for those in positions of power and privilege.  Jesus’ parable of the rich man and Lazarus shows the rich man suffering in hell while the beggar Lazarus rests in the bosom of Abraham.

That kind of world turned upside down should quite literally scare the hell out of us. It’s what Jesus preached. It’s also what Mary sang, which was a radical, even dangerous, thing for her to do.

Luke is the only gospel that tells Mary’s story. For Luke, there’s nothing submissive or immature about her. Mary is courageous, bold, and doesn’t hesitate to condemn injustice. She’s the furthest thing from submissive and meek she could be. God chose a strong woman to bear God’s Son.

Men, especially powerful men, didn’t tolerate strong women in Jesus’ day. Sadly, that’s still too often the case today. We need look no further than Time Magazine’s choice for person of the year to see that.

Greta Thunberg is a Swedish team who’s become a global conscience for climate change and environmental activism. When she was fifteen, she protested by herself outside the Swedish Parliament during school hours on Friday, holding a sign that translates to, “School Strike for the Climate.”

Because of Greta, hundreds of students around the world began protesting for climate justice, giving birth to the “Fridays for Future” movement. Most notably, Greta held nothing back when addressing the United Nations. (Clip)

It takes courage to speak out like that. It also takes courage to endure the name-calling and online trolling that come with taking what is to some a controversial rather than a prophetic stance.

Years before Greta, another young woman dared speak the truth. Mary sings that God has already cast down the mighty and lifted up the lowly, has already filled the hungry and sent the rich away empty.

Looking around us, it’s easy to see that nothing much has changed. The rich are still rich, and the poor are still poor. What did Mary mean?

For Mary, there was something about the Christ child that had already won the revolution, even though as she sings her child hasn’t yet been born.

There’s something about God becoming incarnate in her womb that means the world can no longer be the same, even though to all outward appearances it is.

That same reality exists today, and it makes it hard sometimes for us as believers. In that, we’re no different than John the Baptist, who in Matthew 11, asks Jesus if everything he’s said and done was for nothing.

John is in chains and in prison, wondering if he staked his life on the wrong promise and the wrong person. Remember, as John saw it, the Messiah would swing the axe, call down fire, and renew the world.

From the little he had heard and the even less he could see, nothing had worked out as John thought it would.

So, he sent word to Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” In other words, “Jesus, I staked my entire life on you. Has it all been for naught?”

“You decide,” Jesus answered.

“Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”  (Matthew 11:4-6)

 

Jesus knew that the good news would indeed be offensive to many. Offense name-calls and labels. Offense quits or runs away. Offense “others.”

Once God took up residence among us, there in that stable in Bethlehem, the way we thought about God and the world had to change.

No longer can we say that God is above us or beyond us. God is now as close to us as God can be.

If we’re made in the image of that God, we can no longer separate ourselves from others to rule over them. We can only join in God’s work of lifting up the lowly, filling the hungry, and practicing radical acceptance of those whom we once labeled as “other.”

We can no longer confine people to islands of the misfit and the forgotten, the frowned upon and, yes, the ugly. Even now, the Holy Spirit moves in power among us, helping us use the gifts God gives to play the role we’re supposed to play as we work with God’s purpose, redeeming the world and making it new.

That’s Mary’s Christmas revolution. Whose side are you on?

 

 


Phone: (618) 475-2947
Fax: (618) 475-3390
301 S Market St,
New Athens, IL 62264