For this week’s Events and Happenings at Reservoir, click “Download PDF.”
For this week’s spiritual practice “Let Every Heart Prepare Him Room” led by Cate Nelson, click HERE.
Good morning everyone! As always it is a pleasure to be with you today.
As Cate mentioned we are entering Advent today…this season of waiting and longing (and remembering and dreaming) for the coming of Jesus and all that it meant, and still means for us and the world around us today. Throughout the weeks to come- here at Virch – we will be looking at different characters of the Christmas story – and how they prepared their hearts room for Jesus and what unexpected things were birthed as they did – like joy, hope, peace, and wonder – even in the midst of harsh reality. And after each sermon we’ll have a short intentional time of reflection – which you’ll be led through – to let the words and character settle into your own story. Today, I’ll invite us to enter the story of Mary, particularly through her song, called the Magnificat and see what joy we can uncover.
For many of you it might be hard to imagine as we enter this Advent season – that you have any waiting or longing left in you… For me, every day feels the same kind of hard….and so the waiting and longing for things to change – feels pretty weary-ing.
And yet part of Advent is to in tandem look for the light – and also be acquainted with the darkness. A seemingly scandalous birth place for joy.
Advent makes space for a different type of waiting – and longing… one that isn’t just empty sameness…but one that asks us to expectantly go to the edges of our same hard days, the same melancholy mood we might wake up with, – and speak out a prayer, into what might feel like an abyss, “Come! Come, Jesus! Come close to me – be real to me.” You see, Advent is a time of preparing our hearts room to receive – not the vacant echo of our own voice – but to receive, with welcome, what might be birthed in us, when we hear God’s voice echo back.
We need to prepare our hearts and we need room because the story of Jesus’ birth – is a scandalous story – one that is born out of an imperfect partnership of humanity and the Divine. It’s a big story – born in “tiny” places – like fields, and a house in Nazareth, in a manger, in the hills… And a story told by unlikely form – coming through bodies and wombs -blood and sweat, hearts – leaping and singing….Intersecting with curious characters – like lowly shepherds, astrologers, teenagers and… women.
It’s a story told that …”This baby will be great. The son of the Most High. The son of God,”
Jesus’ coming disrupts the ordinary, and turns this world upside down, a world that needed and still needs to be changed.
So much scandalous-ness.
And yet the real scandal is that: God came to the edge of God’s own divinity and knocked on our human hearts – and said “May I come in?”
And our vulnerable hearts now are the birthplace of where and how, we & God, continue to change the world.
This is why we take time in Advent – to ’enwomb’ these central elements of our faith..joy, hope, wonder, peace and comfort .. Because likely they are not rolling off our tongues these days … yet they are the FUEL of all the work we hope to do in our time – and in our culture.
For the work it takes to continue the Christmas story – that is indeed revolutionary, scandalous and greatly needed – especially in our dark…. same ….days.
I invite you to open your hearts to Mary’s story, and to the wisdom she sings to us ..let me pray.
Prayer – Open Unto Me – Remix Oh God, the one who comes to open our hearts.
Open unto us this morning.
Open unto us the story of Mary, her song, her love, her power.
Open unto us our story, our song, our love and our power.
And may you unfold the gifts of your presence, your mystery and joy to us today.
As I mentioned it’s been hard for me to really feel much joy or hope these days… But just about a month ago – the day after the election – I had a moment of IMAGINING JOY. I woke up that morning and promptly checked my phone in bed (intending of course to look for updated results), but my attention was caught by an Ad by National Geographic.
The ad was for this raft.. But.. tent… thing… that you can use on bodies of water, rivers.
The tagline in the ad said, “This Tent-Raft Mashup Lets You Drift Off to Sleep on the Waves.”
I… truly spent several minutes imagining how much joy this tent-raft could bring to my life.
How I absolutely could become a “person of the river” – or “river person”, whatever that entails…(covid safe!)
And just “drift off” as the Ad promised. Drift off, drift off, away – away – away from reality. A way to bypass the waiting/ longing.
Now, if Mother Mary speaks to me today – I’m pretty sure she’s saying something to me about this version of “joy” I was trying to formulate from a river tent.
*And let me say, before we really get going with mary’s story – that Mary’s voice – and Mary’s invitation to joy should be heard, repeated, remembered and spoken in our churches and in the Christmas story more than they are.
My faith background,in the evangelical tradition – silenced Mary.
As best I can remember Mary’s appearance was only as a mute figure in the yearly Christmas pageant.
A mere vehicle for Jesus.
And the silencing was intentional because too much direct attention or reverence for Mary would compromise the patriarchal theology I was taught.
But lo and behold, Mary speaks (!) and shares the longest set of words spoken by a woman in the New Testament.
Her feminine voice begins the Jesus story.
Which I invite you to follow along with the scripture here from Luke 1, on the slides: *I’ll pause a little bit as we make our way through the whole story, but we’ll enter here – where the angel has appeared to Mary – and we learn a bit about their conversation.
Luke 1:28, 35-38, 46-55
28 When the angel came to Mary, he said, “Rejoice, favored one! The Lord is with you!”
Rejoice! I have a message of “Joy” for you….
ANd then we have a few verses of back and forth with Angel and Mary – where we kind of get the sense that Mary’s top emotion is not immediate joy.
The scripture says that she’s confused at the greeting of this angel? And wondering what the angel is actually saying?
And the angel of course goes on with “angel-like” things to say such as “fear not!”
you will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be great – the Son of the Most High. He’ll rule forever and ever, and there will be no end to his kingdom.” JOY!
Mary though still is not effervescent with joy – and moves to practical questions like how
HOW will this happen? – “I haven’t had any sexual relations.” (and then we pick up the scripture on the slides again):
35 The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come over you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore, the one who is to be born will be holy. He will be called God’s Son.
38 Then Mary said, “I am the Lord’s servant. Let it be with me just as you have said.” Then the angel left her.
So let’s stop here for a minute:
After all of this back and forth between the angel and Mary – Mary trying to take in all of this wild, and scandalous message that’s coming to her, we hear her say this pivotal thing – I think – in this last verse, “Let it be.” “Let it be with me just as you have said.”
“Ok – yes.”
“I’m not bubbling with ‘JOY’ right now – but I will “OPEN” unto you nevertheless.”
You see, Mary’s “let it be”, is the move that opens the door to change everything – This opening – is the crack where God implants God’s self . God’s divinity and LOVE takes up residence in our human hearts – and births something new (perhaps joy)…. Mysteriously..Unexplainably… miraculously – within us. EVEN AS WE STAND IN places/a reality that we are all done with – that we have no patience for anymore. Where we feel no joy.
Mary’s reality is somewhat akin to our reality too, – hers is not a blissful, copacetic existence. She is disadvantaged in a world that would neither notice nor protect her. Women and babies – were definitely not at the top of the societal power structure.
She lived in the time of Herod the Great – full of terror – “innocents were being killed”. A census was devised to document the undocumented for governemtal control .. and there were burdensome taxes that cost the poor their land – and left the masses impoverished. People were hungry, shelter was scarce and people lived in fear for their lives and their children’s lives.
Mary’s setting is not a roadmap to quick joy.
But it is a birthplace of what I would call, “scandalous joy” …
TENT – Part 2:
It’s probably pretty obvious – but the tentraft I pined for … isn’t particularly designed to take on much, if any of the forces of nature (like rapids or waterfalls – or currents). In fact as I read reviewers comments, that was the primary critique. Reviews ranged from, “Oh yay, now I can peacefully drown while I’m in bed.” TO “bravo! Everyday people invent a new way to die”, or “ If you go to bed at the right part of the river, the plummet over the waterfall can be Nature’s alarm clock”, and on – and – on.
So basically this raft-tent is good for sitting on a stagnant small pond, barely moving. Infact the given name of this tent is “Shoal Tent” – shoal means shallow, or of little depth.
My fantasy of finding joy – removed from the rapids of life, zipped up in my own bubble – creates a shallow external joy….. Not this deep joy – like Mary’s that is birthed within her, that becomes a source of strength and the fuel of resilience and of change – CHANGE that she inspires – and spearheads… that she delivers to the world around her…AND not by violence or by weapon – but by song.
Mary after receiving the message of the angel – goes and visits her older cousin, Elizabeth who is also miraculously expecting a child, after decades of barrenness. And Mary starts to sing, as she and Elizabeth share … and here’s her song:
(and we’ll pick up the scripture on the slides here:)
46 Mary said, “With all my heart I glorify the Lord!
47 In the depths of who I am I rejoice in God my savior.
48 He has looked with favor on the low status of his servant.
Look! From now on, everyone will consider me highly favored
because the mighty one has done great things for me.
Holy is his name.
50 He shows mercy to everyone,
from one generation to the next,
who honors him as God.
The beginning of this song – is a song for all of us… and especially for those who like Mary – are discounted by society, pushed to the edges, invisible …It’s a song for when we think God has forgotten just how long we’ve been waiting and longing! It’s a song that invites us to join in the ancient chorus – that God’s promise is to be with us forever, that God loves us forever, that God will never leave, or forsake us.
This song was birthed long before Mary – sung by Deborah, Miriam, Hannah who sang of their own struggles and God’s love – a song breathed into Mary’s DNA
She says, and in those depths – ‘the depths of who I am…that’s where the joy is…. I rejoice in God my savior.” I say, “let it be” – and I open unto the love and long-standing favor of God.
JOY is the gift of knowing God’s deep LOVE.
ANd from here …from the foundation of love and joy – that Mary gets in touch with – Mary’s “power and willingness to disrupt, intervene and invert the world”….takes off, we hear this as her song continues:
(we’ll pick up this last bit of scripture on the slides:)
51 He has shown strength with his arm.
He has scattered those with arrogant thoughts and proud inclinations.
52 He has pulled the powerful – taken princes – down from their thrones
and lifted up the lowly.
53 He has filled the hungry with good things
and sent the rich away empty-handed.
54 He has come to the aid of his servant Israel,
remembering his mercy,
55 just as he promised to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to Abraham’s descendants forever.”
This is not a soft, dreamy, understated Mary song. This is a revolutionary, a wild, vehement protest song! IT is in direct contrast to the Empire and powers of the day.. And it is laying out Jesus’ kingdom and ministry to come.
Priest Barbara Brown Taylor says, this “was all happening inside of Mary, and she was so sure of it that she was singing about it ahead of time—not in the future tense but in the past, as if the promise had already come true. She says, prophets almost never get their verb tenses straight, because part of their gift is being able to see the world as God sees it.”
And some days this is all we can do, to keep trying to see the world as God sees it – even if our reality defies it at every turn. Even if the powerful are still on their thrones, and have their hands full of riches – and even as the poor and powerless are still in the trenches – hungry and suffering. Some days all we have is the mystery and promises of God’s love and presence – that reside deep within us…
We might not have the vaccine we all wish for yet, or the return to hugs, or the justice we want to see rise up in our structures and institutions…
Mary too, doesn’t have the things that would make this an easier go of it for her….Barbara Taylor says, “she doesn’t have a sonogram, or a husband, or an affidavit from the Holy Spirit that says, “The child really is mine. Now leave the poor girl alone.” (Priest Barbara Brown Taylor) All she has is her scandalous willingness to believe that the God who has chosen her will be part of whatever happens next—and this apparently, is enough to birth joy and to make her burst into song.” – and to give her wisdom and focus on where it is her work will be to come.
She does not wait to see how things will turn out first, she prepares her heart room for God no matter what the outcome.. and she doesn’t jump onto a raft in the Jordan River and drift away- she remains actively engaged and grounded in her reality.
Mary’s song – has been controversial throughout time. It has enlivened prophetic imaginations, beyond the walls of the church, into the real lives of people…..and it also has threatened and enraged the powerful elite.
During British colonial rule of India, Mary’s song was banned. The British East India company prohibited this song as part of any church liturgy. Finally when British rule was over, Gandhi asked that the Magnificat be recited at each site where English flags came down.
In Argentina, in the 1970’s the mothers of people who disappeared organized protests at the Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires with the Magnificat written on their protest signs.
In the 1980’s when hundreds of thousands of citizens were disappearing in Guatemala, the government banned Mary’s song – 9 verses from the Bible – because it was considered politically dangerous, subversive, revolutionary.
Oscar Romero, a martyr, priest and saint – whose ministry was distinguished by his particular attention to the most poor and marginalized – prayed Mary’s song every day of his priestly life.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Lutheran pastor and one who fought against and yet was executed by the Nazi’s – called the Magnificat “the most passionate, the wildest, one might even say the most revolutionary hymn ever sung.”
And white evangelicals have devalued the role of Mary, her song, her voice, her message (her gender) – to the point that she’s nearly been erased.
You see – those who impale others as a way of shirring up their authority and power – are threatened by those, (like Mary), who enwomb the treasures of faith – hope, wonder, peace – because they can not be conquered, claimed or secured by might….. but if given room, in a heart that has been prepared and opened, by voices and song, and history and the promises of God, our hearts will prove to make way for the scandalous story of a tiny baby to rule and overturn the world by love.
JESUS Mary teaches this tiny baby Jesus – about God. And I imagine Mary doing this in part, through her song. Jesus first heard this song in the womb, his ear already tuning to this melody.. And maybe it was the song sung throughout their home while Jesus, as a toddler, scurried under Mary’s foot …perhaps it was the lullaby she sang to him each night … and maybe this song, was the clarion call that Mary sang through the streets when Jesus went missing for 3 days in the temple. . . Maybe it was the song that inspired his first words of his public ministry to be,
“The Spirit of the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the prisoners, and recovery of sight to the blind, to liberate the oppressed”, (Luke 4:18-19).
Maybe it was the ravaged, sobbing song he heard his mom sing – or the one he hummed himself – as he died on the cross… It is a song he heard again and again throughout his life.
Mother Mary’s song continues to be sung to us this Advent, and beyond. It is a daily song that we get to make our own. With old lyrics and with new lyrics ….of our longings, our protests, and our bodies. Advent prepares our heart room for a revolutionary Christmas Story that is to be delivered to the world, by us – one that is meant to shake this world free of violence and injustice – and to also shake our faith down to the central, ancient promise of God’s love … that births unexpected gifts in us, like joy and song.
I stand in solidarity with Mary today – with her longing for a new and just re-ordering of society – and I pray with her “let it be, God” – “COME, open unto me”. For to follow in Mary’s footsteps is to be a mother of God ourselves.
Meister Eckhart, a mystic and theologian said that,
“We are all meant to be mothers of God. What good is it to me if this eternal birth of the divine Son takes place unceasingly but does not take place within myself. And, what good is it to me if Mary is full of grace and if I am not also full of grace? What good is it to me for the Creator to give birth to a Son if I do not also give birth to him in my time and my culture? (Meditation with Meister Eckhart, Matthew Fox, 74, 81.)
Today in our time and in our culture, we get to birth the disrupting, upending, reckless love of God into this world. … and this is deep, scandalous joy.
JOY TO THE WHOLE WORLD
So may we repeat,
And repeat, and repeat,
This sounding joy.
Let me pray for us:
“Mother God, come close to us now. Keep singing to us. Show us how to love. Show us how to wait, to long, to push, to deliver you into this world.” Amen.