The Fourth Sunday of Advent 2020
has scattered the proud
in the imaginations of their hearts
and filled the hungry
with good things!
The Fourth Sunday of Advent! Four days to Christmas Eve, five until Christmas Day. We've been waiting to celebrate Jesus' birth; most of all we've been intensely waiting for an end to calendar year 2020 with its unstoppable pandemic, environmental devastation, ethnic brutality, political crazinesses, economic woes. You've seen the memes and you've said many hope-filled prayers.
• The church's central proclamation is God's incarnation in Jesus of Nazareth, crucified and risen.
• God calls us to live as Jesus' (incarnate, embodied) presence.
• Last March the church left the building. But after gathering around word and sacrament, the church always leaves the building to be God's presence in the world during the week. BUT! Last March the church left the building and has had to stay away since then.
2 Samuel 7:2, 4-7, 11A Dwelling for God
2King David said to the prophet Nathan, "See now, I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of God stays in a tent."
4But that same night the word of the Lord came to Nathan: 5Go and tell my servant David: Thus says the Lord: Are you the one to build me a house to live in? 6I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent and a tabernacle. 7Wherever I have moved about among all the people of Israel, did I ever speak a word with any of the tribes of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, "Why have you not built me a house of cedar?" 11bMoreover the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house.
David's idea to construct a quality home (okay, we purchase or rent a house or apartment, then living there makes it a home) where God could take up residence was more than reasonable because other divinities of the Ancient Near East (ANE) demanded tribute, sacrifice, beseeching—goods and services. Despite his knowledge of the history of God's people with the God of the covenants, David went along with what he'd seen, as humans tend to do. As the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob reminds David's resident prophet Nathan, God has a long history of accompanying the people everywhere they went. God never has lived in a house because God fills heaven and earth, cannot be contained, cannot be located at specific longitude and latitude. Being on the move is God's nature.
Annunciation / Announcement: another Call Story
From the start, scripture reveals God's initiative and grace as God chooses, calls, sends, and equips people to live as God's presence.
Remember God's call to…
• This is Mary's call story
• Jesus' disciples?
• Us through baptism and then through where we find ourselves?
The Annunciation – Luke 1:26, 31, 34-38
26The angel Gabriel came to Mary and said, "Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you."
31"And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus."
34Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, since I am a virgin?" 35The angel said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. 36And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 37For nothing will be impossible with God." 38Then Mary said, "Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word." …
The Eastern church calls Mary Theotokos or God-bearer. Miriam is Mary's Hebrew name, the same name as Moses' sister. Coming out of the theological traditions of the Reformation, I need to remember Martin Luther had a great devotion to Mary; devotion and reverence toward a person or place is very possible without making it more central than Jesus Christ. Mary shows us how to trust and embody God's word. Mary carried Jesus, God's Word of promise, in her body (the literally em-bodied Word) with her wherever she went.
The Magnificat – Luke 1:39, 46-55
39In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 40where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted her cousin Elizabeth.
46And Mary said,
"My soul magnifies the Lord, 47and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 49for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. 50His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. 51He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. 52He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; 53he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. 54He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, 55according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever."
Speech, Song, Magnificat
Mary doesn't tell Elizabeth about her encounter with the angel Gabriel; she sings about how the unjust, impoverished, society ordinary people inhabit will be changed into a just and righteous place with enough for everyone, not too much for anyone. But notice she doesn't say she's pregnant or mention her baby's name? Like anyone telling a story, Luke didn't write down everything that happened, though Mary probably had told Elizabeth as soon as she got there. How different is song from speech? Simply saying "And his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor Mighty God Everlasting Father Prince of Peace" is complexly inadequate once you've known the glorious musical setting in the Messiah. Singing magnifies and enhances speech.
Magnificat is Latin for making larger, magnifying, making greater, the way a magnifying glass enlarges. It has the same root as "magnificent."
We've discussed how everyone knew and memorized scripture two millennia ago. Mary's words reflect Hannah's song in 1 Samuel 2:1-10. Mary and her contemporaries would have been so familiar with large passages of scripture they'd have been able to recite and paraphrase them, making those texts their own. How about us? If we ever get back (when we get back) onto campus, it might be interesting for people to take turns preparing, reading, or singing a paraphrase of the responsive psalm to open our study time.
Word in the World, COVID-19
The church's central proclamation is God's incarnation in Jesus of Nazareth, crucified and risen. Advent waits for, hopes for, and expects Jesus! Martin Luther reminds us to know the fullness of God's power and reign, look to the Bethlehem manger, look to the Calvary cross.
Mary asks' "How can this be, considering everything?" Angel (Messenger) Gabriel explains it will happen because the Holy Spirit will come upon you, the power of the Most High overshadow you.
When the disciples asked the risen Christ if now he finally would "restore the [Davidic] reign," Jesus replied, "The question is wrong. You need to wait here. You will be baptized with the promised gift of the Holy Spirit that will give you power to be my presence everywhere, and you will be the ones to restore the reign of heaven on earth." Acts 1:4-8
For nine months, pregnant Mary carried God's Word of promise (literally Jesus the Word) in her body everywhere she went. We have been baptized into Jesus the Christ, the one whose body he promised his followers would become. But we are not the word. Jesus is the Word. How can we be, speak, act and reveal Jesus? As God reminded David and Nathan, God always has traveled alongside the people. God calls us to be wherever the people are, in the 'hood, in the corporate boardroom, in the COVID ward, embedded in the world's hopes and plans for a future.
As always, the church has left the building. But the church has stayed out of the building most of 2020. Since the day we had to close the building how have we been out there alongside the people?
Like Mary, as the church we carry God's Word of Promise (Jesus!) with us wherever we go. Jesus of Nazareth, born in the Bethlehem manger, walked among doubters and outcasts, fed the hungry. Jesus of Nazareth, the one whose body his followers would become. The one whose body we, his followers have become among pandemic doubters and climate change deniers, as we feed hungry people in a dozen direct and indirect ways, as we stay safer at home when we can, as we mask up and keep our distance for love of our neighbors. Maybe paradoxically we know that probably at least through early January, staying put and going outside only for essentials is the best way we can testify to God's loving, merciful, care-filled reign on earth amidst this pandemic.