Luke 1:47-55 – The Fourth Sunday of Advent – for Sunday, December 20, 2015
“He has pulled the powerful down from their thrones and lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty-handed.” (Luke 1:52-53)
The preacher turns the page or ponders the screen and there it is: And Mary said, my soul magnifies the Lord.
What can modern proclaimers of Mary’s good news announce that will be relevant for this year, for this moment?
Advent has obligations. Christmas is habit. Here comes Mary again.
Does the preacher quietly consider these words in the heat of a fading summer, diligently outlining the sermons she’ll proclaim four months later? It’s good to be organized, and Christmas obediently arrives on the same date every year. Might as well organize for the inevitable.
Does another preacher desperately scan Luke 1:46-55—also known as Mary’s Magnificat—on the night before facing his congregation? His Advent days have been frantic, the church demands relentless. Next year he’ll plan better.
Whether in the calm of an August day of long-range sermon preparation or a panicked gaze at those holy nouns and verbs, both share a nagging thought: What to say?
Even if you’re fresh from seminary with eager ideas and a burning ache to proclaim the Gospel or you’re scheming for retirement and spending more time analyzing pension benefits than scriptural exegetics, it’s the same. The same. You’ve heard Mary’s words most of your young or old life. Joseph has annually dreamed and the shepherds trembled as the angelic chorus voiced a perfect alleluia. Back on the first Sunday of Advent, when your theologically appropriate sermon avoided an inn without room or wandering magi, every store, elevator and radio station was already silent-nighting you into seasonal and spiritual numbness
The preacher is not alone.
Those folks in the worn pews, on the smooth hardwood their parents and grandparents’ occupied, have similar reactions. If it’s not old oaken seats their derrieres spread across, but cushy chairs in a sparkly-bright contemporary sanctuary, it’s likely still the same.
The congregation has also been silent-nighted for weeks.
They know the essential benchmarks of this season: Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and Christmas Eve. Oops, I forget the holy celebration of . . . The Last Day Of Free Shipping, when packages for Uncle Filbert or Auntie Lollipop are guaranteed to arrive for their festivities.
And wasn’t a Giving Tuesday hyped even more this year?
You’ll bake the same cookies. Bring out the usual ornaments. Have the old arguments. Drink too much. Eat even more. Time will sprint or stroll. Someone’s always watching football and hardly anyone knows the score. The kids will be home for the holidays or they won’t. With anguished thoughts, you miss family or (though you feel a smidgen guilty) pray the in-laws go elsewhere this year.
But Mary speaks. Again . . .
He has pulled the powerful down from their thrones and lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty-handed.
Are you going to preach on that?
Are you going to listen to that?
Do you believe her words?
+ + +
Once, on a cool December morning, I walked by a woman who, without breaking a sweat, dragged her plane out into the street.
Whoa . . . what?
I live near an airfield surrounded by houses. Fresno’s Sierra Skypark claims to be the oldest airport of its kind. Built after World War II, it provides a plane-crazy homeowner the best of both worlds: your favorite easy chair is mere steps to an oversized garage designed to house a small private plane. All residents are close to the field and take-off. Some homes are sprawling monstrosities, others unpretentious. But all have room for transportation with wings.
I hurry along this peculiar neighborhood and then . . . here comes this woman dragging a plane! It’s probably only a smallish Cessna 150 that is around (I researched this later) 1,600 pounds. For comparison’s sake, that’s four times the weight of the average suburban refrigerator (more brilliant research).
The woman grips a sturdy dolly with fat wheels attached to the plane’s front. She balances a cup of coffee in her other hand. Her dog trots nearby. Perhaps a child could maneuver the single-engine prop Cessna from driveway to airfield, but I’m still impressed!
In the chilly winter morn, Mary’s Magnificat nudges me. Every year we drag those old new words out into the open. Secretly we doubt the hungry will be fed. Not so secretly, we think the rich will always win.
And yet I believe Mary’s old words dare us to take flight. A hundred times we’ve listened to them. For a lifetime or a first time, we preach them. We open the good book, out of routine or curiosity, and they challenge us to believe just enough. Why can’t we feed the hungry? And maybe we’ll remember the truest and most lasting “wealth” doesn’t include owning things that rot or rust or get recalled.
In the last gasps of Advent, even if only barely listening or believing, Mary’s new words rise on the best hopes for God’s weary, wounded, wonderful world.
They are built to help us soar.