Sunday, December 24, 2006

Advent 4 - Year C

One thing I like about the Gospel of Luke is that people break out in song. It’s like a Broadway musical where the lights dim, the spotlight comes up, and the conductor cues the music so the main character can begin her show stopping, heart wrenching, solo performance.

This morning’s gospel reading is a lot like that.

A few weeks ago we heard Zechariah, that old crooner; sing his blissful ballad because he and his wife Elizabeth did the impossible: they got pregnant when they should have been cruising retirement condos in Arizona.

Today, Mary steps into the spotlight.

“My soul magnifies the Lord,” Mary sings right there in Elizabeth’s living room. “And my spirit rejoices in God my saviour. As Barbara Brown Taylor says, “Elizabeth and Zechariah may be the first ones to hear this song, but it certainly wasn’t just for them. This was also for her, Mary, and for the Mighty One who has done great things for her. It is for Gabriel, who first gave her good news, and for all who benefit from it – for the proud and powerful who will be relieved of their swelled heads, for the hungry who will be filled with good things, for the rich who will be sent away empty so they can have room in them for more than money can buy. Her song was for Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob – for Sarah, Rebekah, Leah, and Rachel – for every son and daughter of Israel who thought that God had forgotten the promise to be with them forever, to love them forever, to give them fresh and endless life.”

And it was all happening inside of Mary. That’s quite the burden, don’t you think? But maybe a burden and a joy. That’s the double-edged sword of being chosen by God.

Sometimes I often wonder if Mary felt that way. She broke out in song but I sometimes wonder if she was singing through clenched teeth. After all, she may have thought her life was over. She might have had plans for her life; she might have been looking forward to finishing school, maybe going to university and getting that job she’d dreamed about since she was a girl hiding behind her mother’s skirt. An unplanned pregnancy outside of marriage probably didn’t rank high in her plans.

Also, what was she going to tell Joseph? Joseph was no SNAG (Sensitive New Age Guy), he wasn’t going to be scammed by some fairy-tale about God’s Spirit imbuing Mary with God’s love child, even if it was the truth. Mary knew that if Joseph was like some guys, he’d not only call off the wedding but spoil her chances of ever getting married again just to get back at her for ruining his reputation and messing around behind his back.

Mary said was pregnant, and crazy enough to claim that it was God's doing. Joseph only knew it wasn't his doing. He must have looked like a chump. But thankfully, Joseph was smart enough to recognize God’s handiwork when he saw it. Although I’m sure he had to endure the snickers and snide remarks from the guys at the pub. And he probably suffered the sarcasm from folks on the street and the synagogue. But he didn’t walk away. He kept his promise. You gotta respect a guy like that.

I’m sure that Joseph didn’t plan to be step-dad to the Almighty. He probably had his own career plans. He may have had his goals mapped out how he was going to build his carpentry business into the biggest in all Nazareth. However the future looked to him, I’m sure that being a surrogate father figure to God’s own Son wasn’t part of his five-year plan.

But isn’t that they way life works out most of the time? Our best laid plans get interrupted by life’s plans for us: sudden illness and surprise babies, the break down of relationships and the presentation of new opportunities. Dreams diminished and hope renewed.

Maybe. At least some of the time.

Sometimes life doesn’t give us happy endings. Often, there is no satisfactory resolution at the end of some of our stories. The spot on the lung spreads to the bones, the divorce papers arrive in the mail, or the flowers delivered to the church are for a funeral instead of a wedding.

But it would be nice to know how it all works out beforehand, wouldn’t it? It would be nice to plan for things like that. It would be easier to go through life with a navigation map so we’d know that the changes and challenges of life actually end up somewhere good and beautiful. And to steer clear of the trails and roads that lead to failure and tragedy.

But God doesn’t give us a map. Mary certainly didn’t know how the child in her womb was going to end up. All she had were stories of how God acted in the past and promises of how God will act in the future. And when we stop and think about it, that’s all we have as well: stories and promises.

Sometimes those stories and promises blossom into songs and celebrations, just like with Mary and Zechariah. I think I’ve been here long enough to know you folks well enough that you won’t wait for the lights to dim before you start singing. Yours’ is no solo performance. You start your singing while folks are coming in the doors, ensuring that everyone knows melody if not the words.

Sometimes we offer hymns of praise, other times we sing songs of lamentation. But we sing – together – because we put our hope in God’s promises and we suspect that God’s promises have something to do with us -together.

Songs and celebrations may not feel like enough, but at least it’s a start. Maybe songs and celebrations are guideposts and resting places, as the night’s long journey slips into the morning. We sing and celebrate God’s promises because sometimes that’s all that we feel we have. But for most of us, that just might be enough to get us to the next resting place.

That’s the good news that Mary believed. If she didn’t than I don’t know how she could have endured carrying God’s universal promises in her womb. She didn’t know who this child was or how he was going to end up. But I’m sure she had her suspicions. And those suspicions made her queasier than morning sickness ever could.

“[So] If there are any big changes going on with YOU right now – if something is happening that you can’t predict the end of, and your stomach is rolling with your own version of morning sickness – then maybe you want to follow Mary’s lead. Who knows? Maybe the Holy Spirit has come upon you. Maybe that shadow hanging over you is the power of the Most High.” (BBT)

As we begin this new season of joy and hope and newness: May your souls magnify the Lord, and your spirits rejoice in God your Saviour, for God has looked with favour on you, and all generations will call you blessed. For the Mighty One has done great things for you, and holy is his name. Amen.


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