Sunday, December 23, 2018
Fourth Sunday of Advent
"My soul magnifies the Lord"
The Rev. Kealahou C. Alika
The Rev. Austin Crenshaw Shelley is an Associate Minister for Christian Education at the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. On the day of her ordination into the Christian ministry, she was far enough along in her pregnancy to feel her unborn daughter kick for the first time.
Since that day, she said motherhood and ministry have become intertwined. “I am a mother,” she said, “and because of the depth of the bonds I share with my children, I cannot read or interpret the Bible otherwise. I am drawn to its mothers – named and unnamed, those who stories are woven into the biblical narrative and those whose stories are hidden between its lines.”
“I weep with Hagar as she fears her son Ishmael will die in the desert (Genesis 21:16). I sin praise with the psalmist who compares her contented soulto the disposition of a child who has nursed to its fill (Psalm 131:2). I demand justice alongside the Syrophoenician woman who begs Jesus to heal her daughter (Mark 7:26, Matthew 15:22). And especially during Advent, I rejoice with Elizabeth and Mary as they await the births of John and Jesus . . . ” (Reflections on the Lectionary: Luke 1:39-55, Austin Crenshaw Shelley, Christian Century, November 21, 2018, page 21).
I am appreciative of Shelley and the mothers in our lives whose joy has given birth to each succeeding generation. That joy is apparent in our reading from The Gospel According to Luke.
The story of Mary’s pregnancy is plainly shared in Luke’s account of her encounter with her cousin Elizabeth. Mary sets out and in haste went to the Judean town where Elizabeth and her husband Zechariah lived.
We are not told why she set out so quickly, but within the context of the story we come to realize that Mary made her decision in a moment of joy, aware that something miraculous was happening to her. She is hāpai. She is pregnant, carrying within her womb a child whose name will be called Jesus.
Her cousin Elizabeth is also hāpai. She is pregnant with her son whom she will name John. Both of their sons will grow up and come to face to face as young men when Jesus makes his way to the Jordan River to be baptized by John.
As Mary approached Elizabeth’s home, it is said that the child in Elizabeth’s womb recognized Mary’s voice and leapt in response. If Mary and Elizabeth lived here on Maui, I can only imagine Mary calling out from a distance to announce that she was approaching Elizabeth’s hale – “Hūi! Hūi! Hūi!”
Filled with the Holy Spirit, Elizabeth could hardly contain herself as she greets Mary. “As soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy.” Then she reminds Mary, “Blessed are you who believed that there would be fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”
What a wonderful encounter it was for both women – a moment filled with great, great joy. Yet, we know that there will be a moment of pain for both Elizabeth and Mary that they will come to experience through the traumatic deaths of their sons.
John and Jesus will die at the hands of religious leaders and politicians and others afraid of losing their power. But for now there is only joy.
Mary responds to Elizabeth’s exclamation with words that bear a strong resemblance to Hannah’s words of praise upon realizing that she was to bear a son, Samuel, who would become a prophet and a judge of Israel (1 Samuel 2:1-10). It is likely that Mary knew of Hannah’s hymn of praise.
The parallels are striking – whether we attribute them to the birth of Samuel in 1105 BCE or the birth of Jesus centuries later. We may be inclined to focus on the similarity in words and phrases without paying attention to the significance of what Hannah and Mary were saying of the state of the world in their day and time.
What Mary came to know is what Hannah came to know. It did not matter that they lived centuries apart from one another.
What Mary came to know is this: God’s mercy’s is for those who fear God from generation to generation. For me being fearful of God is not about being afraid of God’s punishment, but about being in awe of God’s presence in our lives and in the world.
We do not cower in God’s presence, but we bow down in acknowledgement of God’s mercy and grace. God’s strength is not found in forceful actions but in the ways in which the “proud” of the world are scattered in the thoughts and imaginations of their hearts.
Those who think more highly of themselves whether in the church or in government are brought down low. What Mary came to know is that in God’s presence, the hungry are filled with good things; the poor and those in need are raised up, the weak are strengthened. The rich are sent away empty. The proud, the arrogant, the powerful are brought low. (1 Samuel 2:3-8; Luke 45-55).
There are those who choose to be blinded by fear and hatred. Like the wise men from a foreign land who followed a star to the birth place of the baby Jesus, we will not be afraid. We will open our eyes to see where there is hope and compassion, there is no fear or hatred.
There are those who choose to believe that the louder one speaks, the more certain one is heard. As Americans in the U.S., we are good at talking.
Unfortunately, we are not good at listening. Today, ongoing political debates, regardless of the party, make that evident as we looked at our national life. But we will open our ears and give heed to those whose voices are seldom heard or often silenced.
There are those who build walls along national borders. On every continent and in every corner of the world, walls are being built. Instead of building walls, we will open the gates of our hearts to all like Mary and Joseph who crossed the border into Egypt, as refugees, for the sake of their son Jesus.
What Mary came to know is what we proclaim this Christmas season. What Mary came to know is what we proclaim above the din of a season filled with political and religious rhetoric devoid of the humility we hear in her voice.
Today, we join our voices with Mary’s voice. Our souls magnify the Lord, and our spirits rejoice in God our Savior, for God has looked with favor on our lowly service to the One whose birth we anticipate once more. As this season of Advent comes to end, we are reminded once more:
Not in the mighty places of power,
but in little Bethlehem,
in a room out back:
The Messiah is coming.
Not born in nobility and wealth,
but of Mary and Joseph
who pondered and planed wood:
The Messiah is coming.
Not announced by prophets, priests, and kings,
but by two women,
who were the first to know:
The Messiah is coming.
Nothing will be impossible for God,
but when and where we least expect it,
look among the straw and the stars:
The Messiah is coming.
Mahalo iā ʻoe, Malia. Thank you, Mary.