Sunday, December 23, 2012

Sermon for Year C Advent 4

Breath of Heaven

In Luke’s gospel today
we hear Mary’s Song--also known as the “Magnificat.”
You don’t need to be a Latin scholar to understand
that “Magnificat” means “magnifies”--
my soul magnifies the Lord--
and “magnificat” also relates to the word 
from which we get “magnificent”--amazingly great.

For many this is a very familiar song, canticle.
My soul magnifies the Lord,
my Spirit rejoices in God my Savior...
I have listened to these words, read these words, 
spoken these words and sung these words.
But I never really understood the meaning of Mary’s words
until this past Monday evening.

I came to understand Mary’s Song on Monday evening
when I attended the Christmas program
at the Swannanoa Correctional Center for Women.
Whatever name we may call it--
a prison is a prison.

The choir is The Voices of Hope.
Roberta Rhodes and Mary Sorrells 
have been working with the women there 
for over a year--maybe almost two years now.

Monday evening was their Christmas concert.
This year the choir was joined by the liturgical dance team,
the Kingdom Bound Dancers.

We have been so blessed here at St. John’s
to have both this choir and these dancers 
come and join us for worship here.

But Monday night was a little different.
I was on their territory--
their chapel at the prison.
I was their guest.

You know,
I will be honest.
It is always a little unnerving for me to drive into the prison--
through gates that can close behind you,
into a compound surrounded by tall fences topped with razor wire.
You definitely get the message--
you are leaving behind your
privilege of freedom.

The Voices of Hope did not sing the “Magnificat.”
No one read this portion of Luke’s gospel.

But I will tell you--I will give a witness right here--
their souls--both the singers and the dancers--
their voices and their bodies--
did indeed magnify the Lord.

We all know that the week before had been a difficult week.
The shootings in Connecticut.
People struggling with the holidays---
so many people in need and so few resources,
not always a joyful time for some.
Loss can be felt ever more deeply during holiday times.

For me Monday evening was one of those nights
that followed one of those days,
a very exhausting day.
When I arrived and sat down,
I felt like I just sort of melted into the pew.

I felt I had given all I had in the days before.
I felt there was not much left--
and I knew I had not even made it through Advent yet!
Come, Lord Jesus, was indeed my prayer!

And let me tell you--Jesus came.
Jesus came with bells on!

I was the lowly one that night
and those women--those women that society has cast as lowly--
those women magnified the Lord
and lifted me up!

Mary knew--God will work through us and with us. 
With all of us.

DId you know that Luke is the only gospel writer 
that really celebrates Mary?

Mark skips the birth of Jesus completely
and Mark’s Jesus seems pretty indifferent 
about his mother.
She shows up with his brothers 
in chapter 3 and that’s about it.

Mary in Matthew’s gospel never says one word.
Not one word.
Let’s just say that Matthew 
did not think Mary deserved a speaking role.

In all his letters, 
Paul only refers to Jesus being “born of a woman” 
but he never names her.
Not once.

Mary does appear in John’s gospel, 
but it is Luke that really gives Mary a voice.

At the prison on Monday evening,
the women of the Voices of Hope choir
gave voice to Mary too as they sang
and the dancers gave voice as they danced--

The program opened with what I believe is an Amy Grant song...

Breath of Heaven, hold me together..
Breath of Heaven, lighten my darkness...

Do you wonder as you watch my face
If a wiser one should have had my place?
But I offer all I am...
Help me be strong, 
help me be, 
help me...

In Luke’s gospel Mary says,
God, you have  “looked with favor on your lowly servant.”

Jesus’ mother understands lowly.
Mary is poor, she is pregnant, she is unmarried.
She is in a mess.

It takes God, sometimes working overtime,
to help us see that sometimes being in a mess,
can unlock the door that will lead us to true freedom.

Jesus’ mother understands.
She sings.
Mary sings!
Because through it all,
Mary knows that God is with her.

Mary is not just singing for herself.
This is not just a pretty song in the Bible.
Mary’s song is a freedom song,
a song that tells us that God will overcome.

Mary sings that God has scattered
the proud and brought down the powerful from their thrones
and lifted up the lowly.

Mary sings that God has filled the hungry
and sent the rich away empty.
You can see the DNA of Jesus in his mother--
because she is singing about 
God turning the world upside down
and God putting back together 
all that has been torn apart

Even in utero John the Baptizer knew that this cousin of his,
the baby that Mary carries in her womb, 
is no ordinary baby--
John leaps in Elizabeth’s womb!
It’s almost like John and Jesus want to give each other baby high-fives!
Woo-hoo! Watch out world! 
Here we come!

How important it is that we listen to the words of the Magnificat
to remind us to thank God for everything,
to remember that God has done great things for us--all of us--
even when things did not look or feel so great,
the Spirit was moving in our lives, in the world.

God used the Voices of Hope choir 
and the Kingdom Bound dancers to bless me,
to lift up me 
and a chapel full of others--
to remind us all 
that when you feel worn out, just wait.
God will send someone to lift you up.
Trust in God.

Be ready.
That’s what advent is all about.
Be ready.

Be ready
not only to receive,
but also to give.

Mary gave completely.
She gave everything she was--her entire self. 
No complaints, no whining, no blaming.
Here I am, God.
The answer is yes. A glorious yes.

We are not here in this world to serve ourselves.
We are here to do God’s work and to serve others.
This is what Mary is trying to tell us.

Everything we do,
every word we speak,
should be done in such a way that we glorify God.
When we live our lives--even a little piece of our lives--
to the glory of God
we have no idea what a gift we give to others.

I left the Christmas concert on Monday night 
and walked out into the darkness
which did not seem so dark any longer.

Breath of Heaven.....Pour over me Your holiness...


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