A sermon preached by the Rev. Douglas M. Donley
December 24, 2017 (around 10:30am)
University Baptist Church
A Christmas Eve morning prayer might sound something like this:
God, help me to relax and enjoy this day.
God, help me to get everything done before the family arrives.
God, let the store be open. I need wrapping paper and the gifts that I forgot to get.
God, let the sermon be short, we have to be back here in less than six hours. That’s not a lot of time.
God, may those traveling get here on time and safe.
God, protect those who are outside on a day like today.
God, what was I thinking coming to church this morning? Isn’t one service good enough for you?
It’s wonderful to have our children home and to make a little music together this morning. If it was memorable, you can say that you were here to witness it. Although I’m not sure we get more points for being at both services.
There is so much Christmas music. It’s hard to find something new and fresh. We will sing something new this evening written by Kim. How can you make this story better? Some songs, however, make the story worse. We could spend an entire morning talking about the worst Christmas songs. Unfortunately, one person’s worst is another person’s favorite.
My daughters are big fans of Pentatonix. One of their big hits is “Mary Did you Know?” It’s a contemplative song with all of those wonderful harmonies. What’s not to like? It’s Pentatonix after all. It asks if Mary knew that her baby was destined to do. We can resonate with that thought as our children grow up and learn from us, for better or worse. But if we read the Magnificat, there is a pretty darn good chance that Mary knew. Of course Mary knew. The question is, do we know the destiny of our children? Do we know our own destiny? Are we willing to make the commitment and even sacrifice that will make it happen?
The old saying is that if we pray for God to move a mountain, we might just wake up with a shovel next to us.
We have been singing the song of Mary throughout December to prepare us for tonight. It takes that long sometimes.
Mary’s Magnificat: her manifesto for ministry, her revolutionary song talks about lifting up those of low degree. It talks about God’s mercy that never ends and goes from generation to generation. She sings of scattering the proud in the imaginations of their hearts. She talks about reversing the power dynamic in the world: bringing the mighty down from their thrones, filling the hungry with good things, sending the rich away empty, regardless of the tax plans designed to do the opposite. And today, we have the promise that God has not left us alone.
Here’s how Ken Sehested paraphrases the song:
My soul magnifies you, O Lord, and my spirit rejoices in your Saving Presence.
Everything in me comes alive when you look in my direction.
No longer will I languish among the unnamed, the unknown, the unworthy.
Hereafter, for generations, when my name is spoken, all will know it echoes the wonder of your Mercy.
Your power is sufficient to baffle the aims of the arrogant. Imperial might trembles at the sound of your approach; but the prison yards and the sweatshops and the slaughterhouses erupt in jubilation!
With your arrival, the bailout bounty will flow to the hourly wage-earners; the stock-optioned executives will apply for food stamps.
In the land of lies and deceit, in the season of bankrupt promises and boardroom corruption, the lair of every heir to every privilege and every power will be confounded by the herald of your Promise.
Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
©ken sehested @ prayerandpolitiks.org
Mary sings this song so that we will remember who God is and what God does. We need to remember this, for Christmas is the great reversal. High, away, aloof God becomes one of us. The great and mighty God comes not to the well-healed, the elite, even the religious leaders. God comes in the form of a homeless bastard child, from a nowhere town, shunned by family, and the target of ethnic cleansing by the very earthly powers that rule the world. This is how God reverses the course of the world. Our job is to wake up and recognize God’s presence and our responsibility. Mary’s song tells us to call on our strength, our wisdom and our courage. And she gives us tidings of good news: God remembers one poor person and exalts them; God‘s mercy is for everyone forever; God’s plan is that all should be welcome at the table and no one is to be left out; This is who God always was and who God always will be.
The last part of the Magnificat song is the coda. The promise that God is fulfilling in this child. Finally she says, “God has helped her servant Israel remembering the mercy God promised to our ancestors Abraham and Sarah.”
This fulfills the covenants God made so long ago and still makes today. What began long ago is still continuing. We are part of this web of connection across the generations. And we have good company. We join with those who have opposed provincial power when that stood in the way of God’s people. We join with revolutionaries of the past who have advocated and have risked everything on behalf of a vision of something better. And it’s not just something better for us individually. It’s something better for everyone. Especially those left out of places of power.
The Mary’s of the world tell of a new order, but it’s actually part of an old order. It’s the way God created the world. It’s about fulfilling the ancient promises.
That’s the great reversal. That’s the hope for the future. That’s what we need to remember and focus on this season.
But the question comes back to us. What promises are we going to make in the coming year? What promises are we going to engage in that will make the things of the Magnificat happen? Or is it just a song that we sing once a year?
It won’t happen by magic. We are the hands, the feet, the arms, the heart of God.
And we continue the reversing work of Mary.
Now is the time to make promises. God has promised us that God would not leave us. God has promised to deliver us. God has promised to be with us. And at Christmas, we remember the promises God made and the promises we make. What promises might you make this year? I know it’s a week before New Year’s resolutions. But Mary sang about a Christmas revolution. What wish do you want to come true? What might you be able to put in place to make the world a little bit better? How might the true Christmas message live in you? What steps might you take in the coming days, month or year? Those are the promises worth making and keeping.
(singing from New Century Hymnal #123)
Mary, woman of the promise; vessel of your people’s dreams:
Through your open willing spirit waters of God’s goodness streamed.
Mary, woman of the gospel; humble home for treasured seed:
Help us to be true disciples, bearing fruit in word and deed.