- The Rev. Father Samuel Hartman
Sermon - 4 Advent
“My soul magnifies the Lord.” Mary’s song. We read together this morning on this last Sunday Advent. Mary’s soul magnifies God, makes God clearer, makes God bigger. Her song shows what God is doing in the world.
When the angel Gabriel came to her, Mary said “yes.” She will do what God calls her to do. And for this “yes,” Mary not only magnifies God, she is magnified BY God. In the traditional wording of Mary’s song, the version I remember singing every evening many years ago when I was a student at the General Theological Seminary in New York, after the opening words of praise, “My soul doth magnify the Lord,” Mary sings, “He that is mighty has magnified me.” By her faith and life, Mary not only magnifies, makes larger, makes clear, the love of God, but God lifts her up, lifts her to greater life and love.
This is the miracle of the Incarnation. It is not just that God comes to us in our flesh. It is not just the baby Jesus. The miracle of the Incarnation is that we come to God, we cooperate with God in our human flesh, we join with God in creating redemption, bringing the kingdom.
My soul magnifies the Lord; through me, through you, through us together, we can see the Lord more clearly, up close and personal. Through us, through what we say and do, people can catch a glimpse of God’s kingdom of peace and love. We share the vision of God’s peace for the whole world. We magnify God, with our actions, our words, even our bodies. We give God hands and feet and words in the world, as Mary says, lifting up the lowly and feeding the hungry, fulfilling God’s promises of grace and mercy in real-life situations.
When the Angel Gabriel came to her, when God’s plan was announced to her – she chose. She said “yes.” She was not compelled, she was not forced. She simply saw a pathway before her and she knew she must choose to embrace God’s vision for her and for the world; she could follow that path, as mysterious and dangerous as it may be – or not.
Her only assurance was: nothing will be impossible with God.
God wanted Mary to be involved in God’s plans for the world. God wants us to be part of it all too. God could act without our help, behind our backs – but No: God asked this simple country girl, Mary, to become involved. God asks us to be involved. God asks each of us to be a part in God’s plan of salvation.
Do you remember Dag Hammarskjold – he was secretary general of the UN in the ‘60’s. In his journal, he wrote:
“I don’t know Who – or what – put the question. I don’t know when it was put. I don’t even remember answering. But at some moment I did answer Yes to Someone – or Something – and from that hour I was certain that existence is meaningful and that, therefore, my life, in self-surrender, had a goal.”
Saying YES, and living the adventure of that YES – that is what give meaning and life to us. That is the miracle of God’s incarnation in us.
As our Christmas celebration draws near, let us remember Mary’s YES to God. And, more importantly, let us strive to live that YES in our lives also. Let us, like Mary, become mothers of God in our world.
For, without that YES spoken by each of us, the Christmas cradle will remain empty and the Christ child will not be born; God’s presence in the world will be diminished.
God wants us to sing with Mary, to sing her song of praise. God is bringing about peace and joy and love. Often we can’t see what God is doing, but by faithful song and prayer, we know that it is true: God is still acting, still speaking in our hearts and lives, still asking us to say “yes” our call to participate in God’s action in the world, God’s incarnation in our flesh. Our “yes” magnifies God, and we are blessed by God who magnifies us with grace and love.
We all long for a time of peace, the end of violence and fear. We have had enough of that, especially this year. Mary sings a song of God’s blessing, but more a song of the future, a song of faith and hope. She sings not only for herself, but for her cousin Elizabeth, pregnant with John, who will be called the Baptist. But she sings for more, she sings for every one of us who hopes for God’s future. And she sings about how, by our faith and action, we can magnify God in the world. And she sings in thanksgiving that as we strive in faith for God’s kingdom, God magnifies and blesses us, God’s love, an eternally unfolding mystery that is our hope and a surprise to us all.
For those many in our community, our nation, our world, and even in our church who are grieving or depressed or discouraged at this time of year, as we sing Mary’s song, we tell the story again of God’s love, God’s presence with us in Jesus, and our presence in love with God and each other. Our stories, our hopes, our faith, our love becomes part of God’s story of Jesus Incarnation, Jesus coming to us, living with us, dying with us, and rising to resurrection life. Our problems are not solved, our fears are not taken away, but in the song of Mary we lift up our hearts in faith – and, sooner or later, we will hear the voice of the angels, the voice of the Spirit, magnifying our lives as we live God’s love in the world.
What is your part in Mary’s song? What words, what tune do you sing? What do we sing together here at St. Paul’s to magnify the Lord in our lives, our place, our time?
This morning our Sunday School brings us the gospel, good news for people who are lonely and afraid and worried and busy.
As the story begins to unfold, we might be surprised. We might expect shepherds and wise men and the traditional tale of the birth of Jesus. That is part of this morning’s pageant, but it is not the whole thing. There is more to be told in the story of the coming of Jesus.
If we just hear about the birth of a baby, we may feel good, pleased by the gentle sentiments of the season. But it is not until the whole story unfolds that we realized what a world-changing event the birth of this particular child is.
The three trees know: the treasure of the birth, the power of the word, the death on the cross. The whole story must be told for in the whole story we find grace and truth which goes far beyond the birth of the baby in Bethlehem.
In the Gospel this morning and in Mary’s song which we read together, we hear the promise of God. We sing with Mary; we magnify the Lord by proclaiming God’s forgiveness and love, by lifting up the poor and needy, those sorrowful and afraid. We praise the Lord and he comes; we bear the baby and carry him to the world in our arms – not just a baby, but the one who taught the truth, healed the sick, forgave the sinners, and the one who died and rose again.
This morning the Sunday School tells us a parable that gives meaning to the Christmas birthday, the whole story of Jesus, the one who redeems and saves us, and gives us life.