It’s not Christmas…yet. We are still waiting. We are still expecting. We are still enjoying the traditional pre- Christmas activities: Decorating, music, gift sharing, children’s events, food/cheer all that comes with our various traditions
So, Today we gather on the Fourth Sunday in Advent. The third week in our series on the Unexpected. Week #1: Was the unexpected baby promised to Zechariah and Elizabeth Week #2: The unexpected baby promised to Joseph and Mary.
Today we explore the Unexpected Song of Mary. I offer three questions for us:
- How is Mary breaking out in a song of JOY and thanks to God “unexpected” n the journey to Christmas morning?
- Is there such thing as an unexpected song today, in our lives in our culture?
- What is God teaching us?
These questions brought to mind three stories we will visit today.So, I invite you to put aside the stirrings of your mind, where you will eat lunch today, the lists of things left to do between now and Thursday and listen to the themes of belief and faith.
This first story takes place right after the angel Gabriel has visited the teenage, young girl Mary, telling her that she is going to conceive and bear a son named Jesus, the Son of the Most High. Gabriel also shares with Mary that her older cousin, Elizabeth, is pregnant with a son, though she was barren. Now Mary is on her way to visit Elizabeth
Overflowing with JOY.
Listen – for a word from God. Read Luke 1:39-56.
In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy.
And blessed is are you Mary who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” And Mary sang, My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; For the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly He has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.” “May God bless the reading of his Word.”
Last week David ended his sermon about “Unexpected children” with these words: There is a song in the air! Is it a song we expect? If so, what song?
There is a great familiar story of unexpected song. A story of another village preparing to welcome Christmas: Children ready to rush for their toys – to make a great noise, families, young and old, sitting down to a feast, a great Feast, one with who-pudding and rare who-roast beast.
During the night – the one who lived “just” north, said “I MUST stop this Christmas from coming.” So he went about – moving feverishly from home to home – faster than a sleigh racing down the mountain hills. He took it all away, all the expected trapping of Christmas day.
After taking everything that adorned their homes and lives, the story takes a pause. The action and flurry stops, and all went still. As the Grinch listened in the quiet of the morning, he heard an unexpected song. A song of Christmas Joy. “How could it be? How could be?” The Grinch asked himself.
You remember what happened next. His small little heart grew and grew as the spirit filled his heart with a love he never knew. Then the Grinch said, “Maybe Christmas doesn’t come from a store”, “Maybe Christmas perhaps… is just a little bit more.”
How do all those people in Whoville get up on Christmas morning, and see the unexpected. All the glamour of Christmas: all their preparations, all the table settings, the stuffed stockings, the anticipation of receiving, the anticipation of giving
Is GONE. It is not what they expected.
And what do those ‘Whos” do? They SING! Not a sad song. Not a song of lament. No, a SONG OF JOY! For they new as they grew from little girls and boys that life was more than toys. They knew God was good and God was great! And over time it became written on their hearts and in their mind. And because of that, they did not Fear. For they knew “God is near!” They could shout – out in Joy – an expected song.
One thing we must admit when we hear the Grinch Stole Christmas, is that we know how it turns out. It is the same with the nativity story. We hear the story over and over again every year. We all know how it turns out.
There is no way to recapture the initial shock of the news that Mary heard: that God is coming in the flesh to show us what real life looks like. And not in the way we would typically expect. Instead, what was expected did not happen.
Mary is not from a priestly line, but an unknown 12 year old, single, poor, female, from a not-so-good town. And yet, this Advent story is filled with wonder and joy. And although the ending is a baby in the manger If we skip over the middle, we miss something extraordinary.
Mary was engaged, a time of preparation, getting ready for marriage ceremony. Then she learned she was to be pregnant. Not only pregnant, but with the child of God. What could be expected, was to be banished, stoned, tossed away! Her life was forever changed, she became the one. God would use to bring the light of truth into the world.
While Mary was traveling to 80 miles or more to visit her cousin, the winds of the spirit were at work and two little babies were growing in their mothers womb, Elizabeth’s baby John, so overwhelmed that he jumped with JOY.
Then all the haste come to a sudden halt. Everything freezes. Action stops and all is still. Mary’s song begins. What will she sing? She reaches for words she most likely heard as she grew up. In Judaism the song of Hannah (found in 1 Samuel) is regarded as the prime role model for how to pray. It has several features in common with Mary’s song.
Both women are servants of God. Both gave birth to sons, Through divine call, both children were uniquely dedicated to God. In 1 Samuel, the story comes to a stop, just like in Luke all action freezes when Hannah learns she is to give birth to a son. Hannah’s word’s are mirrored by Mary’s song.
Mary knows Hannah’s song before she begins to sing, for she has lived it, learned it as she grew up. So, Mary’s song, in each verse, bears witness to the grace and the unmerited favor of God. She humbles herself, empties herself and in that MAGNFIES God.
God has acted. God’s holiness and God’s mercy is reflected. What started with Abraham CONITNUES through the great cloud of witnesses. Everything that was expected for Mary has changed but God is “in”, below and around it all!
My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my savior. For the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.
It is true for us as well…isn’t it? Life is going along as normal…we expect Tuesday to follow Monday. We expect, “a.b.c” and then the unexpected enters-in. In the midst – we lean on what we know, what we have learned through life.
Meg’s son – the first grandson was set to graduate from High School in 2 months, and Meg’s little sister Sara, was engaged. Great celebrations were planned. The whole extended family was in a time of preparation and waiting for what they expected to be a time of great joy. Plans were set in motion
Before any thoughts of graduation parties, Meg’s sister Sara, had a traditional bridesmaid party – an overnight at a luxury hotel. It was a grand affair. Stories were shared, toasts were made and prayers of thanksgiving and joy were made.
Meg returned home only to receive a 4am phone call from her sister. Everything expected came to a halt. There was unexpected news: “Mom has died”.
Meg couldn’t believe what she heard. Her mom was not sick. She just talked to her on the way home from the party about wedding and graduation plans. She was so excited.
What happened? “There was a fire” Meg’s sister said. It was the unexpected. There is no way to recapture the initial emotional shock. Before the news of an unexplained mid-night fire hit the local news, Meg and her sisters turned to each other, their close friends.
They shared memories, stories and tears. Yet , they realized knew they were not alone. For, the winds of the spirit where at work here too.
Meg described the trip to the hospital, collecting her Mom’s things, choosing a funeral service, and all the details of planning an unexpected funeral. She also said that in the midst of trembling, there was peace. “I don’t know how to explain it” she said. “I knew the spirit was in each moment.”
It was the hardest thing any she had ever done, Meg never expected this! But, Meg and her family leaned on each other in a way that couldn’t be described. Three sisters, gathered with their families, pastors bringing prayers from three congregations and friends.
Scientists tell us there is an amazing, and thus-far unexplainable phenomenon called “quantum entanglement.” If two particles of energy are kept in close proximity to each other for a long time, they form a relationship, a kind of bond that defies the imagination. The connection between these two particles is so strong that, what happens to one particle, immediately influences the other. Even Einstein could not explain it.
Somehow, however, once particles form this kind of bond, it cannot be severed.
Connection that is perhaps “sacred”. So Meg, her sisters, and family all supported by a Great Cloud of Witnesses planned the service.
Meg’s mom LOVED, LOVED the season of Christmas and all the celebration, joy and adoration that came with it. At the memorial service – in the middle of February – there was something a little, well unexpected: Songs of Christmas. The young voices of the St. Peter’s Children’s Choir’s filled the air.
“Joy to the World the Lord has come! No more let sins and sorrows grow, Nor thorns infest the ground; He comes to make His blessings flow. Far as the curse is found, Far as the curse is found, JOY to the WORLD the LORD has COME!”
Sometimes we are blessed by the Holy Spirit in a way we can’t explain and Then… we sing. We sing an unexpected song of joy. Amen.
Seuss, Dr. The Grinch Who Stole Christmas Random House 1957
Bartlett and Taylor, Feasting on the Word, Year C Vol 1
Bob Henderson, Weekend Update Dec 18, 2015. Covenant Presbyterian Church Charlotte NC