Tales of a Midwest Lutheran on the East Coast

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

God's Catchy Tune


Grace and peace to you from God our father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus   the Christ. Amen.

Finally! We made it. We FINALLY get hear something that remotely resembles the familiar Christmas story.  After four longs weeks, we get Bethlehem. Mary. Babies. And we FINALLY get to bask in the gentle pre-Christmas glow of this visit between these two pregnant women, literally swelling with emotion, like a scene straight out of a musical. Mary, right on cue, even bursts into song.

But unfortunately we’ve come in part-way through a musical we all THINK we know by heart. We saw the title of this number, read the words, “Mary,” “Child,” “Womb,” “Mother,” and “Blessed,” and we just know we’re going to get a tear-jerking scene fit for the best of the Hallmark channel, or at least something set in soft light and nice music to gently usher us into Christmas.

Well, I hate to break it to you, but SPOILER ALERT! Forget the songs you’ve been singing along to on the radio - “Silent Night,” “O Christmas Tree,” and “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town”! Buckle up, buttercup, because we’re still in ADVENT, and the heavens are about to be shaken  (ADVENT 1), the ax is poised at the foot of the trees (ADVENT 3), and the mountains are a’coming down (ADVENT 2).

This song of Mary’s is not just a pretty song, it’s not just tender blessing that Elizabeth offers, and it’s not just cute baby bumps these women are sporting. This blessing is for a woman who should be ashamed. Those babies will grow up to change that world. And that song describes how God is going to change that world through reversals and revolution, through hormones and the Holy Spirit. In the ultimate SPOILER ALERT, this song gives a way God’s entire plot.

But first, we have to go back to the prequel, if you will, the start of Luke 1, to Mary’s relatives Elizabeth and her priest husband Zechariah, a good couple who tried and failed their entire lives to start a family. One day, though, as Zechariah was taking his turn doing priestly things in the temple…in the exact spot and to the exact type of person where you might exact God to show up… God does. An angel appears. Zechariah is terrified. The angel says, “Fear not….Elizabeth will have a son.” Zach asks for proof. And for that he is struck mute - very unfortunate thing in his profession. But the pregnancy the angel foretells does come to pass, and Elizabeth will be the mother of John the Baptist, who will announce the coming of the Lord by baptizing people out in the wilderness.

Anyway, fast forward 6 months. A poor young girl, probably her early teens, living in a town in the middle of nowhere, Hicks-ville. It was the LAST spot and the LAST person we might expect God to make things happen… and yet, God does. An angel appears. Mary is terrified. The angel says “Fear not…. You will have a son.” Mary is confused, but believes. And she is given proof – her older relative Elizabeth is pregnant.

Which is where we find Mary today, entering the home of Zechariah and Elizabeth - these two pregnant prophets, wondering what in the world God is up to in their lives. These are smart women; they know how the world works. Mary questions the angel, perhaps from knowing that such a “sign of God’s favor” as a fatherless pregnancy will cause her to become an embarrassment to her family and to her fiancé Joseph. That this would likely be a stigma that would follow her and her son for their whole lives.  That for HER - an impoverished unwed teenage mother from the wrong side of the tracks - to be chosen to bear the Son of the Most High doesn’t makes sense.

Mary knows very well the song that the world would rather sing: The powerful rule from their thrones of influence and wealth. The full get more and the hungry get less. Might makes right; and more guns means more safety. Mercy is for the weak, and blessings are for the famous and successful. THIS is the song that makes sense to our world.  This is the song that we hear sung to us ALL. THE. TIME, the moment we enter a mall or turn on the TV.

And yet, here Mary is, radially trusting God’s promise that don’t make sense. Here she is, singing away in her praise to God. Singing even though she is thrust into the epic struggle between good and evil.  But she knows how the story ends. Spoiler alert –Good wins. GOD wins.
No spoilers of the new one!

This very weekend millions of people – including myself - will see a film that continues a story that began with a poor young man from a planet in the sticks who is DESTINED to bring down an empire that spans an ENTIRE GALAXY. This young man is quite literally catapulted from the quiet existence he had always known into the middle of an epic struggle between the powers of good and evil. And he does this as a follower of the Force - which embraces the way KNOWLEDGE, PEACE, and NON-VIOLENCE. Sound familiar?

"I will not fight."
In the end, the mighty Galactic Empire is toppled, not by brute force or superior firepower, but by the weak rising up over the strong. By the triumph of teamwork and friendship over power and intimidation. By Luke Skywalker laying down his weapon in the final fight with infamous Darth Vader, and vowing not to fight anymore.  By instead singing a different kind of song altogether.

The first chords of this song were heard at the creation of the world, and variations have been heard echoing in the ears of God’s people ever since. A song that Mary gives words to, words that set the stage for the ministry of the child who is growing in her womb, “a long time ago in a Galilee far, far away.”

This is a song that is picked up by Zechariah when he is finally able to speak, and then by the heavenly host that announces the good news of Jesus’s birth to an unsuspecting audience of shepherds. A song that grows and takes shape over the course of Jesus’ life, in his preferential treatment to those considered weak and lowly by those strong and in power. A song that crescendos on a Friday in the presence of cross, then holds its breath in pregnant anticipation in a long, three-day silent pause.

A pause that was ended by the deafening crash of a sealed tomb bursting open.
*the entire alto section really did get totally lost once...

This song still persists, even now, in this musical number with no beginning and no end, and no spectators. That’s right, this is a musical like the annual Princeton Chapel Messiah Sing-A-Long, where the audience members ARE the participants. This is God’s song, and no one is left sitting on the bench, and if the entire Alto section gets lost,* oh well, you just keep going and find your way back into the song when you can.

Because we will get lost and lose track of the song; we will find it difficult to hear it over the other songs clamoring for our attention. Because we will find ourselves starting instead to sing along with the songs that the rest of the world would have us sing. Especially when we are feeling powerless, that life is out of our control.  Especially now at this time of year, in the busy-ness, stress, and the emotions that come with the holiday season. Especially now, with so much in the news that would give us cause for fear and worry. So at these times, we ask ourselves, “Which song am I singing along to right now?”

Am I singing along with the dominant culture to the tune of fear, hate, and scarcity?

Or am I singing along with Mary? Do we dare sing with her about how God has blessed the lowly and powerless, about how God has and will continue to bring down the mighty, and fill the hungry? About how God has done and will continue to do great things for us and through us?

We do. We do dare join in to this grand participatory musical, where all our different voices and roles have a part and a place. We dare, along with Mary, in our different ways, in sharing the good news in the ordinary moments and rejoicing with every fiber of our being in our God who has looked on us with favor. We dare, and we do so together, with Jesus to lead us. So let’s practice doing just that. Let’s practice making Mary’s words our words too, so we can take the song God is singing in our hearts to a world that is dying to hear it. Amen.  

(And for the hymn of the day we sang a version of the Magnificat) 

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