As I launch into a new sermon series, I need to give credit where credit is due. All four of these 2015 Advent sermons are inspired by Dr. J. Ellsworth Kalas’ book “The Scriptures Sing of Christmas.” For older folks raised in Sunday school, many of these Bible passages are familiar, and I link to them in the King James Version for this series, simply because this translation is what they will most likely remember.
Over the next four weeks, we’re going to take a close look at some positively lyrical Bible passages. In fact, some of them are historically thought of as songs, and have continued to be practiced as such in one way or another.
We begin with what is sometimes called “The Magnificat,” Mary’s song of praise to God after learning she was pregnant by the Holy Spirit, due to give birth to the promised messiah. Songs of praise can also be songs of revolution, we quickly learn.
Mary declared something glorious had happened; at the same time, she made clear that God’s intervention in the world was designed to create great upheaval. God showed this by beginning a divine invasion of a fallen world via the womb of a girl who was, by the standards of her day, barely a person.
Mary lived in a rural, outlying village of no importance, one embedded in a region where the people were considered rubes, identifiable by their accents. Even the more prominent of her people had fallen from power, their so-called “Promised Land” now representing little more than the frontier edge of the mighty Roman Empire.
How does God reach everywhere? By starting pretty much in the middle of nowhere. All he asks is that people “fear” him, that is, show the creator the respect the creator is due, and great mercy comes forth.
The proud? They will be scattered. God says so, and little Mary declared it loudly.
The mighty? They will lose their positions, to be replaced by the least. God says so.
The hungry will be fed, and the rich will find themselves empty. God says so.
Mary’s song was part of a larger promise, a promise God made to the people of Israel. It took thousands of years for the messiah to come, and even today God has not completely fulfilled these big, revolutionary promises. God works in his own time, but we must never forget, God says so, and what God promises does happen.
It is easy for us to forget where God is taking us. We are all drawn to worldly power. Once again, we find ourselves in an election cycle. Money rules, bluster seems to be the only winning strategy, and the proud spend a lot of time imagining what they will do if voters will just give them the chance.
Perhaps our Advent season can be a corrective to some of this. Mary’s song provides us with another voice to hear when we consider wars and rumors of wars, refugees’ cries for help, and even the real meaning of Christmas, which, by the way, has nothing to do with the design on a Starbucks cup.
Mary spoke first because her unborn child was not yet able, despite being divine. About three decades later, Jesus re-sang Mary’s song with his life.
He warned the proud of their folly, of their need to humbly submit to God.
He told the mighty they would fall, that the first would be last and the last would be first.
He fed the hungry with his own miraculous hands, and he told us to do the same.
And then he went further and actually started the process by which everything is changing and will be changed forever. He gave up his own life on the cross to defeat sin and death.
It’s a song worth singing with our own lives.
Featured image: Detail from “The Magnificat,” James Tissot [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons