Sermon 12-20-20 The Rev Jen Van Zandt
And Mary said, “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.”
Difficult But, Not Impossible
With Christmas only five days away, I am sure we have a lot of the same thoughts and we share experiences knowing that this year will be like no other. As we get closer and closer to Christmas, the remaining days of Advent get harder as we come to deal with the reality that we may not be able to be with friends or family or both. Some of us may have to be completely isolated not only from one another but perhaps fully alone on this day So many of our regular experiences and traditions, activities and events have all been cancelled, or, as I like to think, have been put on hold; the parties we either attended or hosted, had to be cancelled, the concerts that we love to go to (including just hearing the Messiah sung), and all the special traditions. Maybe your tradition is going to the City to see the tree, or the office holiday party you looked forward to so you can give a gag gift to the person you don’t like working with, or maybe you’re not able to go into the country to chop down your own Christmas tree, or maybe you have to cancel Christmas luncheons, grab bags and Secret Santa. All of these things have been curtailed or cancelled and, unfortunately right now, the list is endless. All these things have been stripped away from us, at least for the time being. I was joking with a friend this week that Covid has even ruined snow days!
So, friends, in this time when we wait for Christmas to come and we expect and pray for miracles, not only in our lives but truly that this insidious disease is quickly eradicated, there are two gifts that are free—timeand being ‘with’ (each other, ourselves and God). Now some of you might be ‘done’ being with your spouse, since it’s been nine months. Or you’ve really had it with your kids or your grandkids with home/remote schooling, because you just can’t keep them taped to their chairs any longer. And I’m sure a lot of us may not feel like this is particularly good news. But let’s try to look at it through a different lens.
If we look at this timeas an opportunity, it actually may be a gift! Most of us who are not organized or like to put things off or…. like to overdo for Christmas…. by now are at a frantic pace of last-minute shopping, last minute baking, last minute wrapping. Maybe you’re just starting to do your Christmas shopping. My father didn’t start his Christmas shopping until Christmas Eve!
Back to time. Time gives us a place to ponder. A place to ponder what life is like; what life will be like again. Time gives us the ability to ponder what actually mattersto us. Time gives us the gift to ponder the good things that have happened in our lives. It gives us the gift to ponder how much we miss being together in a community of faith. It gives us the gift to ponder who else may need to hear good news as theystruggle in their livesdealing with Covid, infection fears, grief of loved ones lost as well as all the on-going, non-Covid illness and diagnoses. It gives us a chance, an invitation to ponder all of these things that are truly gifts from God.
One of the folks that is a regular participant in our Wisdom Wednesdays is not working right now and so what he has decided to do is pick up the phone and call old friends that he has lost touch with. And, by and large people are thrilledto hear from him! He said the responses are wonderful and surprising: “Oh my goodness, it’s so nice to hear from you. Sorry we haven’t been in touch.” I did the same thing with a friend that literally I have not seen or talked to in a year and a half, for no particular reason, but we just lost touch. The reconnect was truly a gift and even more uplifting than I even though! That’s one simple gift that we can give one another.
So let’s ponder even further. Let’s look at Mary. I read a commentary by a wonderful Lukan scholar out of Fuller Seminary, Joel Green who writes, “Mary, actually, really doesn’t need God’s intervention. She’s engaged. She’s about to be married. She’s about to start her new life. Everything for her looks extremely hopeful. But the rest of the world, especially Israel, [and all of us], we do need an intervention, once again”. I think we are in dire need of an intervention; into the ways and habits and things we’re thinking about; the things that we are dwelling on and obsessing about; and especially the places where we’ve given up hope.
A lot of us have pandemic fatigue at this point. We really don’t want to keep wearing the masks. We really want to go back to our favorite restaurants. We really want to be with our family across the miles or down the street. But friends, we can’t. But…while we WAIT, In Advent (which means ‘waiting’) this is an opportunity for us to ponder even more what God’s intervention did and does for us in Jesus Christ. In Jesus Christ, God gives us hope in a physical person that we can look at, that the disciples and many others, could see and touch. Jesus may not be physically with us, but through his Spirit he is deeply embedded in our physical hearts. This embeddedness of God’s intervention through the coming of Christ often gets lost because usually we are busy (read: frantically) baking cookies, writing out Christmas cards, getting last minute presents, shopping and making all the feast favorites and trying to get our house ready for company. I talked to somebody else a few weeks ago who said, “You know, I’m going to miss being with my whole family including my grandchildren; but you know what? maybe it is just time for us to be quiet.”
Mary pondered what God offered her. She didn’t run; she didn’t say no. She became God’s partner in changing the world. Once the angel had visited her and said, “Do not be afraid, Mary. You will do something most supreme.” Instead of her saying, “Let me go home and think about it.” She immediately said, “Yes. Let it be with me according to your word, Lord God.” So the Magnificat not only is an expression of her faithfulness and privilege and joy, it can be an expression for all of us.
How often does our soul really magnifythe Lord? I know it’s difficult these days, friends, but our souls can magnify God’s love for others if we let it. Let our spirit rejoice in God, our Savior.
Just imagine if we didn’t havea Savior. Just imagine if we didn’t have a place that we know our loved ones go into eternity as will we, someday. Just imagine if there wasn’t someone who could cleanse us from all the awful, thoughtless, mean things that we have done and said throughout our lives. Just imagine if Mary looked on her lowly state as a handicap to worshipping God and bearing God’s gift to the world and staing her blessings?
While I’m certainly not asking you to be Mary, I am asking us all to learn from her faithfulness; focusing NOT on the deficits and challenges but on the blessings. I know I haven’t been as grateful and thoughtful as I could be, because I’m distracted by many things. We all are. What if we just paid attention to the mercy that God gives for those who need mercy, who need love, who need support?. Maybe you and me are in need of that too. By the way, not only this congregation and this town, but the whole worldneeds mercy. We need to remember the God who show us the strength of His arm to protect us. We need to remember that God to continues to scatter the proud. We need to remember that God will bring the powerful down from their thrones., to lift up the lowly, even the lowliness of our own hearts. We need God to fill the hungry with good things.
If you’ve ever driven by this church on a Wednesday or Saturday, the line is literally out the door into the street of people who need food from the Loaves & Fishes food pantry. They also need the smiles and connection knowing that they are not alone. And that this won’t last.
God helped his servant Israel and he wants to help and redeem all of God’s descendants through Abraham — that includes us. I challenge each of us for the next five days to take at least one of these expressions in the Magnificat and keep saying it over, and over, and over again. Because the more we focus on God’s text, and God’s love, and God’s grace, the more our worries and our anxieties get right-sized. The more we focus on God’s mighty acts in Christ, the more we can trust that we will get through this. It may not be easy, but it won’t be eternal.
My friends, there is an invitation for us to truly be not only be aware of what God through Mary did, but to truly be in partnership with God, like Mary did so that we share the joy, the love, the peace and the hope. So I’m going to charge you all to find someone–not only the children and youth–but for all of us to find someone unexpected who needs a lift, who needs a phone call, a silly card, an email.
I got the most hilarious Jackie Lawson card. (The person who sent it I think sent it to a number of people.) But this one had to do with a hand bell rehearsal and it was mice practicing hand bells, but their notes were ‘off’ a little. It really cracked me up. I thought, you know what? sometimes we don’t need the heaviness and intensity—we already have enough of that. We need humor. We need to know that we are loved and cared for even as imperfect as we are. And so, friends, take this time of quiet and ponder, ponder all these things in your heart. Amen.