Such a lovely room

Such a lovely room

Sunday, December 24, 2023

2023 YEAR B advent 4

Advent 4, 2023
2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16
Romans 16:25-27
Luke 1:26-38
Canticle 15

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

An interesting feature of Luke’s gospel is that it is always seeking balance.  For example, while Matthew gives us the sermon on the mount, in Luke it is the sermon on the plain.  In Matthew, the beatitudes are all blessed are the poor, blessed are the meek, blessed are peacemakers.  But in Luke we get the other side as well.  So it’s blessed are the poor, but woe to the rich.  Blessed are the hungry, but woe to those who have plenty.  Always with the balance, see?  It’s fitting that Luke’s feast day falls during the season of Libra, whose astrological symbol is a scale.  Balance.

And we heard another great example of this balance today in Mary’s song, which we often call the Magnificat.  He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up the lowly.  He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.  Always the balance, the equality, the leveling.  We think of that as righteous.  We think of that as just.  Or, we like to think that we think of it as righteous and just.  Because, when it comes down to it, talk like that is dangerous.

During the British occupation of India, public singing or recitation of the Magnificat was banned, for fear it might incite a revolution. And it stayed that way until the British oppressors left in 1947.  When the British went home, Mahatma Gandhi asked that Mary’s song be read in all the places where the British flag was being lowered.  More recently, in the 1970s and 80s, the Magnificat was banned in Guatemala, Chile, and Argentina. 

He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up the lowly.  He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.  It is righteous; it is just; and it is dangerous.  Who doesn’t want the lowly lifted up?  Who doesn’t want the hungry filled with good things?  The answer is, the mighty on their thrones, and the rich who will be sent away empty, that’s who.  Equality and balance are a threat to the oppressors, and the last thing they want is for people to be singing this song from the poor little meek and mild gentle silent night Mary.

And that’s exactly where so many of our Christmas songs go wrong.  Mary is often portrayed as meek and mild and silent, just going along with the flow of whatever everyone else wants.  And that is ridiculous.  And you know how we can tell?  We can see it in today’s gospel reading, which is also from Luke.

But first, there’s another feature of Luke’s gospel in that we get inside people’s minds.  We know what the prodigal son is thinking.  When the shepherds tell Mary and Joseph about the angels’ announcement, which we’ll hear tonight, Mary ponders it in her heart.  And this morning we heard that Mary pondered what sort of greeting this might be.  People don’t ponder in Matthew, Mark, or John.  But even more than that, Luke has Mary pondering.  A woman, pondering and thinking for herself.  That doesn’t sound revolutionary to us, but in Luke’s day it most certainly was!  A woman thinking for herself?  What’s next?  Giving birth to God in the flesh?

So the angel Gabriel comes to Mary and says, “Greetings, favored one!  The Lord is with you.”  And Mary ponders what sort of greeting this might be.  An angel just appears to her out of nowhere, and rather than fearfully cowering in the corner like I would, Mary ponders what sort of greeting this might be.

And then Mary speaks.  These are the first recorded words from Mary in any of the four gospels.  We would expect her to say, “yeah, okay shiny angel person, whatever it is you want I will do because I am the meek and mild silent gentle Mary.”  But no.  The first words out of Mary’s mouth are a question.  A challenge.  A scientific, logical query against make-believe fairy tales.  She asks, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?”  Whoa!  And does the sky split open?  Is she immediately struck by lightning for her audacity in questioning the representative of the all-powerful ruler of the universe?  No.  She asks a question, and she gets an answer to her question.

And can you see what that means for me and you?  We have it on good authority here that it is okay to question God.  In fact, I would say we are encouraged to question God.  To argue with God.  To push back when things don’t make sense.  You’ve probably seen the bumper sticker that reads “God said it, I believe it, that settles it.”  Well . . . no.  Not according to Mary.  Mary’s bumper sticker would read, “God said it, and . . . I have questions.”

I don’t remember where I first read this quote, but it was sometime during seminary.  Whoever it was said, “The role of the clergy is not to provide the answers.  The role of the clergy is to protect the questions.”  We don’t give you the answers; we encourage you to ask the questions.  God is big enough to handle all the questions we want to ask. 

And then look at how this reading ends.  Mary says to Gabriel, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”  Let it be with me according to your word.  Does Mary still have questions?  Of course she does!  Do you and I still have questions?  You bet we do.  And as we ask those questions, we trust that God will answer us, and God wants what is best for us.  And that God still comes to us, whether we are ready or not. 

As we finish preparing for the birth of this baby who will change the world, we have questions, and we should ask them.  And, as we journey into the birth of the Christ child together, we can trust God enough to say, “let it be with us according to your word.”


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