+ 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 Spiritand 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 she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”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.”And Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home.
There is a song we sing in Advent, and it’s a song we’ve sung every year in this season of fear and hope and waiting:
O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.
And Ransom captive Israel.
That mourns in lowly exile here
Until the son of God appear
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee O Israel…
We survived. Let us sing louder, with more clarity and spirit than ever because we survived.An ancient Mayan prophecy inscribed on the walls of Guatemalan ruins predicted that the world as we know it would end on December 21st, 2012.
Last week, some grocery stores began to sell out of bottled water, bread, and milk as we waited to see what would happen.
Worries ran so high across the globe that the Vatican made an official statement to put the public at ease.
December 21st came and went as the world watched. We all dodged the Mayan doomsday prediction. While the oracle of the Mayans may not hold weight for any of us, we must ask the question: what do we know about prophecy?
Again, let us rejoice: we survived.
Friday, December 21st, marked the winter solstice—the longest, darkest night of the year. Most of us here at church probably spent the evening with friends at a Christmas party, or at home snuggled in with a good TV show.
But all over the country, thousands of people spent that long, dark night out on the streets with no place to call home. Right in our own neighborhoods, we have over 2,000 homeless people on any given day, huddling under overpasses or in allies- trying to get back on their feet. For those without secure housing in Memphis, prayers for survival on any given night rise up as the winter weather sets in.
In our scripture reading today, Mary sings: God lifted up the lowly; God has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. This prophecy offers an image of hope to the lowly, the homeless, the hungry… but then we remember the 2,000 people on our streets night after night… and we must ask the question: What do we know about prophecy?
O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.
With heavy hearts this Advent season, we remember: we survived.
20 elementary school children did not survive in Connecticut last week. They will not leave cookies out on a plate for Santa on Monday. The will never have another birthday. They will not have the chance to grow up, fall in love and explore the world.
Too many innocent people did not survive this year. Too many people we love passed on. In the midst of our joy this Christmas, we remember all those who we mourn.
We raise our voices and sing: disperse the gloomy clouds of night and death’s dark shadows put to flight… so that we can rejoice once more. But how can we rejoice in these times of so much loss? How can we believe the prophecy of hope and redemption when the world around us seems to be so broken?
What do we know about prophecy?
O Come O Come, Emmanuel… We sing this song every year. Longing, put to music. Crying out to God through song. We suffer in exile. We mourn. We are held captive by our own anxieties, desires, and struggles.
We begin the song with a request: Come.
The chorus of this hymn ends with a proclamation: Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come…
This song captures both our fear and hope through Advent. We fear that the dark nights will not end. We hope that God’s spirit will renew us once more.
Our scripture reading today lifts up a song from a time of both fear and hope, too. In fact, Luke’s gospel is filled with songs. Beginning with Mary’s song of praise that we read today, then Zechariah’s song, Simeon’s song, the song of the heavenly hosts…
Songs have power. Songs give us a collective voice to express the emotions and deepest thoughts and prayers of our hearts. Today, our scripture is Mary’s song. It is a song from a time of both fear and hope.
Young Mary turns to her cousin Elizabeth. She’s a pregnant, unwed teenager longing for a place of refuge in this confusing time of her life. She flees to the hills- leaving behind her small town where neighbors gossiped and shamed her for the growing belly under her robes. Then, Mary is overcome with hope, and she offers up a prophecy through her song: My Soul Magnifies the Lord… God has lifted the lowly…
We rarely pay close attention to Mary’s prophecy.
We know how the Christmas story ends: Christ is born in a manger. Shepherds and kings come to adore him. The whole world is changed forever. We rarely linger through Advent to savor the mystery of this in-between time- when a prophecy has been made, but the truth has yet to be revealed…
We hate waiting.
We start singing Christmas songs weeks before the season begins. We hang lights and put up trees and send out Merry Christmas cards throughout December- and we overlook this sacred time of waiting and longing.
We rush beyond this season of fear and hope.
Maybe it’s because we already know how the story ends, so we forget to listen again.
We turn on automatic pilot: like the drive home from work we’ve taken hundreds upon hundreds of days. Sometimes, even when we intend to meet up with friends or run errands after work, we end up driving ourselves home- as our autopilot steers the way.
We’ve all known people who skip out on movies because they already know the outcome. I had friends who skipped the movie ‘Titanic’ saying: We already know how it ends. Lines from ‘The Night Before Christmas” and morals from “The Grinch Who stole Christmas” follow us each year. But there are those who block out these tales all season saying: I’ve already heard that story.
And what about the Gospel? Do we know it too well to recognize the extraordinary words of hope and renewal?
Mary offers a prophecy to us today in her song: My soul magnifies the Lord… God looks with favor upon the lowly…
We are in the sacred season of Advent. We are called to linger here in this holy season of waiting. We are called to listen to Mary’s prophecy. For thirty years after she sings the Magnificat, the world will not know what kind of teacher and preacher and savior was growing inside Mary’s womb.
Prophets proclaim raw truth long before God’s people are ready to hear it. The impact of prophecies is rarely revealed immediately. Instead, we see prophets speaking loudly about lament or praise and we miss the message until they are long gone.
Today, Mary sings a prophecy. Her words are in the past tense: God has shown strength with his arm… God has scattered the proud… God has brought down the powerful from their thrones…
Not everything that Mary sings about has already come to pass, however, she proclaims this prophecy in the past tense because she has entered in to the promises of God. She is already a part of God’s history of redemption and restoration.
Today, we must ask the question: what do we know about prophecy?
And yet, the world seems to be falling apart around us. Homelessness and hunger increase in our nation every single day. 20 innocent Elementary School children and 6 adults were shot down in a senseless act of violence.
Just like Mary, we are the lowly. We feel small. In the face of injustice and violence and the loss of innocence, how can we bring hope? How can we believe in a Mighty God who promises to come to us?
And then, we remember what we know about prophecy: God moves in small, imperceptible ways- like coming to earth in the middle of the night in a nameless stable and a rustic manger. God works through a shamed teenager hiding from the gossip of her village.
In this Advent season, we have faith that our loving God is bringing a prophecy of redemption to pass: one shamed teenager, one unknown baby born in the middle of the night, and one generation at a time.
Today is the last Sunday of Advent, and we are desperately singing:
O Come O Come Emmanuel…
And today, let us sing from a place of assurance that we are already drawn in to God’s story of healing and redemption, eve as we wait in this season of fear and hope. Let our souls magnify the Lord, for we will all be lifted up. Amen.