Advent 4 – The Path of Love - “The song inside us all”
Mary’s song is not new. It’s a song that has been sung throughout the Old Testament. And I believe it's a song that we are invited to, and a song that's truly inside of us all!
Mary's lyrics remind us of themes and values from Genesis, Exodus, Jeremiah, Isaiah, Micah and other books, and from today!
Mary’s words are reminiscent of Moses and Miriam, judges like Gideon, prophets like Nathan, Kings like Josiah, Queens like Esther, and so forth.
This is not new. But it is news:
It’s news that we’ve been hearing, reading, learning and reflecting on since August in Peace
School through the Old Testament:
‘My soul magnifies the Lord,
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
48 for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant.
Each fall semester our Venture Club and younger ages hear the story of lowly people like Moses, Gideon and Esther who experience the saving power of God from Pharoah, Philistines and Persians. Moses, Gideon and Esther magnify God’s power as they become vessels of God’s work and ministry – saving the enslaved, the terrorized and the oppressed.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
The Venture Club and younger ages also hear the story of Abraham and Sarah, and the family of Genesis 12-50 that keep wrestling with being blessed. They may not be a perfect family, but God keeps blessing them despite their brokenness with children and survival, even when they seem barren in a barren desert. Sarah and Rachel both have difficulties bearing children, but somehow God hears their prayers, and Isaac and Joseph and Benjamin are born.
50 His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
This includes our stories of Moses, Gideon, David and Josiah.
All these people fear God! They trust in this God that is less defined and tangible than the god’s of the mighty empires.
Instead of fearing Pharaoh, Philistines, and the idol Baal, they instead fear God.
In doing so they probably benefit in ways that don’t make sense. Israel was not a perfect people deserving special attention, yet it survived Egypt, survived the desert, and became an established nation along the treacherous trade route on the eastern edge of the Mediterranean. They should not have survived Egypt, the desert, nor the competing interests that vied for control over Jerusalem and Palestine.
But they did, and for a few centuries they even thrived!
51 He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
Our Peace School stories show how the mighty Pharoah, mighty city of Jericho, and the mighty philistine warrior Goliath cannot stand up to the power of God.
Their pride and lack of peace and well-being for all, lead to their demise.
Their pride and lack of peace and well-being for all, lead to their demise!
Either you fear God and trust God, or you trust you and your own people too much. Eventually, no one can outlast and out-power God. Whom do we fear?
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
And our Peace School stories have included the rich. The rich getting richer is not a simple story for Israel. In fact, none of these stories are ‘simple.’ But I’ll come back to that...
While Abraham gains wealth he lies to pharaoh and eventually even separates from his nephew Lot,
While King David creates a solid kingdom, he commits murder and adultery, let alone war.
While King Solomon’s wealth expands, his love for his people diminishes. He's also credited with the words in Ecclesiastes, that life is vain.
This is not simple!
Are songs Simple? We know they are not new.
Songs keep using bits from other songs – DJs are one of the clearest examples of this. But even Beethoven, Bach and Handel knew their predecessors’ music and derived form, instrumentation, intervals, textures and melodies from each other. Sort of like a quotation of a musical sort, acknowledging that you are not creating out of nothing. You acknowledge that this song is not completely new.
It’s also not simple. In fact, songs are not meant to be simple. Very few simple songs last the test of time. A few do, because they are easily memorable. But even then, just because something is catchy or easy to remember, doesn’t mean that it has depth and that it can transpire the test of time.
The best songs in orchestral music have lasted well over a century, and Handel’s Messiah has lasted over 250 years, first performed in Dublin for Easter in 1742!
Similarly, this song of Mary’s is not a simple one. It’s hard enough to follow God out of slavery and oppression and poverty. It seems even harder to follow God out of privilege, power and wealth. Many stories in the Old Testament depict Israel as the successful underdog. But there are quite a few stories where Israel has to deal with it’s own stories of injustice and sin. Sarah doesn’t offer Hagar salvation. Aaron doesn’t turn down the opportunity to create his own idol God – a manmade golden calf. Gideon sometimes acts more like a warlord than a humble servant of God. David seems keen on not only stabilizing Israel, but stabilizing his great legacy. It starts to get murky on whether David wants to serve God, or wants God to serve him and his budding imperial agenda. Same goes for many of the kings of Israel and Judah.
This song is not new and it's not a simple one. But simplicity was never promised by God.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.’
The promise was for help, for mercy, and for presence.
No, not wrapped presents and gifts.
But for an unwrapped, uncontainable presence.
A presence that named days of Sabbath and spoke creatively.
A presence that spoke to Abe and Sarah, and said “Go!”
A presence that burned with fire, yet didn’t scorch the bush.
A presence that stood up to pharaoh’s army, yet kept the Israelites dry and fed.
A presence that never left Hagar and Ishmael, nor their descendants to this very day.
A presence that never left, but hears the call, and like a parent of a disobedient child, still comes running to help and comfort.
A presence that stays with Job through it all, as well as the Jews who return to Jerusalem from Exile, and the Jews in Exile who never return.
Just because you don’t have a kingdom, a temple, or a land to call your own, doesn’t mean God doesn’t care. It doesn’t mean God has forgotten you. And it doesn’t mean the ones with a palace, sanctuary and home have a better God. Because this God keeps singing a familiar song with a familiar tune.
Can you hear it? Do you hear what I hear?
It’s a song that reminds everyone, that the poor are not forgotten.
That no one politician, army or empire is more powerful than God.
It’s a song that reminds us, that power is not the goal, but presence. A presence that is relational – that is God with us.
And if we forget this song, we’ll be sent as clear a reminder as possible. An actual person! Imagine unwrapping a baby child at Christmas – or maybe we should imagine yearly the gift of children, of babies, of new life in the dead of winter.
This person, this child - Not a teacher, Not a prophet, Not a king, Not a priest – but someone who was all these, who carried on these traditional roles, but refused to be limited by tradition and history. This baby child grew up, and lived up to his mother's prayerful song. Teachers, prophets, kings and priests can save the world if they make disciples of God, and sacrifice their lives for God.
Christmas is a time to remember that the birth of Christ, was the birth of a kingdom. The birth of a good news nation. The birth of an egalitarian empire. The birth of Christ corporation (sounds a bit cheesy, but think about it), Christ meaning salvation - a corporation where the only profit is people - alive and saved from despair, destruction and generational depression.
And if we believe that God can even conquer death, and that the ways of Jesus will always live on for eternity, then this kingdom has never ended.
And if this song of Mary's already existed, then in some ways Jesus was the re-birth of a kingdom. Not of David or Solomon’s kingdom, but of the kingdom God always wanted and always wants.
Imagine... - A pharaoh that frees, a Jericho that opens its gates to everyone, a David that doesn't need blood on his hands, a Babylon that conquers poverty, a Jerusalem rebuilt on inclusion rather than ethnic exclusion, a Roman Empire built on occupying love and reconciliation in its heart, rather than people and places for its palace.
Not a simple song though.
For sometimes it feels like this kingdom, of Gods is conquered. It feels like God’s presence is gone – there’s too much death, depression, discord – we feel hopeless, powerless, - we’re poor and we know homelessness as a daily part of our news and our streets and our schools.
Not a simple song.
I pray, that Mary’s Song becomes engrained in our hearts and souls like any of our favorite Christmas carols. I enjoy singing silly songs of Santa, snow and presents. But I’m ready for the timeless songs of hope, joy, peace, love and justice. I’m ready for the ongoing songs of salvation and solidarity. I’m ready for the songs that remind me that God is with us. That reminds me of a kingdom of the lowly, the forgotten, the sick, the left-out, the left-behind, the deported, the exploited, the occupied, the imprisoned and the enslaved. I’m ready for a song that challenges my power, my privilege and my wealth, while also giving mercy and blessings and reasons to rejoice.
I could go and on with these themes, but alas, that is what we start in January - in Peace School - as we learn stories of Jesus and his followers, from Matthew through Revelation. The kingdom that the disciples and apostles create amid an impressively oppressive Roman empire.
So this Christmas week -
Remember presence - the presence of God with us - Immanuel - God is with us - All of us, all the time!
Let us sing this song of love year round!
Peace to you all,
Events & Evites:
Tory - Pastor of Children and Youth Faith Formation.