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Sermon Ideas For Luke 1:39-45 (46-55) Part 4

"The passion that drove the early Christians to evangelistic zeal was not fueled by the desire to increase church membership or to usher people safely toward heaven. It was fired by relief at being liberated from the delusional game being played by the Dragon to their own detriment, and by the determination to set others free," noted Walter Wink.1 The celebration of divine justice and power in the lives of ordinary people is one of the continuing themes of the Gospel of Luke. The exaltations of Elizabeth and Mary continue the biblical tradition of songs of joy and liberation sung by Miriam and Hannah. These triumphant lyrics testify to the saving deeds, which God has done, and in expectation of the deeds of justice to follow. Sung by women who were often ignored or discounted by conventional society or literary sources, these songs are powerful testimony to the theology within them: "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."
The recognition of the holiness of ordinary life has not always been prominent in Christian theology. Reverence for the extraordinary acts of martyrs or ascetics and the power of clerics led to the overlooking, if not discounting of ordinary lay faithfulness. Devotion to Mary was at once deeply popular in reflecting the compassion and joy of motherhood, while also hierarchical in exalting her beyond every mother through her virginity. Heroic virtues seemed to embody the dramatic goodness of God more than the ordinary endurance and routine of most people. As one woman noted, "A woman may live a whole life of sacrifice, and at her death meekly says, `I die a woman.' But a man passes a few years in experiments of self-denial and simple life, and he says, `Behold I am a God.'"2
Celebrating the human birth of the divine Son underscores not heroism, but the subtle leavening of God's power in the world through faithful human responses. The celebration of God's mighty acts in the hymn of Mary is based on the acknowledgement of God's power from generation to generation as revealed in the genealogies of Hebrew scripture, the long sequence of the keeping of the covenant between God and the people. The trustworthiness of God has been proved in God's faithfulness year by year just as the people have been faithful to God. Mercy and strength together reveal God's justice, for the delusions of the proud, that is their self-sufficiency, are shattered by the reality of divine power. In the same way, the rich will go away empty, perhaps because of the dissatisfaction with material life, perhaps as a means of restitution. The world order as daily known and experienced is therefore turned on its head, and God alone can be the author of such an impossible transformation. For those whose dignity is undermined or erased, hope lies in seeing the world pregnant with the justice of God, only hidden and about to be born. Those who doubt the values of justice, mercy, and peace will reap the whirlwind of hatred and despair. Thus, African-American gospels were not wistful songs of a future deliverance, but the affirmation of enduring humanity and coming justice for the enslaved: "Everybody talking about heaven ain't going there."
Incarnation as the embracing of human experience by divine life becomes the crucible in which the ordinary is shown to be holy, and the spiritual dimension revealed most deeply in the concrete. Temptations to discount Jesus' humanity or to focus on divine power alone reveal the lingering hierarchy of a spiritual dualism that wishes to transcend the limits of creation or history, which God has in fact embraced. "God saved the world not by sitting up in heaven and issuing antiseptic directives, but by becoming man, and vulnerable in Jesus. He died, not because he despised the earth, but because He loved it as a man loves it—out of all proportion and sense," wrote Robert Capon.3 Not surprisingly, this overturning of the special by the ordinary is the theme of Hollywood Christmas classics such as It's a Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street, and The Bishop's Wife. In these films the world weary protagonists are saved from their cynicism and despair by intervention of angels or Santa who enjoy the seemingly dull routine of ecclesiastical or domestic life, relish the stubborn diversity of humankind, rebuke evil, and therefore reveal the values of love, meaning, and hope embedded in ordinary time.
God as the bearer of salvation and material justice has been the hope of many oppressed peoples over the course of the centuries. The courage to sing of new life which flows from God creates the new reality which can then be lived. In 1988 in the midst of the struggle against racism in South Africa, Archbishop Desmond Tutu preached to the leaders of his country,"You may be powerful, indeed very powerful, but you are not God. You are ordinary mortals. God, the God whom we worship, cannot be mocked. You have already lost. We are inviting you to come and join the winning side!"4 The song of Mary is an invitation to all people of God to embrace the way of justice and sacrifice embodied in the life of Christ.
Rebecca Lyman
NOTES
1. Walter Wink, Engaging the Powers (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992), p. 324. 2. Abigail Alcott quoted in David Shi, The Simple Life (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985), pp. 136-137. 3. The Supper of the Lamb (New York: Smithmark, 1967), p. 190. 4. Jim Wallis, The Soul of Politics (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1994), p. 278.