Morning, Noon, & Night 12-24-17

Luke 1:47-55  My soul proclaims your greatness, O God, And my spirit rejoices in you, my Savior. For you have looked with favor upon your lowly servant, and from this day forward all generations will call me blessed. For you, the Almighty, have done great things for me, and holy is your Name. Your mercy reaches from age to age for those who fear you. You have shown strength with your arm; you have scattered the proud in their conceit; You have deposed the mighty from their thrones and raised the lowly to high places.You have filled the hungry with good things, while you have sent the rich away empty. You have come to the aid of Israel your servant, mindful of your mercy – The promise you made to our ancestors – to Sarah and Abraham and their descendants forever.

This morning is for Mary. Protestants don’t really make as big a deal about Mary as Catholic folk do. But I know some Protestant folk, as well as some former Catholic folk, who hold a sweet place in their heart for the mother of Jesus. This morning is for Mary. The passage which Pastor Joanne read, the Magnificat, has been my main focus of study for today. We read this poem just about every year, and it always grabs me. This year, it seems even more resonant and important than ever. First let’s read a little earlier in the gospel of Luke to see what led up to the poetic proclamation of Mary. Listen.

Luke 1:26-38 Six months later, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a young woman, named Mary; she was engaged to a man named Joseph, of the house of David. Upon arriving, the angel said to Mary, “Rejoice, highly favored one! God is with you! Blessed are you among women!” Mary was deeply troubled by these words & wondered what the angel’s greeting meant. The angel went on to say to her, “Don’t be afraid, Mary. You have found favor with God. You’ll conceive & bear a son, & give him the name of Jesus— ‘Deliverance.’ His dignity will be great, and he will be called the Only Begotten of God. God will give Jesus the judgment seat  of David, his ancestor, to rule over the house of Jacob forever, & his reign will never end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I have never been with a man?” The angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you & the power of the Most High will overshadow you—hence the offspring  to be born will be called the Holy One of God. Know too that Elizabeth, your kinswoman, as conceived a child in her old age; she who was thought to be infertile is now in her sixth month. Nothing is impossible with God.” Mary said, “I am the servant of God. Let it be done to me as you say.” With that, the angel left her.

December 24, 2017

Morning, Noon, & Night 

Girls are really smart. And I don’t say that just to get points with the majority of people here. I’ve always thought so. Girls are strong too. Remember in elementary school when girls were faster and taller than the boys – and stronger? Some of that head start persists. Girls are tough. I knew my mom was tough. It didn’t really occur to me that having four boys under the age of 5 years old might be a challenge because my mother never seemed to have a problem with it. She was tireless, as far as I could tell. She worked morning, noon and night without complaint.

Girls are smart and strong and tough. One of the girls in my high school class and church, who I later understood came from a working class background, became a professor of mathematics at the University of Chicago. Smart! She always got better grades than I did, and she also knew that grades didn’t really matter.

I could tell that those competitive systems were difficult for many of the girls and many of the guys as well. But the guys took to the competitive games more than the girls did – and something happened in high school that seemed to make the girls drop out of the competition for grades and status. They knew there was something wrong with it and decided not to keep playing the game.

I always thought that my mother was smarter and stronger than she felt she was. When I started appreciating feminism when I moved to Philadelphia in the late 1970’s and 80’s it made me start thinking differently about her and about the world. I started writing letters to my parents made out to “Mrs. and Mr. Louise Tatgenhorst” to tweak the system that constantly made women invisible and women’s work harder but unappreciated.

Women hold most churches together. Women’s leadership and women’s ministry are often the foundation of a congregation’s work in the world. Men are important too, of course, and I love that the men’s ministry in this church has been growing, but without the work of the women in this church and most churches, we’d be in trouble. That’s why I’m really proud of the United Methodist Church for being in the lead in main line churches in ordaining women and appointing women to be district superintendents and bishops and pastors of important churches.

 

I think of all these things when I read Mary’s awesome, poetic declaration of gratitude, blessing and possibility that we call the Magnificat. The Magnificat gets that name from the first word in the Latin translation of the poem. Luke places it in the gospel right after Mary learns she is pregnant. It is her grateful and amazed declaration that now everything is turned around – that if she, a poor peasant girl from Nowhere, Palestine, has been chosen to bear the Son of God, then everything is up for grabs.

She proclaims that God has “deposed the mighty from their thrones and raised the lowly to high places.” We always noticed that her ecstatic speech is in the past tense, as though this amazing turnaround has already happened. The magnitude of the occurrence makes it possible to imagine that everything has been set right already!

I named my sermon for this morning “Morning, Noon, and Night” to recognize how Mary plays with time in her speech and because I saw that I would be preaching all day today. (I know some pastors who are preaching at 4 services today, so don’t feel sorry for me. And some of you probably remember days when people spent the whole day in church every week!) Anyway, I’ve spoken about this before, how God’s time is different than human time, and past, present, and future may all be part of one moment of kairos time. Tonight we’ll notice how that happens when we’re in the presence of a baby, whose time sense is radically in the present.

 

I particularly appreciate Mary’s boldness this year. You might doubt, especially this year, her confidence that God has “filled the hungry with good things, while you have sent the rich away empty.” Things seem to be moving in just the opposite direction. But I trust Mary’s confidence. It’s not easy to see. But things are changing. Look how the #MeToo movement, spearheaded by Tarana Burke 10 years ago, has gained steam this year to power a nationwide conversation about sexual assault and harassment. It’s an important conversation and a conversation we just have to have as part of God’s empowering of the lowly, bringing down at least some of the high and mighty.

Some people would not read the #MeToo movement into the Magnificat, but it’s there for me. Part of the beauty of the poem is how inclusive it is of everyone’s real needs. The song embodies “the reality of both/and.” Just as Mary embodies the polarity of being virgin and mother, she shows us how we can be people both of the heart and of the head, both mystical and resistant, both contemplative and justice-oriented, both spiritually active and socially active.” When we identify with Mary’s song, we are all pregnant with the possibility of new life.

Some years, the Christmas pageant and the fourth Sunday of Advent is quite separate from Christmas Eve. Last year it was a full week. This year it’s just a few hours. Morning to evening. Tonight we celebrate the coming of the Child – the real difference that has been made, that is being made, that will be made by this holy reality, that the world is about to turn.

Responsive Hymn Canticle of the Turning