HOPE Point @Wesley Memorial UMC
December 24, 2017
Fourth Sunday of Advent
Luke 1: 46-55 (CEB)
Mary said, “With all my heart I glorify the Lord! 47In the depths of who I am I rejoice in God my savior. 48He has looked with favor on the low status of his servant. Look! From now on, everyone will consider me highly favored 49because the mighty one has done great things for me.
Holy is his name. 50He shows mercy to everyone, from one generation to the next, who honors him as God. 51He has shown strength with his arm. He has scattered those with arrogant thoughts and proud inclinations. 52He has pulled the powerful down from their thrones and lifted up the lowly. 53He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty-handed. 54He has come to the aid of his servant Israel, remembering his mercy, 55just as he promised to our ancestors, to Abraham and to Abraham’s descendants forever.”
I was thinking this week about staying in hotels. I’m always a little cautious about hotel stays because you just never really know how clean a room is, even in the more upscale places. But even when you are able to have some peace of mind about the cleanliness of the hotel, a hotel room can never be home. Unfailingly, my experience of hotel stays is that always, ALWAYS, on the first night (if not for several nights) I have trouble getting to sleep. And that’s true even if the bed is comfortable, which sometimes hotel beds are more comfortable than my own bed. But it’s not just the cleanliness of the room, or how comfortable the bed is. There’s something about the unfamiliar that is disorienting, that makes it difficult to really settle in. The pillow is a little too flat. The lighting is weird. Every strange sound puts us on high alert. And no matter what we might do to try and make things more familiar, more comfortable; no matter, even, how long we might stay; it will still never be home. We just won’t be quite as comfortable, quite as relaxed, quite as settled as we are when we’re at home; in our own rooms, in our own beds, with our own pillows. I think you all know what I mean.
Now, hold on to that image for a minute. Hold on to those feelings, because I want us to think about this on a larger scale. When God created the heavens and the earth, God was, in part, creating a home for humanity. And the Garden of Eden was perfect. But then humanity messed that up. We didn’t follow God’s instructions. No longer was the Garden of Eden the perfect home. Because of their failure, Adam and Eve weren’t comfortable there anymore; they weren’t settled. And all of human history has been this story of tension; a story of God trying to make the home right again, and us weak humans never able to really follow God’s instructions. The oversimplified truth is that our life on this earth is like a temporary stay away from home. Paul spoke of how we are to be “in this world, but not of it.” Yet, most of the time we are “of this world.” We get caught up in the institutions, the rhetoric, the societal norms. Though the Bible tells us many times, “Do not be afraid.” We let fear overcome us. We live in a time when everything in our world is telling us to be afraid; afraid of our fellow human beings, afraid of disagreement, afraid of the future. We can hardly help but be swept up with fear. Injustice reigns, war plagues us. The poor in our communities and around the world go without much needed food, shelter, and clothing. This is not the world God intended it to be, and because of that, we are living these tense and unsettled lives, like wanderers displaced from our home.
Still, God has this plan to make things right. Despite humanity’s continual failure to follow God’s plan, God has moved forward, working in surprising and unexpected ways, but never moreso than in the lead-up to that first Christmas over 2,000 years ago. It’s like God decided it was time to burst upon this world and get the home place set in order. Except God’s plans for setting the world right were completely unexpected, and that’s exactly what Mary’s song, which we heard a few moments ago, is all about.
Where we pick up in Luke’s gospel this morning, Mary had recently been visited by the angel Gabriel, who announced to Mary that she would give birth to a son, the Son of the Most High, the Christ. As soon as Mary heard this news, she went to see her relative Elizabeth (who was also pregnant), and they rejoiced together. The song of praise that Luke records is Mary’s song of rejoicing. But as you can see, this is far more than a celebration of a new pregnancy. Certainly, this pregnancy has Mary feeling blessed by God, and she begins by saying that. She understands that God has looked with favor upon this lowly servant. But even more than that, Mary is rejoicing because she understands that through this child she carries in her womb, God is finally going to set the world right! It’s kind of like storming into the hotel room and changing everything so it’s like home. The hotel pillows are out, your pillows are in; the mattresses are swapped out, and the sheets. The windows are remodeled to match your bedroom windows at home. The transformation is so complete that before long, you can’t even tell the difference between the hotel room and your own bedroom.
In Jesus Christ, that is exactly what God plans to do with this world. Mary’s song is all about how, through her son, the whole world is going to be turned inside out and upside down. Everything about this world that makes it uncomfortable and keeps us feeling unsettled will be set right. In Christ, God will shake the foundations of our human world until this earth so resembles the kingdom of heaven that they are truly one and the same! Injustice is out. Justice is in. War is out. Peace is in. The powerful are toppled. The lowly are lifted up. The hungry will be fed and the rich sent away empty-handed. This is the kingdom Christ inaugurated, and this is the kingdom God intends to one day establish on this earth once and for all!
Honestly, it’s a little hard to hear Mary’s words, isn’t it? We can understand, even before he is born, that Jesus Christ is really going to shake things up, and having our world shaken up (even when we know it needs it) is never easy. Christ is going to turn this world around to make it livable, a home, for everyone. But that means things have to change and we all know that change is never easy. This is more than a coat of paint on the walls. We are talking about complete demolition of everything that is broken and dilapidated, and a rebuilding that takes us back to God’s original blueprint. This is God bringing us back into line with the plans God has had all along, but that means we have to abandon our own, often selfish, plans. Through Jesus, God is making the world a place of welcome and nurture not just for some, but for all. Christ came for all, and in Christ, God makes the world a home.
Earlier this week, a colleague was telling me about his parents and their home. Now in their 90s, his parents bought their home in 1962 (that’s 55 years ago for those of you trying to do the math). They still live there. My friend told me that his mother never liked that house, she never wanted to live there. And he even went so far as to speculate that it might have been the source of some strife in his parents’ relationship over the years. But what really struck me was what he said next. He told me about how his Dad would do anything to that house for his mom, because he loved her and because he wanted her to love that home the way he did. As he was telling me this story, I thought of this door. I thought about how behind every front door there is something different, something special that makes that place a “home.” And then I thought about how much God loves us. God loves us so much he would do anything for us, he proved that when he “took on flesh and made his home among us.” God will do anything to make us feel at home in God’s presence, and for us to love that home. It may be difficult for us to endure at times, and it may take us to places we don’t really want to go, but in the end, it will be everything this world needs and more.
Mary was pregnant. In her immense joy, she sang a song of praise. She is not the first pregnant woman to rejoice in her pregnancy, nor will she be the last. And honestly, considering the circumstances surrounding her pregnancy, its surprising Mary was happy at all. But she was, and Mary’s song was about far more than being happy about her pregnancy. Mary’s song is the gospel before the gospel, a celebration of all that God will accomplish through her son, the Savior. It may not be what we expected, Christ’s work in the world may at times push us to places we don’t really want to go, but this is what God must do to make his kingdom real on earth. And when God presented this plan to Mary, she did what all of us must do: she reached deep into her soul and found courage beyond herself, something that can come only from complete trust in God.
I wonder if we are as willing and as courageous as Mary. In the face of dire circumstances, Mary was willing to receive Christ, physically, into her womb. Are we willing to receive Christ into our hearts? Are we willing to live with Mary’s courage, to allow Christ to completely turn our lives and our world upside down? Can her song be our song, too? Can we refuse to give into the fear that is constantly plaguing our lives? Can we admit that there are things about our world that need to be turned upside down and inside out for the sake of all? And can we trust that God is doing this to make this world right, to make this world a home?
In Christ, God’s kingdom-building work will shake our foundations to the core, but in the end, we will find ourselves at home. I can’t think of any place I’d rather be.