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4th Sunday in Advent – December 20, 2105

Micah 5:2-5a; Luke 1:39-55

We have made it to the fourth Sunday of Advent: Mary visits Elizabeth, there is blessing and joy and exultation. Thanks be to God!

There is blessing and joy and exultation. Such celebratory emotions have felt mostly absent this December with terrorism and fear the lead of every news outlet. It even appears that there are less lights this year, fewer parties, not as much whimsy. My car’s antlers and nose seem somehow inappropriate – or at least more conspicuous this year. Or maybe it’s just me, I don’t know. Regardless, I am so grateful for some blessing and joy and exultation, some ubiquitous praise and magnification of the Lord. For the love of God and all things holy, please don’t stop at verse 45 in Luke’s Gospel, read all the way to verse 55. Go crazy because we need some over-the-top, overwhelmed by God’s grace, bordering on embarrassing glory to God right now. I don’t think it is just me.

There is a wonderful collection of essays titled, “Blessed One, Protestant Perspectives on Mary,”  and one of the essays in particular addresses this Sunday’s text from Luke. Lois Malcolm discusses Luther’s commentary on Luke 1:46-55. She writes about Luther’s insight that Mary experiences “God’s bare, sweet, goodness.” The great reversal she expounds is a result of the prior experience of having been “regarded” by God even in her lowly estate. Malcolm writes, “Even before Mary has seen God, God ‘sees’ her and thus enables her to taste God’s ‘sensible sweetness.’”

She goes on to say: “And now Luther explains the core reason why being ‘seen’ by God when one is on the ‘depths’ is so important. If being seen by God when one is on the depths says something about the character of God’s power and action—that God is a God who creates out of nothing—then it also says something about the character of human experiences of God. It is precisely when we have been ‘seen’ by God in the ‘depths’—when God has ‘regarded’ us there and ‘lifted’ us up—that we truly are able to ‘trust’ and to ‘love and praise God.’”

In other words, once we have experienced this kind of regard and the subsequent reversal that comes with it we are no longer dependent upon outward circumstances to prompt our praise. Whether we are in the depths or on the heights from a worldly perspective, we know our favor in God’s eyes and therefore our blessing and joy and exultation cannot be squelched. How about a little of that kind of overflowing exuberance for God’s goodness this Sunday? Doesn’t the world need to see such excitement? Wouldn’t it be a witness for people to see crowds gathered in song, not huddled in fear? Might it prompt hope if attention is drawn to acts of justice and mercy rather than acts of violence and retribution? People who know to the core of their being the length God will go to show divine favor for all of creation can’t help but raise their voices in praise because such knowledge is too great for them to contain.

Let’s do our own magnifying of the Lord this fourth Sunday of Advent 2015. How about writing a litany of praise for your congregation? You know those places where reversals have occurred, transformation has happened, or mercy has been extended. As we enter the home stretch of Advent and the end of the calendar year, take some time to consider what your soul longs to magnify right now where you are and share it. How about the homeless families who found shelter in your Sunday School rooms? Or the babies baptized? Or the people who are on the other side of a major illness? Perhaps particular milestones were reached or anniversaries celebrated – lift those up, too. Remember the saints who’ve gone on to glory. Proclaim your confidence in God’s promises and don’t shy away from naming ongoing challenges. Know you are regarded by God and celebrate “God’s bare, sweet, goodness” no matter what is going on personally, corporately or globally.

Lois Malcolm goes on to talk about the apocalyptic nature of the Magnificat. She writes, “Apocalyptic discourse refers to not only a literary genre … but also to a theological perspective, a way of perceiving divine plans within mundane reality … apocalyptic discourse also presupposes that some—those chosen by God—can actually perceive that ultimate salvation and judgment even now.” As God’s chosen, holy and beloved, let’s tell of God’s ultimate salvation and judgment, God’s divine plans for the world to live secure and in peace that even now we see coming to fruition.

This week:

  1. The Luke text has ties to many Psalms: Psalm 34, Psalm 71, Psalm 98, Psalm 107, Psalm 111. Read some of these psalms and use them to help shape the prayers and liturgy for Sunday worship.
  2. When have you been overwhelmed by God’s goodness? What happened? How do you express your joy?
  3. Read Luke 1:39-55 and then read Luke 4:14-20. Notice any connections?
  4. Notice verse 45 of Luke 1. Elizabeth calls Mary blessed because she “believed that there would be fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” What has the Lord spoken to us that we will be blessed to believe?
  5. Google “Magnificat recordings” and spend some time listening to them.
  6. Consider this poem by Janet Morley based on Luke 1:39-53 found in “Imaging the Word, Volume 3.”

Sing out my soul,
sing of the holiness of God:
who has delighted in a woman,
lifted up the poor,
satisfied the hungry,
given voice to the silent,
grounded the oppressor,
blessed the full-bellied
with emptiness,
and with the gift of tears
those who have never wept;
who has desired the darkness of the womb,
and inhabited our flesh.
Sing of the longing of God,
sing out, my soul.

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