TEXTS: Psalm 80:1-7
Storytelling — Powerful Prophetic Promise of Peace
The time is tragic. The time is being fulfilled. The time wasn’t fulfilled by ending on December 21. Our Advent hope is overwhelmed with the horror of children killed in a school in Connecticut. Our 4th Sunday of Advent scriptures offer prophetic word for this tragic time.
Psalm 80 (1-7)
Psalm 80 is a plea by God’s people for restoration from tragic times:
Restore us, O God; let your face shine upon us, that we may saved.
This Psalm is not just a plea that we be saved from being victims. It is our confessional prayer that we not be victimizers. God knows much violence is inflicted in God’s name.
Restore us, O God, we pray in this tragic time.
Micah 5 (2-5a)
The prophet Micah knows it is a tragic time and foresees restoration.
But you, O Bethlehem, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth one who is to rule.
She who is in labor [brings] forth…the one of peace.
In Micah’s tragic time and ours God’s Holy One fulfills time and restores peace. But it is not fulfilled and restored from the top down by the rich and powerful. Rather two unlikely women from the bottom are vessels and voices for God. One old and barren, one young and unmarried, bear God’s life into the world. Elizabeth bearing John to become the prophet preparing the way for Jesus. Mary bearing Jesus the promised One of Peace to turn the world upside down. An incredulous Mary responded to an angel, “Let it be to me according to your word.”
Mary “ponders all these things in her heart” and becomes pregnant with God.
Now Mary seeks a spiritual mentor and companion in Elizabeth.
In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.
And why has this happened to me that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leapt for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.’
And Mary said, ‘My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for God has looked with favor on the lowliness of God’s servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is God’s name. God’s mercy is for those who fear God from generation to generation. God has shown strength of arm; and has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. God has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; God has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty. God has helped servant Israel, in remembrance of God’s mercy, according to the promise God made to our ancestors, to Abraham and Sarah and to their descendants forever.’
Mary remained with Elizabeth for about three months and then returned to her home.
Mary’s song is one of the greatest prophesies in the Bible and human history. There are many great sung versions of Mary’s Magnificat . We just sang: My soul proclaims with wonder (Hymnal 181). Sing we a song of high revolt is another Magnificat (Sing the Story 16). Let’s sing this song of Mary before I offer a further word about Mary for our time.
Sermon — Powerful Prophetic Promise of Peace
Sing we a song of high revolt;.…make great the Lord, God’s name exult! Sing we the words of Mary’s song…..of God at war with human wrong.
No wonder 30-some years later God’s Promised One of Peace was killed on a cross. Mary’s radical song prepares us for a radical Jesus. A young poor pregnant peasant woman is God’s vessel and voice for peace in tragic times. Jesus is born into a tragic time and soon King Herod kills baby boys hoping to kill Jesus. Mary’s body becomes the vessel of this truth coming into the world. Mary’s song gives voice to this truth. Why? Because she is blessed with the God’s Spirit of truth. Later Jesus begins ministry in his hometown synagogue of Nazareth. His inaugural sermon is Isaiah’s prophetic word: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me and transforming liberation is on the way (Luke 4; Isaiah 61). Foreshadowing Jesus, Mary is blessed with the Spirit and proclaims transforming liberation.
This Advent Sunday compels us to see and be Mary pregnant and prophetic with peace. It is no easier for us than it was for Mary, who dared to be pregnant and prophetic. Over the years my appreciation for Mary has dramatically deepened. Yes, I still struggle to “be” Mary, yet I have “seen” Mary in various times and places. A few years ago I participated in a retreat for Mennonite Church USA vision. The Interchurch Relations office explored our Mennonite relationship with other Christians. About thirty Mennonites were invited by MCUSA leader Al Meyer to help envision this role. Four close observers and friends of Mennonites were invited to listen and reflect with us. One of them was Notre Dame professor and priest David Burrell.
David offered the most surprising challenge with a plea for Mennonites to pay attention to Mary. He was not calling Mennonites to take up Marian devotional practice or piety.
He also was not calling us to a higher doctrine of the virgin birth. Most virgin birth arguments are at best irrelevant and at worst subvert the radical reality of Mary. David was calling us to see and be Mary, this radical vessel and voice for God. To the angel’s annunciation, Mary declares, “Let it be to me according to your word!” Now pregnant with Jesus and singing the Magnifcat, Mary is God’s blessed servant. I see Mary in David Burrell’s prophetic plea to us to pay attention to her.
My most troubling and powerful encounter with Mary occurred long ago in Cincinnati. I told this story in an Advent sermon here years ago so my apologies for you who hear it again. Cincinnati Mennonite Fellowship where I was pastor rented a wing of an old Methodist Church. Late one afternoon a day or two before Christmas, the church doorbell rang. I opened it to find a young woman — tired, hungry, cold, and very pregnant. We sat on the church steps in the brisk December afternoon sun as she poured out her story. Questions swirled within me. How could I help her? What if I took her home? Then she got up and disappeared into the dusk. In the middle of the night her name hit me like a bolt of lightning: Maria! A young poor pregnant Mary came to me – and there was no room in the inn.
I also saw Mary several years ago at our annual Biblical Storytelling event. A biblical storyteller gave a dramatic presentation of Mary getting word from the angel. The storyteller was a middle-aged woman who became a young contemporary Mary. Wearing blue jeans and T-shirt with a baseball cap on backwards, she looked 15. Her Mary was chewing gum and sitting on a stool when the Angel visited her. Good News: God’s giving you a baby! Yeah, right, I’m not even married! She was a memorable modern day Mary.
Mary appears to us in this world today bearing the promised One of Peace. She is as hard to see and as needed as she was when she gave birth to Jesus in Bethlehem. Mary knows the tragic time yet dares to be vessel and voice for the promised One of Peace. She holds Jesus in her womb and births God’s peace into the world. Mary is our model and mentor for seeing and being God’s peace in tragic times.
Today our hearts cry out for children killed with guns in a school in Connecticut. I hesitate to say anything yet because so much is being said by so many. Does what we say contribute to more gun violence or ending gun violence? Yet with Mary’s pregnant prophetic witness we dare not be silent. I will offer a brief word and hope that in a January adult study we will address it.
In no way do I excuse or diminish the tragedy of children killed in a Connecticut school. Nevertheless, if this is a tipping point leading to change then new insight is needed. Change that seeks to reduce gun violence in our country must address our addictions.
First, we have to name and transform our national addiction to guns. Second, we have to name and transcend our national addiction to war.
And we have to see how deeply connected are these two national addictions. Addicts do not find healing or wholeness by escalating or ignoring their addictions. We cannot “shoot up” our way out of our addictive madness. Our addiction to violence needs the pregnant Mary and the life she bears within her. Mary’s world was tragic and violent dominated by Imperial Rome. Our world is tragic and violent dominated by Imperial America. We have to see all the children of the world being killed by American weapons. How can we mourn children killed at home and blindly support killing children in Afghanistan and Pakistan, in Gaza or Colombia or anywhere else in the world?
Mary helps us be blessed and pregnant so we see all children as God’s children. Mary’s Advent message to us is that we are blessed and pregnant! All of us personally and all of us together are blessed and pregnant! Yes, I know it is not possible for me to be pregnant. It is not possible for many of us here to be pregnant. But let’s ask ourselves: How many of us become pregnant at 15 or 85 from an angelic visit? How many of us say “Yes” to this impossible possibility? Mary and Elizabeth let themselves be blessed and pregnant. With Mary we hear the angel proclaim: “Nothing is impossible with God!”
Just last Sunday our 2 ½ year old granddaughter Olivia was telling me about being pregnant. She knows that she will be a big sister (next summer) and that her mommy is pregnant.
Olivia was telling me about having a baby in her tummy. I could laugh or tell her that she is too young to be pregnant. But Olivia has more imagination than I do. In her innocence she knows something about Advent. God makes the impossible possible; Mary and Elizabeth are impossibly pregnant with God’s life.
We too are pregnant with God’s life in Christ being birthed into the world. We personally and communally are the vessels and voices of God’s promise of peace. In us as in Mary, “The Promised One of Peace” comes into the world. Look for Mary! Listen for Mary! Become Mary! Be wholly/holy pregnant. Remember, there is no such thing as being a little bit pregnant.
Our Advent theme is the water of God’s flood of mercy streaming upon us. Today let this water symbolize the water of the womb. Christmas is near, you are pregnant and your water is about to break! You are giving birth to God’s life of peace for the world – a world beyond guns and war. The world depends on your being the pregnant vessel and voice of God’s life.
Blessed are you and blessed is the fruit of your womb. Blessed are you who believe that there is fulfillment of all that is spoken to us by God! For with God all things are possible!
AMEN! Come, Promised One of Peace!