Sunday, December 20, 2015

Does Your Soul Magnify The Lord? (Luke 1:39-46, The Fourth Sunday of Advent)

39In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 40where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. 45And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” 46And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord.”

Many first-time parents are surprised to discover that once they have their baby, people stop talking to them.  When you start carrying a precious little person around with you, people will talk to the baby, and ignore you.  This should be liberating for new parents – people will not notice that you’ve worn the same shirt for four days, they won’t notice what your hair looks like, they won’t notice that your socks don’t match, if you’re even wearing socks!

It’s all about the baby.  Strangers will come up to you on the street and begin babbling and making googly faces to the bundle of blankets in your arms like they are old friends.  I’ve always thought that if you wanted to mess with people, you could wrap up something else in blankets – I dunno, a loaf of bread or a ham or something – and carry it around and see how long it takes people to realize they’re talking to your lunch and not a baby.

You carry around a baby, and all the attention goes to the baby.  Thankfully, people will still invite you places, because they know that the baby travels with you, and if you don’t show up, then neither does the baby.  It’s nice to come along for the ride, but the increased attention is more about the baby than it is about you.

It’s not about us.  Good lesson to learn, today.  It’s not about me.  Say that with me: “It’s not about me.”  That’s a lesson that’s well worth-learning.  It’s not about me.  And, perhaps no one knew that more clearly than Mary, the mother of Jesus.

Mary has gone to visit Elizabeth at her home in the Judean hill country.  We don’t really know much about the relationship between Mary and Elizabeth – they are sometimes called “cousins,” but many of us probably use the term “cousin” to describe a relative whose relationship to us is sufficiently vague for us to not know how, exactly, we are related.  Do you have cousins like that?  I know I do.  Mary will give birth to Jesus, Elizabeth will give birth to John the Baptist, which makes Jesus and John “cousins” in the same exact way. They’re related, but we’re not sure how.

Mary and Elizabeth are both pregnant when they meet up in today’s Scripture reading.  When Elizabeth heard the sound of Mary’s voice, the child in her womb – John the Baptist – leaped for joy.  I am told that babies leap and jump and kick and do all sorts of things in the womb.  I’ll take your word for it – I am not now nor have I ever been pregnant, and alas, I do not remember my own time in the womb!  I’m told that spicy food made me active, and I’d stretch out and hit the inside of the ribs and the bladder at the same time.

Babies do all that sort of stuff fairly frequently, so, it’s interesting that Elizabeth says the baby within her “leaped for joy.”  This wasn’t just one of his regular movements that she knew, she specifically says that he “leaped for joy.”

If you were here last week, you remember that we talked about joy.  How, to be a Christian is necessarily to be a person of joy, that there is no such thing as a joyless Christian.  We said that joy is the infallible sign of the presence of God.

It only makes sense that baby John would jump with joy at the sound of Mary’s greeting, because Mary carried Jesus, and Jesus and Joy always go together.

It would be easy for this sort of thing to go to Mary’s head, but Mary knows it’s not about her; it’s about Jesus.  Even so, when God was looking for someone to be the mother of his Son, God chose Mary.  Made her highly-favored among women.  Blessed her.

We Protestants have not really known what to do with Mary.  Many of you probably remember times of great suspicion and animosity between Catholics and Protestants, and no doubt, a lot of it centered around Mary.  “It’s not about Mary, it’s about Jesus,” we would say, as if Catholics didn’t seem to know that.  By the way, Catholics also know that it’s about Jesus.  I don’t know a single Catholic who doesn’t know that it’s about Jesus!  And yet, we sometimes got far too hung up on Mary.

Growing up on the schoolyard, we all knew that one line of taunting was crossing the line, and that was talking bad about someone’s mama.  While we all had a full arsenal of “Your mama’s so fat” and “Your mama’s so ugly” jokes, they were only used sparingly.  To talk trash about someone’s mama was to talk trash about them.  Talking about someone’s mama was declaring war. 

We Protestants should be careful about talking bad about Jesus’ mama, because in so doing, we are also talking bad about Jesus.  The son of Mary is also the son of God, Mary carries this child, tradition calls her Theotokos, literally “the mother of God” or “God-bearer.”  Indeed, it is a blessing to bear God and to be used to give birth to God’s love for the world.  Mary knows it’s not about her; it’s about God. In the midst of all that, Mary breaks into a song called “My soul magnifies the Lord.”

She doesn’t sing, “Hey everybody – look at me!”  She points it toward God.  My soul – my heart, my life, the very depth and essence of my being – magnifies the Lord.  Mary’s heart and soul is humble – she isn’t full of herself or her own ideas.  She isn’t self-protective or cynical.  She’s checked her ego at the door and she’s ready to be used as part of God’s purpose in the world.  Mary isn’t in this for herself.  She’s in it for God.

“My soul magnifies the Lord,” she sings.  And, that she sings it rather than speaks it is a detail we ought not overlook. This is the season for singing. One of the things most of us like best about the Christmas season is the music—provided you don’t spend too much time at the Mall!  Even those of us who don’t particularly like to sing get into the mood when it comes to Christmas carols.  We sing because it lifts our spirits during what can be a difficult time of year for some of us.  We sing because we relish the joy in the eyes of our loved ones.  Like Mary, we sing in recognition of the wondrous abundance of God’s love and grace.

Mary sings, “My soul magnifies the Lord.”  Magnify – what does it mean to magnify something?

Make it bigger.  Bring it closer.  Bring out a clearer picture, a more detailed picture. “My soul magnifies the Lord” – my soul makes God bigger, brings God closer, my soul helps us see a clearer picture of God, a more detailed and accurate picture of God.

Magnify can also mean “to glorify,” or “to give attention to.”  To magnify God is to give attention to God.  Every time I preach a sermon, my aim is that it magnifies God – that it glorifies God, that it gives attention to God.  The role of preaching has been described as being a sign post along the journey of faith, pointing the way to God, without drawing much attention to oneself.  My hope is that every sermon points to God more than it does to me, because it’s not about me, it’s about God.

J.S. Bach is widely-recognized as one of the greatest composers of all time.  He was also a devout Christian, a Lutheran, in fact.  When he wrote out the music he composed, at the bottom of every sheet he wrote the letters, “SDG,” short for the Latin phrase soli deo Gloria, which means “the glory to God alone.”  He never wanted any attention and praise given to him to overshadow the glory that rightly belongs to God.

The same could be said of our choir and musicians.  Their music is given, not so much for our enjoyment, but as an offering to God.  If we enjoy it, too, that’s great, but the glory in it belongs neither to the performer nor the listener – the glory is for God.

All of worship, in fact, isn’t about us – it’s about God!  It’s all about magnifying God – giving attention to God, pointing to God, making God clearer and more visible.  More than our tastes, more than our preferences, more than what we like, more than what we don’t like.  It’s about God.  Rather than evaluating worship on the basis of whether or not it meets our needs – as if we were are consumers at the Golden Corral buffet-line of spiritual goods and services – we might simply look for the ways it points us toward God.

We don’t come to worship to evaluate or consume, because it’s not about us, it’s about God.  We come to magnify the Lord, not just in an hour of worship on Sunday morning, but in worshipful lives all week long.

Like Mary, we are all called to magnify the Lord.  Our soul – our heart, the very core of our being – giving glory and attention to God to make God bigger and bring God closer.

The most concrete way we can do that is to love.  At all times, in all places, toward all people, let us love.  Our faith witnesses to the reality that God is Love, when Jesus grew he told us that the greatest command was to love God and our neighbor, and so if we are to be people who magnify the Lord, may our souls make Love bigger.

Would it be that people know we are Christians because our lives are dedicated to making Love bigger.  I can’t think of a better witness.  I can’t think of a more concrete way to magnify the Lord.

It’s not about us.  It’s not about you or me, it’s not about us or them.  It’s about God.

Parents always claim that the moment they welcomed a child into their lives, their lives were changed forever for the better.  The same is true when we welcome Jesus into our lives - our lives are changed forever for the better.  A deep and indescribable joy is born within us, that joy fills us up to overflowing, it can’t be contained but bubbles out of us and touches others with God’s love.  When that happens, people jump for joy while others break into song, and in all of it, God is glorified.

Mary magnifies the Lord.  She has, in so many ways, focused and delivered God’s love.  She helps us see that we, too, are tended by God’s love, and we, too, are needed for delivering that love to the world.

And so, as you approach Christmas, I hope you do so as Mary did – pregnant with possibility, full and ready to burst with God’s love.

This Advent and Christmas, I invite you to become an expert in making God’s love bigger and delivering it to the world.  Are you willing to do that?  If so, then Hail Mary and Praise God.  Christ just might be born among us again.

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