Meg Peery McLaughlin
December 6, 2020
Luke 1: 46-55 (paired with 1 Samuel 2: 1-8)
And Mary said,
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
50 His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”
This is the Word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.
This year, rather than roasting her own,
my mother ordered a turkey breast from a caterer in Asheville,
making for a more relaxed day.
Dad had gone to pick it up on Wednesday
and the instructions taped to the foil container
said to just warm it up a bit before the feast.
So, there we were, our 3 girls working a puzzle,
when we heard a loud exclamation from the kitchen.
Not used to hearing my mother use such language,
I ran into the kitchen expecting to find her with a cut finger wrapped in a paper towel, but instead I found her to find her staring at the foil container
holding not turkey but stuffing.
It was so very 2020.
Things are backwards this year.
My twin 6 year olds are going to first grade on iPads,
iPads, which in 2019 I tried to ban,
because I feared my girls were having too much “screen time.”
And spoiler alert,
we have already filmed the lighting of the Christ candle in the Advent wreath.
Because of the way we produce worship—
we filmed multiple families lighting the wreath the same day
and the family who had Christmas Eve had a baby that needed to nurse,
so they went first.
Why not light the Christ candle, then back up to Advent 1?
Mary knew about things being backwards.
She wasn’t married.
But she was pregnant.
She was a teenage-nobody from a nowhere-town.
But she was to bring forth a king, whose reign would know no end.
It was all totally backwards.
And as much art likes to depict idyllic Mary sitting alone
with this wonky news,
I’m struck that as soon as the angel departs,
Mary “sets out with haste” –as the scripture says–
Mary hightails it out of town to find a girlfriend.
Ya’ll know what I’m talking about, don’t you? When the world is topsy turvy,
we know where to go…we find our people, our friends.
For Mary, it wasn’t her church small group, but her first cousin, Elizabeth.
Elizabeth was also unexpectedly pregnant, with John the Baptist.
And it is there by Elizabeth’s side, that Mary finds her courage to sing.
She sings the song we now call the Magnificat,
latin for the first words of Mary’s solo:
my soul magnifies the lord.
Mary sings of God, who to our surprise
actually chooses to work in topsy turvy ways
She sings of God who is in the backwards business.
God who scatters the proud
and brings down the powerful,
God lifts the lowly and fills the hungry.
If we are really listening, Mary’s song that will likely make us uncomfortable,
we who talk about too much stuffing and time on iPads.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor who was executed by the Nazis,
called the Magnificat “the most passionate, the wildest,
one might even say the most revolutionary hymn ever sung.”
Some countries, including India, Guatemala, and Argentina,
have, at different times, including as recently as the 1980s,
banned the words from being recited in public, including in worship,
because of how much it riled up their citizens into believing a different, better,
way of life was possible.
What life do you wish were possible? For yourself? For this world?
What justice meted out? What dignity restored? What wounds healed?
What unity finally claimed?
This Advent, are we ready to be riled?
And as sit with Mary as she sings by Elizabeth’s arm,
I want us to notice. . . . notice who else is here.
Someone who lived long before Mary and Elizabeth
but someone who shows up here all the same. Her name is Hannah.
I don’t know by what name Mary would call her,
perhaps her faith foremother, her spiritual sister.
I have no idea, but I know Mary knew Hannah’s story, her song. Deeply knew it.
You know how, when you are cooking at this time of year,
you can perfectly picture your grandmother’s face
when you make the sweet potato casserole?
How when you pull out the nativity for the mantle
you can hear your late father’s voice grumbling about the lost third wise man that never was found?
That is what happens at Christmas it seems.
Those who have taught us about God’s love in the past
seem to show up in the present.
The same was true for Mary.
When she sings her revolutionary song,
Hannah shows up.
Hannah was married but suffered from infertility.
Every year the family would take a special worship pilgrimage.
And one year, at her wits end,
and at her lowest low,
Hannah rose from the dinner table
and wandered into the sanctuary by herself to pray.
It was the kind of prayer that makes others think you’re crazy:
raw and real and ripped free of any pretty talk.
In fact the priest thought Hannah was drunk.
Yes, I’m glad we have Hannah as a spiritual grandmother;
for we need examples like her. I know I do.
God hears Hannah’s prayer and she gives birth to Samuel:
the prophet Samuel
who would anoint a shepherd boy from Bethlehem named David as King.
And as Hannah reacts to the gift of her baby boy,
she too sings a song.
A song that Barbara read for us just now.
And perhaps what we have here is the very first sample.
In the music industry, once the recording technology allowed for it,
artists would pull old tunes into their new songs.
Take Queen’s We will Rock you, for example,
it reached back for the great Aaron Copeland’s
Fanfare for the Common Man.
My guess is that you could come up with many more.
But Mary was ahead of the trend.
She quotes Hannah’s song,
nearly word for word when she sings of God reversing fortunes:
of God upending the way things are,
upturning the way they’ve always been
uprooting the way we’ve tried to keep them.
And let’s be clear, Mary is not just singing about what is happening
in her now-too-big-to-button-her-jeans-belly,
but she’s singing of God who heard Hannah’s prayer
and God who hears the prayers we haven’t yet uttered.
She sings of God yesterday, today and tomorrow.
Mary’s song is an old tune, but a new song–
a melody that encompasses all of time, including this time.
2020 has been backwards in some really painful ways.
It’s okay to grieve those—
I’m sad today not to get to be with you face to face
and I’m also convicted,
that if we are to truly be Advent people,
those who prepare for the Christ to break in,
we better befriend backwardness—
because the God’s way is the way of
wrong being made right,
the empty being filled up,
the proud, pouting,
weapons lying impotent,
the choked, breathing deeply,
the sad, smiling,
the long silenced, finally heard.
Yes, 2020 has been . . . . something. And we’re sick of it.
But trying to return to normal isn’t possible,
for normal never was. As scholar Sonya Renee Taylor said,
Our pre-corona existence was not normal other than we normalized greed, inequity, exhaustion, depletion, extraction, disconnection, confusion, rage, hoarding, hate, and lack. We should not long to return, my friends.
We are being given the opportunity to sing a new song.
And if I understand the text,
that new song
is set to an old tune
one that remembers what God has done long before us
one that rearranges the present, reversing all we think we know
one that riles us up for the kingdom that is coming.
So find your people, church,
and get ready to sing.