This sermon concludes the four weeks of A Deeper Advent. We explore Mary’s beautiful prophetic poem–the magnificat–in Luke 1:46-55. Is it really loving for God to cast down some people and exalt others? Is there, perhaps, a deeper love that brings healing to all people, no matter what side of our many human divisions we may find ourselves.
We have been lighting candles during Advent. As the days have been getting darker, the light of anticipation has been burning brighter. Advent is a season where we acknowledge that there is a lot of darkness in the world, yet, there is also the light of God that is with us in the darkness and leads us through it.
We lit the candle of hope.
We lit the candle of Peace.
We lit the candle of Joy.
And, today, we light the candle of Love.
I can’t help but think about Lumiere, the candle from Beauty and the Beast. “Oh, mon cheri. Be our guest…”
I love love, especially at Christmas time.
I am not ashamed to admit that I eagerly jump in with my wife and daughters as we seek out sappy Hallmark Christmas movies and watch them all month. Even though I can predict the plot line and the snow falls right on cue as the violins swell, I still get choked up.
I’m a hopeless romantic.
Here’s the problem. That kind of love is, first of all, to quote Mr. Potter, “sentimental hogwash.”
I’ve preached before on the different kinds of love. The romanticized love of the Hallmark movies is based on the Greek word “eros.” It is that primal, physical attraction that is ruled by hormones and emotions. It is real, but it is based on how someone will make me feel.
A relationship based on Eros is one that will fade, because hormones and emotions fluxuate constantly.
What we need is a Deeper Love.
Part of the reason we watch Hallmark movies in the darkness of December is to hide from the real-life pain that is so prevalent in our world.
We live in a world that is deeply divided on many fronts between people who hate each other and bitterly disagree.
What is the light of love?
We need to look to our text to get some insight.
We need to set up this text by looking at the scene that happens just before it in Luke 1:39-45.
Mary has learned that she is pregnant, even though she is a virgin. That’s a huge shock, and a scandal.
She also learned that her cousin, Elizabeth, is also pregnant. Elizabeth was too old to conceive, so, her pregnancy is also a miracle.
Mary visits Elizabeth. When Elizabeth sees Mary, the baby inside Elizabeth’s womb kicks her. Luke says he, “lept for joy.”
Elizabeth says, “Blessed are you amng women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.”
Imagine how overwhelmed Mary must be by all of this. Our text for today is her amazing response. It is beautiful, prophetic poetry.
Let’s read it together. This side read the light blue text. This side read the yellow text.
Luke 1:46–55 (NRSV)
46 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.”
What word is missing from this text?
Isn’t that interesting? The Revised Common Lectionary chose a text for the Candle of Love that doesn’t even have the word love in it.
Let’s look a litte closer, because there are some strong emotions in here.
He has shown strength with his arm.
He has scattered….who? The proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down…who?
The powerful from their thrones.
And lifted up…who?
He has filled…who?
The hungry with good things.
The rich away empty.
What’s going on here?
It seems like God loves…who?
The lowly and the hungry.
How does God feel about the arrogant, the powerful and the rich?
Not so good.
This is the point at which rich and powerful people start to squirm.
I have been accused of preaching that God hates rich people. Texts like this make it easy to think that.
Let’s see what’s going on here.
We must always keep in mind the historical context of the text. The people of Israel were suffering greatly under the Roman Empire. They were heavily taxed and used to build up the Empire.
Whenever one group of people believes that they are entitled to exalt themselves above another group of people and exploit that group of people, it always leads to an uprising of the people.
And that uprising almost always leads to a violent and bloody end.
This is exactly what happened to the people of Israel. Seventy years after Jesus was born, Israel rebelled against Rome and they were crushed, mercilessly.
You may be thinking, “That’s a horrible story, but what does any of this have to do with me, right now?”
Think about our world.
Are there any places where the proud are exalting themselves over the weak?
Are there any divides where rich and powerful people are exploiting and hurting the lowly and the hungry?
Are there any voices crying out to stop the injustice?
I’ve met pastors who preach this message, based on this text.
Cast down the mighty,
Send the rich away.
Fill the hungry
Lift the lowly.
This leaves me with one question…
Where is love?
This week I was reading Richard Rohr’s meditation, and it spoke directly to this.
“Over the years, I met many social activists who were doing excellent social analysis and advocating for crucial justice issues, but they were not working from an energy of love. They were still living out of their false self with the need to win, the need to look good—attached to a superior, politically correct self-image.”
“Untransformed liberals often lack the ability to sacrifice the self or create foundations that last. They can’t let go of their own need for change and cannot stand still in a patient, compassionate, and humble way. It is no surprise that Jesus prayed not just for fruit, but ‘fruit that will last’”
Untransformed conservatives, on the other hand, tend to idolize anything that lasts, but then avoid the question, ‘Is it actually bearing any fruit?’”
This is the perennial battle between idealism and pragmatism, or romanticism and rationalism.
Here’s my question for you.
What divides are making it hard for you to love today?
You may be caught up in these geo-political debates in a very real way.
Yet, for many of us, the divides are much closer to home. There are great divides within your own family. There are walls of mistrust and hurt and difference of beliefs that make it hard to even look the other person in the eye.
What do we do?
Let’s go back to our text and notice something.
Who is doing these things? Is Mary rising up to revolt?
This is the work of God.
God has brought down the powerful, and lifted up the lowly.
God has filled the hungry, and sent the rich away.
Richard Rohr gets to the heart of the matter.
“Without the contemplative mind, all our talk about and action for social change and justice can actually do more harm than good.”
“Action needs to be accompanied by contemplation for us to stay on the journey for the long haul. Otherwise, we’re just constantly searching for victims and perpetrators, and eventually we start playing the victim or perpetrator ourselves.”
God does not hate rich people.
God hates arrogance and oppression.
God does not love poor people because they are poor.
God hates it when people are mistreated, and will always stand to defend the weak.
The love of God strips away the false self in all of us.
If we think our identity is wrapped up in our wealth and power, God will humble us and readily allow us to lose everything.
If we think our identity is wrapped up in our poverty, or being the victim, God will equally strip that away and remind us that we are loved and valued.
God brings down the mighty and lifts up the lowly.
Not so that the lowly can now lord it over the mighty in some sort of twisted justice.
Rather, God strips away those false selves and reminds us that each human being is a beautiful creation of God and we are all equal in God’s eyes.
This is a Deeper Love.
May your Christmas see God’s love bridge those divides so that you can share in the deep, deep love of God.