A congregation of the United Church of Canada
Yr A ~ Advent 3 ~ Luke 1:46-55
And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.
That’s Luke 1:46-49. Preparing for today I discovered a text note that I’d never seen before. It said that in some early manuscripts this passage began, “And Elizabeth said…” Not, “And Mary said…” Mary had arrived at Elizabeth’s house and they’d realized they were both expecting, so they are both experiencing this joy. I love that. I can completely accept that Mary felt this and said this. But I also can see how it could equally come from Elizabeth’s heart. And for that matter, from any pregnant person. And for that matter, from any person who has ever loved another person deeply.
Upon learning of pregnancy the parent finds themselves feeling blessed, and rejoices. They wonder how such an immeasurable blessing could move their spirit so. And as their heart fills to exploding they imagine that anyone who ever hears the story of their joy will see the blessing in it, and praise God for God’s wondrous gifts of life and love.
Someday I may get to experience it, but I’m betting that becoming a grandparent carries the same heart-bursting sense of blessing. What I have experienced is a profound sense of joy when one of my dear friends has something wonderful happen in their lives. As they feel blessed by the good news, whatever it may be, I feel the blessing with them, because I love them.
Such blessings move our spirits to deepen our desire for a better world, a more ideal world, a world that shares blessings. Our United Church creed begins with the words, “We are not alone; we live in God’s world.” God’s world, God’s kingdom, is a world of love and blessing. It’s already here, and yet it feels hidden, and it feels hard to notice – mostly because we are so distracted and misguided that we forget to look for it. It also feels veiled because so many people seem to be working so hard to avoid noticing it. Why would we want to avoid such a blessed, loving world? Because if we perceived and accepted God’s kingdom, God’s world, we would see how much of our ways of being we’d have to completely turn upside down. Humans would have to live differently. (That’s where the hope stuff comes in.)
Mary describes God’s kingdom here. The text keeps saying “He” did this or that, but it doesn’t mean a direct, physical action by God. I think it’s more meaningful if we say that the reality of God’s kingdom or ‘alternative way of love’ does these things. So here’s Luke 1:50-53 slightly paraphrased:
God’s mercy (literally, God’s covenant-love) is for those who fear God (which means those who are awestruck in God) from generation to generation.
God kingdom shows God’s strength; God’s kingdom has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. (It convicts those with ears to hear and eyes to see.)
God’s kingdom has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly;
God’s kingdom has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.
If more and more people in the world could perceive God’s kingdom then their hearts would be convicted, their understanding of power would be upended, and their resources would be held and handled differently. Yes, I’m talking about y’all! We, like Mary, like Elizabeth, have already received the most wonderful blessing – we have at least glimpsed, if not immersed ourselves, in God’s kingdom of love. Your presence here, and your incredible passion and generosity in our shared ministries show that over, and over, and over again.
If you caught my Noticings email on Wednesday, or watched it on YouTube, I was talking all about this very thing. I talked about your love in action through giving to Gate 3:16, and Settlement House, and through our ongoing Lifewater well-digging campaign. And how a food drive produced an overflowing pickup truck. God doesn’t magically “fill the hungry with good things” – God does it through people like you – people who are filled with God’s love, and moved by it, and act on it! God’s kingdom, in practice, is us. It ain’t pregnancy, but my heart sure is a-bursting with joy as I talk about this and think about all the loving things you do through faith – through Faith. It’s absolute joy. And if it caught on do you know what it would be? Yup – a joydemic!
Now for the downer part. Sorry. This Kingdom of God stuff sounds fantastic, and our shared ministry is certainly inspiring, but how do we keep from being discouraged that the revealing of God’s world of love is not happening fast enough or broadly enough?
We know that we can’t fix the world on our own, and it’s not our job to fix everything, but we’ve seen what love can do, how transformed hearts and lives can make a difference, so naturally our hearts yearn for more of that. We can do what we can – and we can do more than we probably think we can. You in your small corner, and I in mine.
The need is so great, and the hurt and injustice are so overwhelming, that we can feel paralyzed and unable to act. We probably catch ourselves saying, “my voice won’t make a difference.” I’m happy to assure you that that is wrong.
Your voice matters, because it speaks in love. Your voice is God’s voice.
Your actions matter, however grand or insignificant they may seem, because you are acting in love. Your actions are God’s – you are Christ’s hands and heart in the world. You are love – and love matters – and love makes a difference.
It would be unfathomable to Mary or Elizabeth that 2000 years later we would still be talking about them, and admiring them. I don’t want to say this too crassly, but in the eyes of the world they were absolute nobodies. Peasants. Poor. A couple of women having a couple of babies. Seemingly ordinary and insignificant. They could never have imagined that anything they did, or accomplished, would change the world. But it did! That’s what happens when you birth love into the world – it changes it for the better. Love makes a difference.
The truth is you will probably never know how huge a difference your love has made. People rarely tell you how you changed their life – if they even knew it was you. But if you do get to experience someone sharing with you how your contribution to their life changed them for the better, or got them through a hard time, or inspired them to live more fully, do you know what it feels like? Joy! The joy of blessing.
We don’t love for the kudos. We don’t serve for the recognition. We don’t engage in ministry to swell our heads with compliments. We do it because love makes a difference. And just like Mary and Elizabeth, our calling is to birth that love into the world. In the 14th century a mystic named Meister Eckhart said, “We are all meant to be mothers of God.” Yes! Yes, you are!
There’s a beautiful Greek theological word that comes with this reading. The word is theotokos = God-bearer. This is the word used to describe Mary. What would it be like if we understood ourselves as God-bearers? It sounds nice and poetic, right? But birthing is hard work. Birthing is a life-changing awakening. Giving birth to God today changes you profoundly, just like birthing a baby does (or a grandbaby). And birthing anything – babies, ministries, art, ideas, change – is an indescribable blessing, and cause for a joyful celebration. If we could be theotokos – God-bearers – birthing love into the world – it would cause a joydemic!
Joy is not characterized by saying, “my life is easy and great.” I mean, it’s nice when it works out that way, I guess, but that’s not joy. Joy is far deeper than just happy circumstances.
Joy is knowing you make a difference.
Joy is knowing your voice matters.
Joy is knowing God, and feeling blessed, and having a vision of the Kingdom of God.
Your soul magnifies the Lord, and your spirit rejoices in God, for God looks with favour on you. Surely, from now on all generations will call you blessed; for the Mighty One has done, and is doing, great things for you, and holy is God’s name.
That’s joy! That’s the joy of a theotokos, a God-bearer. That’s the joy of love – known, embraced, and shared. That’s the joy of faith.
And that, my friends, is how a joydemic spreads. Add that to our hopedemic, and our peacedemic, and now I can’t wait for the lovedemic coming next week.
May it be so. Amen.