Let us pray:
Blessed are you, O Lord our God, because you’ve brought us through mountains, rivers, and valleys already.
By your power, we know that you’ll bring us through again, remember mercy, and make us humble to do your work.
Blessed be God, our mercy, our love, and our faithfulness.
The scripture today is the song of Mary as she finds out that she will give birth. She sings a song of the justice of God. Where have we heard this story before? If you remember, this is just what happened when Hannah gave birth; “The firm in faith will fashion gardens from barren ground.” Do you remember that? God lifts up the poor from the dust and calls us to enter into the work of making peace as new life bears fruit in all the world.
This song of Mary, called the “Magnificat,” is patterned directly on the song of Hannah. Many of the elements are the same. Both women sing, “My heart rejoices in God for God has done great things, lifting the lowly and humbling the proud.”
Like Hannah, Mary lives in a time of distress and uncertainty. The land of Israel was controlled by the Roman Empire and had been for a long time. We see “centurions” showing up in the pages of the gospels. Those are soldiers who are physically occupying the city. Wouldn’t it be disconcerting to go to the grocery store and have to walk past an armed soldier?
By the time this song was written down in the book of Luke, the temple in Jerusalem had been destroyed in 70CE. The spiritual home of many people had been completely ravaged. And in the midst of this carnage, this community still finds this song important enough to include in the story of their faith.
The song tells the story of a God who is at work. There is an old tradition of telling of the great deeds of God “from generation to generation.” We tell both the things that happened long ago and we tell the things that have happened to us personally. These testimonies of faith remind us that God is has been with us and won’t fail us yet.
We tell the stories of long ago. We remember how Noah came through the flood, how Moses came out of Egypt, how the Jewish people came out of captivity in Babylon, and how Jesus came through betrayal and death to resurrection. We hold on to these stories in times of deep trouble to be reminded that God will be faithful to the promise.
We also tell our own stories. Last time, I told you all the story of how God brought me from death to life, bearing me into a wider world of love and justice. God surprised me, turned me around, and pointed me in the right direction. It was completely disorienting and I never knew what was going to happen next. All I knew is that I was walking by faith, even when I couldn’t see the path. All I know is “I’m going through with Jesus, hallelujah…”
But God is still at work. At times when all seems lost, God is planting those seeds so that in time, justice will burst forth!
I’ve got to tell you, I’ve been struggling for the past month since the election. It seems scary to me the kind of violence we’ve seen cropping up in the past few weeks. Yesterday the Klu Klux Klan had a victory rally in my home state. They lined up about twenty vehicles and paraded through Roxboro, the main town in the county west of my home. The KKK! I thought they were gone! But they’ve been so energized by the vitriol this year and they think they’ve won something. If there’s something to despair of, I would think that this would be a pretty good candidate.
But God has not left us alone. God will be faithful to the promise and is still working for justice. I’ve been seeing this again and again in the politics back home. In the election, a fair judge made it to the bench and the man who said “We’ve got to keep our state straight” did not win the office of the attorney general.
And just this week, a federal court ordered that the legislature draw districts that aren’t racist and hold a special election next year. That’s huge! The legislature had drawn heavily gerrymandered districts, some of the most gerrymandered and most racist lines in the country, and we thought that they would capture a generation’s vote. But that may not be the case. God’s on the move!
God humbles the proud and raises the lowly. Let me say it again: God humbles the proud and raises the lowly. There’s no question about it. It may take a while, but in the end, “We’re going through with Jesus, hallelujah.”
Now I’ve got one more question for you. When I read this, I see myself as the lowly. I mean, I don’t want to see myself as one of the proud. I imagine that God’s gonna come through on my behalf and right all the wrongs in my life and all will be swell.
But here’s the question: are we, at least sometimes part of the proud? Where in our lives do we look down on others? Where in our lives do we use our power to keep ourselves on top? Can we find ways to reach out in love to others, meeting them where they are at?
We know in all of this, God will remember mercy. We may stumble, and our faithful God will keep walking with us.
There is a song based on this Magnificat that intersperses with the cries “Magnify! Glorify!”
“You, O Lord, hear the hearts that sigh.”
“You, O Lord, make the humble rise.”
“You, O Lord, remember mercy.”