This sermon was originally preached at Mission Hills United Methodist Church in San Diego, California on December 15, 2019. To listen to the full recording, visit our podcast, “Mission Hills United Methodist Church” or search Mission Hills United Methodist Church wherever you get your podcasts.
And Mary said,
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for God has looked with favor on the lowliness of God’s servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is God’s name.
God’s mercy is for those who fear God
from generation to generation.
God has shown strength with God’s arm;
God has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
God has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
God has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
God has helped God’s servant Israel,
in remembrance of God’s mercy,
according to the promise God made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to God’s descendants forever.”
Something you all should know about me, especially with the role I play here as pastor, is that public speaking stresses me out. No matter how long I do it, there’s still this heart beating fast kind of anxiety that I bring up here each week, and each time I do any public speaking. But, I am so excited to be up here today, because this passage is one of my absolute favorites.
Today, our gospel text is from the book of Luke, and is referred to as Mary’s Song, or you may have heard it called The Magnificat. Magnificat literally means song of praise, and throughout the ‘song’, which is actually a prayer, we see the embodiment of joy through Mary’s words. This Magnificat, this song of praise, it’s about Mary finding joy, because she knows God is with her.
I think about the timing of Mary’s song, of the Magnificat. It really strikes me how and when she is responding with joy. This passage comes out of her time with Elizabeth, John the Baptist’s mom. Both women were pregnant in the same time frame, and after finding out the news, Mary went to stay with Elizabeth for about three months. I would imagine she was terrified, confused, and was also in her first trimester among everything else. If you’ve been pregnant, you might be reminded of the things that come with those first few months.
Even this, Mary shows us, was not enough to stop her from practicing joy. Mary knew that God was with her, present in her literal body, through the baby growing inside of her. Christ be with you took on a meaning of true joy.
Mary’s song, the Magnificat, it is a message of joy especially to women, or to those who are oppressed. Mary praises God as a liberator, as one who sets people free and brings good news to the poor. Mary is visioning, through her prayer, a social order where there is food for the hungry, grace for those who are in tough spots, where wealth is not a determinant of status, where community can gather to praise their God.
God is not only acting as a provider here in this passage, but God is promising solidarity, to be true to God’s promises, and to stand with those who are suffering.
There is the joy; not the false assumption that things will be perfect, but in the reassurance that God is in solidarity with even the most vulnerable of people. God spoke to Mary, who in her time, was one of the most vulnerable of people. She was a teenager, for starters, who just became pregnant. Imagine the societal reaction, especially claiming to be a virgin at the same time. Mary also doesn’t have well traced lineage, meaning her family is probably not of a well-regarded status. And finally, Mary is a woman, actually, she’s a girl, which again, doesn’t award much status.
God is in solidarity with the most vulnerable of people. Mary’s song offers us an instance of God using the least of these, the people on the margins, through Mary. You will notice that Mary is the sole voice in this passage, a female, whose prayer is wholly included in Luke’s gospel. Mary’s voice and humanity was fully affirmed, and celebrated as a reflection of God’s involvement in her life.
Mary models, and we learn, that we can find joy in the Lord, joy in our Creator, regardless of our circumstances, and even in spite of them. This pregnant teenager, who was seen by society as overly promiscuous, maybe a liar, of little worth, she shows us what it means to have joy in God, to trust in God to provide joy in all the seasons of life, and to look for that joy.
Looking for joy doesn’t mean ignoring the problems. It means paying attention to the signs that God is still at work in the world, the congregation, our neighborhood.
God creates a new reality, and works with those society rejects and excludes, to reveal a spirit of inclusion, of unconditional love for us today.
- What is God doing through unexpected people in our society today?
- How is God raising a spirit of joy in you?
Christmas Eve is coming very soon. And likely, Christmas season will bring in different crowds than during our regular Sunday morning service. Our job, as folx here today, is to create an atmosphere of joy in our sanctuary to all people. Our job is to offer hospitality and radical welcome, to whoever enters, even if society might see them as ‘other’. Our job is to remember the truth, that God views each and every person as beloved, as worthy, as welcome. We are called to do the same.
Creating a spirit of joy isn’t just a Christmas thing, but through this story, the birth of Jesus, and all the stuff that comes with it, details that wouldn’t necessarily be displayed in a nativity set or on a Christmas card…those things invite us to take welcome seriously. When we ask for joy, we ask for an ability to live alongside each other, respecting one another’s humanity and living in love. It sounds flowery and naïve to say out loud, but this is what God visions, in this story and throughout the life of Jesus.
As we leave today, may we not forget, that radical welcome, and finding joy brought us an unwed teenage mother, and it brought us a baby, who became our savior. May we listen to the story of Mary, whose bravery and acceptance brought forth dignity, and reigns as an example of Christ’s love for us. May we remember that the interaction of two women taught the world that if we regard people as ‘other’, we can’t have the miracles that God springs forth from their being; we wouldn’t have baby Jesus. And may we remember that a mindfulness and a faith for the good of the greater world brings joy to us this Advent season.
Let us pray.
God of hope and home, we give you thanks for the witness of Mary, a woman of strength, valor, and immense joy. Guide us to be more like Mary, to seek joy in all the areas of our lives. In your name we pray, Amen.