My first sermon preached in my new parish: St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Atlanta
Advent 4–Listen here.
This week last year, I preached this very Gospel text in a different pulpit. I’ll admit today’s reading is a favorite of mine. But preaching this text last year was especially memorable because it was in that sermon that I shared with my then-parish that Jay and I were fourteen weeks pregnant. This year, instead, I am so excited to share the news: YOU are pregnant. You are!
One of my favorite mystics, Meister Eckhart, says: We are all called to be mothers of God, for God is always waiting to be born. Isn’t that a beautiful reality to contemplate? We are all called to be mothers of God, for God is always waiting to be born.
And with that reality comes this truth as well: You are blessed and highly favored.
Can you imagine a world where every person was treated as if they were blessed and highly favored? Imagine what it would look like if we treated everyone known and unknown to us as if they were pregnant with God—or even how we might treat ourselves if we truly believed that we too were mothers of a God waiting to be born.
I’m tempted to end my sermon here so we can walk around this sanctuary and practice greeting one another with this truth in our hearts. [Turn to your neighbor and tell them they are blessed and highly favored]… But first I think some words of context might help this exercise.
First—a word about Mary’s song.
This song that Mary sings might be familiar to you. The “Magnificat” is often read in our liturgy or sung by our choir. Indeed the words of Mary’s song have been put to countless tunes in every language. As familiar as it may be to us, the words were even more commonplace to Mary’s contemporaries. You see, a very similar song appears in 1 Samuel when Hannah learns she too is with child. And anyone who studied Hebrew scripture, Mary included, would have found Hannah’s song to be familiar. God gave Mary the words she needed before she even knew she needed them.
My soul magnifies the Lord.
My spirit rejoices in God my savior.
My God is strong.
My God scatters the proud.
My God is lifting up the lowly.
My God is feeding the hungry.
And surely, Hannah’s words and Mary’s words shaped Jesus—who, like his mother, quoted the Hebrew scripture when in his first public address he said:
The Spirit of God is upon me.
God is caring for the poor.
God sets the captive free.
God lifts up the lowly.
God is restoring the broken.
With these familiar words in mind, let me return to the thought that God is always waiting to be born. You know what this means, don’t you? God is born when the proud are scattered. God is born with the lowly are uplifted. God is born when the hungry are fed and the poor are comforted. God is born when the prisoner is freed and the broken are bound up. God is born and God is strong—and why? Because your soul magnifies the Lord. To magnify—to make bigger. Our words and actions ought to make God bigger.
Which brings me to my second note of context—a word about peace.
Peace does not mean quiet. Peace does not me calm tranquility. Did you hear the world described in the words above? According to Mary’s song and Jesus’ teachings, peace means turning the world as we know it upside down. Peace means comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comforted.
Last week when Dennis preached, he reminded us that a voice prepares the way for God incarnate—a voice that refuses to be quiet in the face of injustice. And I carried this challenge—to be a voice—through the remainder of the service, letting it shape how I heard the Great Thanksgiving of our Holy Eucharist. At the end of each service, we prayed the post-communion prayer per usual. But at the words: send us out into the world in peace—I paused.
Send us out into the world in peace.
Grant us strength and courage.
To love you and serve you.
Peace is not quiet. Peace takes strength and courage. Loving and serving Jesus takes strength and courage. Being a voice and singing Mary’s song takes strength and courage. Giving birth to God takes strength and courage.
Which is why I can’t ignore this final word of context—the increasingly familiar violence we face—or perhaps choose not to face.
Three years ago, I preached this same Gospel text days after the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Last year I preached this text the morning after two police officers were assassinated in Brooklyn.
And today I am preaching this text on the heals of a Wall Street Journal and NBC News poll finding that 71% of Americans believe that random acts of violence are part of American life.
Unfortunately, Mary’s song is not the only familiar tune.
And yet it is in the face of such violence that we must sing all the louder.
I think it’s easy enough to be inspired by Dennis when he reminds us that a voice prepares the way of the Lord.
I think it’s easy—though different–to consider the possibility that all are called to be mothers of God.
But how do those ideas play out in real life. How do we move from proclaiming the Gospel to living it?
Sometimes I can walk out of church feeling so energized to do something, but then a few days go by and I find that I haven’t channeled that energy into doing anything new or different.
So in response to Dennis’ sermon last week, and in preparation for my sermon this week, I thought about how to use my voice to sing Mary’s song. And then I wrote my first letter to Governor Deal as a Georgia resident, asking him to reconsider his stance on refugees entering our state. It took all of ten minutes and $0.48.
And no, I don’t think that my letter will singlehandedly open Georgia’s doors to vulnerable families fleeing war. In fact, what usually keeps me from speaking up is the fear that my voice won’t make one bit of difference. That as a person of modest means and little influence, I might as well save my breath. But save my breath for what? God gave us a voice to join God in this song.
How will you give birth to God this week? How will you use your voice to sing Mary’s song? How will you go out into the world in peace?
Will you give more money than you are comfortable giving to ensure the most vulnerable in our city and world are cared for?
Will you bake a loaf of ginger bread for that acquaintance you’re not sure you know well enough to visit but know you should?
Will you sit with a woman who is dying and hold her hand while the pressure of Christmas to-do lists loom large?
Will you write a letter to your representative, or pick up the phone and call, even though you don’t feel knowledgeable or influential enough to do so?
Will you invite someone to your table, knowing it might make dinner uncomfortable for your family or other guests?
Let God scatter your pride this week so that you too can lift up the lowly. Find strength and courage in the meal we are about to share at this table so that you can proclaim peace—loudly and uncomfortably—to the poor.
God is waiting to be born. And St. Luke’s is pregnant with possibilities.