Monday, December 24, 2012

Last Sunday of Advent Sermon at Highlands

“Souls Magnifying, Spirits Rejoicing”
Highlands Presbyterian Church
December 23, 2012

I love it when Christmas falls on a Tuesday. It gives the church a three-day Christmas celebration beginning with Sunday morning worship, continuing with Christmas Eve and culminating with Christmas day. Three days to focus on what it means to be Christians, what it means to each of us and to the world.

The manger scene will come tomorrow evening along with the shepherds and the Star. Today we are yet in Advent. Waiting. We await the birth as a time to discern its meaning. This morning we celebrate Mary and her faithfulness, seeking to learn what it is an unwed, pregnant teenager has to teach us…what it is we should learn from that moment when Mary came to understand the import of the child in her womb.

Cathy has read the Gospel story of Mary and Elizabeth and the moment they realized the fruit of their wombs would change the world. Here is another version of that same story.

“When the angels said, ‘O Mary, indeed God gives you the good news of a word from Him, whose name will be the Messiah Jesus, the son of Mary, held in honor in this world and in the Hereafter, and of those who are near to God.’ 

Would it surprise you to know this story of Mary and the birth of Jesus is told to Muslims in their holy book, the Quran (3:45-51) which then continues to teach:

 ‘Jesus will speak to the people from the cradle, and in old age, and he will be of the righteous.’  Mary said, ‘My Lord, how can I have a son when no man has touched me.’  He said, ‘So (it will be,) for God creates what He wants.  When He decides something, He only says to it, ‘Be,’ and it is.  And He will teach him the Book and wisdom and the Torah and the Gospel.  And (will make him) a messenger to the Children of Israel (saying), ‘Indeed I have come to you with a sign from your Lord. And I have come to you with a proof from your Lord, so fear God and obey me.  Indeed, God is my Lord and your Lord, so worship Him.  This is the straight path.”

You see…Mary, the mother of Jesus, is considered one of the most righteous women in Islamic tradition. She is mentioned even more in the Quran than in the entire New Testament and is the only woman mentioned by name in the Quran.

Imagine that…Christian and Muslim scripture finding common ground in the celebration of the mother of a Jewish rabbi? Is that not hope for the world? What a joy it was for me to find that place where Christian souls join with those of Muslims to magnify the Lord, a place where souls are magnified and the spirits of both great faiths rejoice in the coming birth of Jesus. I hope it does the same for you.

A world that finds it easier to be disagreeable, a world often defined by its differences and its arguments, a world where Christians and Muslims are often at odds with one another whether on the battlefields of Afghanistan or the streets of American communities…that world…so badly needs to find those places where we intersect, places where are the same and the celebration of the birth of Jesus is one of them.

You see…our souls magnify the Lord and our spirits rejoice not in our differences but in those places where our understanding of God or Allah or Yahweh intersect. We may not agree on doctrine and there may be plenty of fundamentalists in all religions whose goal is to divide us…

BUT there is an intersection…a place where our beliefs, whether we are Christians, Jews or Muslims, there is a place where our beliefs intersect with the needs of the world…an intersection where we can gather as one and magnify the soul of the Lord through the rejoicing of our common spirits.

That intersection comes most fully through Mary’s prayer.

“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor 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. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

It’s called the Magnificat and is also known as the Song of Mary —it is sung or spoken liturgically in Christian church services. It is one of the most ancient Christian hymns. Its name comes from the first word of the Latin version of the song.

The Magnificat is found in the Gospel of Luke (Luke 1:46-55) where it is spoken by the Virgin Mary upon the occasion of her Visitation to her elderly cousin Elizabeth. After Mary greets Elizabeth, who is pregnant with John the Baptist, the child moves within Elizabeth's womb. When Elizabeth praises Mary for her faith, Mary sings what is now known as the Magnificat in response.
The canticle readily reminds us of the Song of Hannah, from the Hebrew scripture, 1Samuel 2:1-10. Listen to the similarities:
Hannah prayed and said, “My heart exults in the Lord; my strength is exalted in my God. My mouth derides my enemies, because I rejoice in my victory. “There is no Holy One like the Lord, no one besides you; there is no Rock like our God. Talk no more so very proudly, let not arrogance come from your mouth; for the Lord is a God of knowledge, and by him actions are weighed. The Lord makes poor and makes rich; he brings low, he also exalts. He raises up the poor from the dust; he lifts the needy from the ash heap, to make them sit with princes and inherit a seat of honor. For the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s, and on them he has set the world.”
I want to take us back to the Hebrew Bible scripture Cathy first read. It was the prophet Micah who said: O Bethlehem of from you shall come forth one whose origin is from of old, from ancient days. And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they shall live secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth; and he shall be the one of peace.

In the words of the prophet Micah, in Hannah’s Old Testament prayer, the words of the Quran and Mary’s Magnificat we find the meaning of our wait. The world was then and is today awaiting the one who scripture…Jewish, Muslim and Christian…said would raise up the poor, scatter the proud and lift up the lowly, filling the hungry with good things and allow us to live secure in the peace he brings.

God did not send Jesus to divide the world between Christians and non-Christians but to unify all the world around God’s hopes for it…

…and in that our souls magnify the Lord and all of our spirits whether they be Muslim spirits, Jewish spirits or Christian spirits rejoice. AMEN

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