I was SO excited about worship this week. The amazingly talented Mary Bee was in town and singing in worship. She sang the Francesca Battistelli song, Heaven Everywhere and also Sweet Little Jesus Boy. I was able to bring in a drummer and a bass player for Heaven Everywhere, which just rounded out the sound. It was so much fun!
Next Sunday is Christmas Eve! That’s so hard to believe. I know technically it is Advent 4, but we are going to have our Family Worship & Pageant at the 10AM service this year. The pageant is shaping up to be adorable, as always (and I am not just saying that because my son is going to be a lamb). One of the parents came to me with a really cute idea and it’s going to be so fun to see it all come together.
I hope you all are are finding God’s hope, peace, joy and love this season! Thank you for being part of my year. I am thankful for you!
Rehoboth Congregational Church
December 17, 2017
May We Be Joyful
I think I have mentioned this from the pulpit before, but as a way of introducing this sermon, it is worth repeating: I have a Mary medal that I sometimes wear around my neck. In fact, I was wearing it when Bruce and I first met, causing him to – he admitted years later – assume I was Catholic and consider what it would mean for him to convert if we ever got married.
What can I say? I love Mary. On a very human level, she fascinates me. I love her story, I love her obedience and I love the way God used her – an ordinary, humble, not particularly wealthy or powerful girl – as a vessel for God’s ministry in the world.
All of this is to say: I get excited when I have the opportunity to preach on Mary because I think she has a lot to teach us. Our scripture reading for this morning is no different; it is known as the Magnificat, which is the Song of Mary.
So let’s review the story: An angel appeared to Mary and told her she was pregnant with God’s son and that she was to name him Jesus. Mary asked her how this was possible, because she was a virgin and the angel told her that nothing was impossible with God. With faithful obedience, Mary said to the angel, “Let it be with me according to your word.”
Shortly after, Mary traveled to a Judean town to visit her cousin Elizabeth, who was also pregnant (with John the Baptist). When Mary arrived, scripture says Elizabeth’s child leapt in her womb and then Elizabeth praised Mary for her great faith. ‘Blessed are you among women,” Elizabeth said. “And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” Mary responds to this praise with the scripture we just heard, the Magnificat; Mary responds to Elizabeth by proclaiming God’s greatness and finding delight in the wonder of God.
The Magnificat appears in Advent every year and, I have to admit, last year when it came around, I gained a new respect for Mary. At the time, I was, like Mary, in the first trimester of my pregnancy, feeling like garbage and – you can ask my husband for confirmation – not really proclaiming the greatness of anyone or finding delight in anything at that point.
And yet, here is Mary, pregnant with God’s son and joyfully singing about how wonderful God is.
Now, Mary’s faithful obedience when she said to the angel, “Let it be with me according to your word,” has always been striking to me. In fact, I had that passage read at my ordination; in my mind, there was no greater call in scripture than the one to give birth to Jesus. I have always figured if Mary could handle that, I could handle parish ministry.
But I realized as I was reflecting on the Magnificat this year that Mary was more than just obedient when she responded with affirmation to God’s call; she was joyful. She praised God, saying that future generations would call her blessed because of the work God was doing through her; she gave thanks for the good things God was doing for her and spoke of God’s power and charity.
Let’s get this straight: Not only did Mary say, “Okay, God, I trust you; I guess we are doing this whole Jesus thing,” she also said, “And do you know what, God? You are amazing.”
Mary was not just obedient when God called her to do something that was not easy; she was happy about it!
It is not easy to remain faithful and obedient to God when you are faced with challenges and adversities. But to do so with praise and adoration? Now, that is truly the remarkable part of this story.
I have always been intrigued by the way this passage appears in the lectionary cycle. We are actually supposed to readying chapter 1, starting with verse 46b, not at the beginning of the verse.
Verse 46 says this:
And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord.”
The verse, itself, is just barely two parts: A – “And Mary said,” and B – “My soul magnifies the Lord”. But the lectionary instructs us to start with the second half, “My soul magnifies the Lord,” not necessarily citing Mary for what is being said.
As I was reflecting on this text this week, particularly the exclusion of Mary in how it shows up in the lectionary, I realized that perhaps this was an intentional way of forcing us to put ourselves in the narrative.
It is easy to read these words and attribute them to Mary. An angel appeared to her and told her God was going to use her for something amazing; that is a pretty compelling argument.
It is much harder, however, for us to read these words and attribute them to ourselves.
Because not only do we have to say yes to God, but we also have to be happy about it.
How are you proclaiming God’s goodness right now? How are you finding delight in God?
As with most things faith-related, this is easier said than done. It is not easy to trust God in the midst of the chaos and the uncertainty of life, let alone praise God while we do so.
Mary’s role in the Christmas narrative reminds us that God calls ordinary people to do extraordinary things. But the Magnificat takes this one step further, boldly teaching us that as we respond to God’s call, we should do so with both trust and praise.
We have entered the time of year when many of us are reflecting on the year gone by and setting some goals for the upcoming year. As we do so, I think we should take the time to listen to God speaking to us; calling us to do God’s work in this world; in our families and in our communities.
And we need to do so by praising God for all that God is doing within us; for all who God believes we can be.
Mary sang in the Magnificat,
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name. 
As we reflect on 2017 and also think about what we want to do in 2018, may we all remember these words. Just like Mary, God is doing great things with each and every one of us. God is using our stories to tell the story of our faith. Our lives are bearing witness to the Christian story and to a God who believes that we can tell this story.
Think about this: God believes in us! God believes we can be part of this Christian story. God believes that we can share the Gospel and make this world a better place.
Just like God called Mary 2,000 years ago, God is calling us today. And faith is not only believing that we are who God says we are, but it is also giving thanks to and praising God for calling us to serve.
Because it is a wonderful calling.
So may we be joyful as we respond to God’s call this Christmas season and into the new year. And, like Mary, may we magnify God’s light in our lives, may our spirits rejoice in God’s name and may people know that we are blessed.
Thanks be to God!