To Magnify God In Our Lives

Question: Does anyone who is tech-savy know how to take my libsyn feed and put it into iTunes? I want to make it so people can subscribe to my podcasts/sermons but I have no clue how that works.

In the meantime – Sunday’s sermon on the Magnificat!

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Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
December 11, 2016

Luke 1:46-55
Matthew 11:2-11

To Magnify God In Our Lives

I have a Mary medal that I wear on a chain around my neck from time to time. I suppose it is, for all intents and purposes, a Catholic thing. It has the image of Mary with the words, “O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee,” etched around it. But for me, a born and raised Protestant, the importance of this medal is not necessarily tied to the Catholic understanding of honoring saints; rather, it is about me connecting to Mary’s call story.

You see, I have always been intrigued by Mary’s call story; so much so, that I actually had it read at my ordination. I have always stood in awe of Mary’s humble servant hood and devotion to God when God called her to do something so unbelievably astonishing and she responded with those beautiful words of scripture, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”[1]

So rewind to about eight years ago; I was a first year seminary student working at my field education site when a friend of mine said to me, “You know, when I first met you, you were wearing that Mary medal and I thought you were Catholic. I was kind of confused as to why you were in seminary.” When I went home that night, I told Bruce the story and he kind of laughed awkwardly before admitting that the same thought had actually crossed his mind when he and I first met. In fact, at the time, he had even started thinking about what it would take for him to enter catechesis and convert to Catholicism if we were to get married.

Which, at that point, totally explained the email I received from him early on in our dating that said, “Sooooo, what religion are you?”

Bruce said to me that day, “You have no idea how relieved I was when you replied and said United Church of Christ!”

So again, here is my thing with Mary: I do not honor her in the Catholic sense of saint veneration (though, to be clear, I am not passing judgment on or criticizing that in any way), I am just super intrigued by her story.

Mary was a young girl, poor and with no power. And God called this ordinary girl to do something so extraordinary; and she answered that call with such great affirmation and strength of faith. As a pastor, I feel I have so much to learn from her in terms of call and vocation; but I also feel, as a Christian, living in a very chaotic world full of the unknown, we all have a lot to learn from her as well.

The truth is, we really only have a small glimpse into Mary’s life. A lot of the commentary on her is conjecture based on different people’s interpretations of the pieces of her story that we know. But those pieces are extremely important to our Advent season and the Christmas story.

Today, we heard a reading from the Gospel of Luke. An angel had appeared to Mary and told her she was going to give birth to a son named Jesus. Mary traveled with haste to the Judea region of Ein Karem to the home of her cousin, Elizabeth who, though well past childbearing age, was also pregnant. Our scripture picks up here, where Mary sings a song, which we refer to as the Magnificat, which comes from the Greek word meaning, “to magnify.”

Mary starts the song, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoice in God my Saviour,”[2] and then sings of all the wondrous work God is doing in her life.

for he has looked with favour 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.[3]

Year after year, it always strikes me as remarkable that, in the midst of her own chaotic world full of the unknown, Mary responds to God’s call by praising God. We all should give pause to this as we think about what God is calling us to do this Advent season.

We looked at The Magnificat in bible study this week, as part of the session on Mary’s visit to Elizabeth. The narrator of our study pointed out that the Magnificat is more than a piece of Mary’s story; it also serves as a reminder to us of what we are being called to do in our own lives. God does great things in the world, Mary sings in the Magnificat.

[God] has shown strength with his arm;
lifted up the lowly;
[and] has filled the hungry with good things.[4]

When God called Mary to conceive and give birth to this boy named Jesus, God was not simply asking her to participate in an isolated ministry; God was inviting Mary into the larger narrative of what Jesus would do in the world – in his lifetime and in the generations that would follow.

And this is what God invites us to do in our own lives as well.

God calls us to rise up to greatness in our lives. Like Mary, we are ordinary people called to do extraordinary things. We are invited into this Gospel narrative, to magnify God in all that we say and all that we do. We are called to open our eyes to the things that Mary is praising God for in the Magnificat – lifting up the lowly and filling the hungry with good things – and seek to do this in our own lives as well. The Magnificat boldly calls us to magnify God in our words and in our actions as we seek to bring hope, peace, joy and love to all people.

In our second reading from the Gospel, we get a glimpse into Jesus’ life and ministry. See, this is the thing about living on this side of the resurrection. We cannot simply anticipate the birth of Christ as if we do not know the depth and power of his life. We are invited into the narrative of the Gospel knowing Jesus’ whole story. We cannot think about what it meant for Jesus to be born into a broken world without also thinking about his life, death and resurrection and what that continues to mean to a still-broken world today.

This reading from Matthew tells the story of John in prison hearing about the works Jesus was doing. John sends his disciples to Jesus to find out if he is the Messiah the prophets had foretold was coming. Jesus replies and says:

Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.[5]

Sometimes Jesus was anything but subtle. In fact, this exchange between Jesus and John’s disciples reminds us that the call to follow Jesus – the call to live out the Gospel, to continue to write this Christian story – is a bold and challenging one. This Advent season we are not just waiting for the birth of a baby, but the coming of a Messiah. This is not just a birthday celebration, but also a radical affirmation of hope, peace, joy and love in this world.

The Advent season reminds us that we, too, are called to, “lift up the lowly” and “fill the hungry with good things,” as Mary proclaims in the Magnificat. We, too, are called, as Jesus proclaims to the disciples, to offer healing to the blind, the deaf and the lame, cleanse the lepers and bring good news to the poor. We are called, as children of God and as people of faith, to fight for justice, to give voice to the marginalized, to reach out to those in need and to shine light into the darkness of the chaos and the unknown.

This is the glory of God Mary sings of in the Magnificat, this is what Jesus preaches, time and time again, throughout the Gospel and this is what we are called to remember this Christmas as we celebrate God’s triumphal entry into the world.

So today, on this third Sunday of Advent, two weeks before Christmas (13 shopping days left, if you are keeping track!), I pose this question: What is the Magnificat calling you to do? How will your life magnify God this year? How will you live out the call of the Gospel and continue to write a story that began in a manger 2,000 years ago? How will you be a reflection of the Advent spirit of hope, peace, joy and love?

On a very human level, I invite you try to connect to Mary’s story. And as you do this may you hear what God is saying, see what God is doing and, like Mary, sing praises to God in the midst of the chaos and the unknown.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

[1] Luke 1:38, NRSV
[2] Luke 1:46-47, NRSV
[3] Luke 1:48, NRSV
[4] Luke 1:51-53, NRSV
[5] Matthew 11:4-6, NRSV

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