A sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Advent, Luke 1:39-55
“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my savior!”
Christ is nearly here.
Mary comes to her cousin Elizabeth today, a woman older, childless, thought barren, who is carrying a child promised by God herself, and all gathered, including the to-be-born John, recognize the presence of the Holy in the child that Mary is carrying. And, in this recognition, also recognize the work that God is doing through them, the work that God is doing in this world, the work that is to come in this new life that is to be.
There is a power to our story beginning with the experience of two women. Two women who recognize what has been done and the radical change that is to come. Two women who hold and support each other in situations neither thought they would find themselves, Elizabeth already resigned to going childless, Mary yet to be wedded and yet carrying a child already. It’s telling in many ways that the first to recognize this child for who he will become are these two women, for it is women again who will be the first to recognize the risen Christ, fulfilling all that has been foretold.
That’s what today is really about then, recognition. Knowing Christ, knowing the presence of God at work in this world, at work in your life, at work in you, recognizing and acknowledging this reality, and living into it with joyous song, leaping forth. Recognizing that Christ is coming (really soon) to be with us, to walk among us, to teach and lead us, to challenge and, when necessary, chastise us, so that we may know Christ’s presence with us, so that we may recognize the path to which Christ calls us, a way of love, a way of joy, a way of living in knowledge of God with us, always, and sharing this Good News with the world.
Baptism serves as a physical recognition of this reality. In our baptism, we commit ourselves, or more often in our tradition, we commit on behalf of our youngest members, to recognize God, recognize Christ at work in this world, and to insure that this knowledge is passed down from generation to generation. We wash in the waters of baptism, we seal with the chrism oil, we are marked as Christ’s own forever. We carry with us that physical mark upon us, forever.
As people coming together to witness a baptism, we come together to lift up this person, this child, so that they too may learn how to recognize God’s presence constantly, consistently with and around us. We take on the responsibility to do all in our power to support this person in their life in Christ. We take on the responsibility to teach, to make known, to support, to grow with, so that they may recognize how God is at work in their life, so that they too may be filled with the assurance that God is with them, always.
We are able to accomplish this task by following in the footsteps of Mary and Elizabeth (and the baby John still in the womb). We are called to leap for joy when we sense God’s presence among us. When was the last time you lept? When was the last time that the joy of God’s presence with you was so much you couldn’t help but do somersaults of rejoicing? If you haven’t done it lately, perhaps now is the perfect time to do so. Leap with joy at the coming of the Lord. Leap with joy at the work that God has done, continues to do in your life, leap with joy for a season of preparation well done, leap with joy for the arrival of Christ amongst us once more.
Perhaps, leaping isn’t your thing. Maybe you’re too cool for such unbridled expressions of emotion. Or perhaps your knees aren’t quite what they used to be so leaping sounds just a bit painful. If that’s the case, then take a page from Mary and allow the presence of God to move you in song, to move you in an expression of love, of trust, of hope, of faith.
The Magnificat, Song of Mary, or as my clergy friends like to call it “The thing that proves Mary DID in fact know, regardless of whatever that one song might otherwise lead you to believe,” is a beautiful expression of what it means to know God’s presence in our life, to recognize God’s presence working in and through us, to recognize that God, through Christ, will come to do great things, beyond anything we can truly comprehend, and in this, there is great joy, in this, there is great hope. It is also a powerful testament to what it means to truly submit to the will of God, to let go of our preconceived notions, and trust that it is only through God that we will find the great joy and fulfillment that we seek in this life. In many ways, the Magnificat then is the perfect reminder of what it means to accept a call, to listen to what you have discerned and then live into it, to not let whatever else in this life may be preventing you stop you, and embrace that call wholly, fully, with reckless abandon and joy, knowing that what we are called to is accomplishable through the power of God, through the presence of God with us, always.
“My soul magnifies the Lord,” Mary proclaims. Through her acceptance of a call, her submission before God, her recognition of the power that has been entrusted in her care, Mary is literally magnifying the power of God for us, showing us the depth of what it means to know God, to see God’s grace and mercy promised for this world before it has even happened. Mary grants us access to a vision of God, a recognition of God, that would be missing without her sense of what is happening to her in this moment, her sense of what is to come.
“My spirit rejoices in God my savior,” Mary sings out. With great joy Mary sings out. With rejoicing, Mary sings out so that we may know that she knew and recognized what was happening in this moment. A moment that was surely strange, definitely unexpected, and likely at least stressful if not downright terrifying (especially for those around Mary if not so much for Mary herself, knowing and recognizing God as she does). Mary is prepared to face this challenge with great jubilation. Mary is prepared to rise to the challenge to raise a child that is her own and yet something else entirely different then what she might otherwise have expected of a child. Mary is ready, prepared, rejoicing in anticipation, singing out, so that we too might know, might be prepared, might rejoice in our own anticipation of the coming of Christ.
Rejoice with Mary today. Rejoice with Ella today in her baptism. Rejoice that Christ will be with us tomorrow. Rejoice and magnify the glory of the Lord, sing with joy the gifts and blessings that we have received in this life, for the promise of grace and mercy that is fulfilled in the Word made incarnate, for the call to a way of love that challenges and inspires us anew. Leap with joy (if you are so able and moved) so that others may see your joy and be filled with their own sense of jubilation in this season. Rejoice like Elizabeth as you are filled with the Holy Spirit and moved to proclaim the Good News that is happening, that is to come.
Our time for preparing is drawing to a close this season. But from today forward we are tasked with preparing Ella throughout her life so that she may learn and grow in the faith that we share, so that she might recognize that presence of God in her life. A faith that starts with the birth of a child in a manger in a far away town. A faith that fills us with joy when we recognize the work of God in our lives. A faith that tells us God is constantly at work in our lives and challenges us to see that movement of the Holy Spirit in all things. Sing out with rejoicing. Leap for joy at the presence of the Lord. Be moved by recognizing the presence of Christ among us once more and rejoice!