Sermon for December 8, 2019

There’s nothing quite like live musical theater. The costumes, the lights, the larger than life characters, the joy filled dance numbers, the tender melodies—all working together to transport you into the world of the story.

My favorite part of a musical production is the overture. Picture the theater before the overture begins—people are milling around, trying to find their seats; ushers stride up and down the aisles settling disputes over seats. The low hum of conversation, cough drop wrappers, seats folding up and down, and the rustling of the programs fills the air.

Suddenly the lights dim and a single spot points down into the musicians pit, a space you hadn’t even noticed until now. The shuffling of people and paper grows quiet as the conductor brings down the baton. Snippets of familiar tunes float out into the air, glimpses of the plot that is about to unfold before your eyes. The lilting ballad floats through the woodwind section. The jazzy dance number boogies through the brass section. The conflict rolls through the percussion and finds a crashing resolution in the cymbals.

In two minutes, the conductor has ferried you from the reality of the theater to the reality of the narrative. With each stroke of the baton, each change of tune or tempo, the excitement and expectation of the coming drama builds until the last note sounds and the curtain finally rises on Scene One. That’s why I love the overture—it walks you through all of the action, whets your appetite for what’s to come and brings you at the edge of your seats, feet tapping, ready to see what’s next.

So here we are—the second week of Advent, still weeks away from Christmas when the curtain will go up on the story of God’s love coming into the world once again. Despite our attempts to wait patiently we’re getting restless, checking our watches—it has to be getting close to show time. Suddenly the lights dim and a single spot focuses our attention on a familiar character—Mary. But wait, this is not the Mary we are expecting to see. There is no donkey, no baby, no shepherds, no Joseph, no strangers bearing expensive gifts, no pondering things quietly in her heart.

No, this morning Mary takes the stage as a prophet, singing the overture of the gospel. Standing alone in the center of the stage, Mary’s hope and expectation spills out in song:

“My soul glorifies the Lord

of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed,

His mercy extends to those who fear him,

and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful

for the Mighty One has done great things for me— holy is his name.

from generation to generation. He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;

he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones

but has lifted up the humble.

Mary’s overture previews the amazing ministry of the child she is carrying, and the upside-down logic of the God who is sending him to Earth. Mary knows that his birth will be just the beginning of a remarkable story—a story featuring an unexpected Messiah who brings undeserved grace. A story that stars the poor and the outcast rather than the rich and the powerful—It’s a story that’s set around everyday dinner tables instead of royal banquet tables.

Mary’s song carries the fragile hope of a world in need of a savior. Each stanza gives us a glimpse of the story that is to come—each lilting phrase builds in hope and anticipation. Her song swirls through the air, reminding us of all that is to come in Jesus, the Light of the World.

“He has performed mighty deeds with his arm.” There will be many mighty deeds in this story. A stormy sea and frightened followers—words of rebuke to the wind and the water—words of wonder about the power of a man who commands even the weather.1 Glimpses of a woman healed by touching the hem of a cloak, of a demon cast into a herd of pigs. The joy of the ten healed lepers, and the blind man who could now see.

1 Luke 8:23-25

He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.

He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, just as he promised our ancestors.”

“He has scattered the proud.”

Many proud characters, many to scatter. He praised the generosity of the poor widow while criticizing the loud public prayers of the rich.

The religious leaders raised an eyebrow when he ate dinner with women, tax collectors, and other lowly people. They scolded him for eating the wrong things and healing people at the wrong times. They tried to trick him with riddles and questions about the law, but he was always one step ahead of them with a question of his own. Tangled up in their own questions, they scattered back into the crowds.

“He has brought down the powerful and lifted up the lowly.”

He told stories about God’s kingdom where things will be different. A parable about a banquet full of people from off the street. A promise that wealth is not important because God will provide all that is needed. A parable with a heroic outsider, a Samaritan, and heartless, cowardly priests. Praise heaped upon a woman with a jar of ointment, but rebuke for the judgmental Pharisee.

“He has filled the hungry with good things.”

He was always eating, sharing table with unlikely dinner companions. Remember the miraculous meal on the hillside, a feast from just two fish and a few loaves? Or the meal shared with sisters, Mary and Martha? What about the story of the party thrown by the man when his prodigal son returned home? And that final meal shared with his closest friends in a room in Jerusalem.

So, Mary did you know?

Yeah, she knew. It’s all right here in her song of rebellion and revolution that imagines the ways God will break into the world and turn our lives and our expectations upside down—her song that’s not just a fanciful, distant wish, but a bold declaration that God has already brought this new world about.

Her song floats over these remaining weeks Advent, reminding us that the work of Christ neither begins nor ends at the manger. It beckons us to watch and listen for the new verses that are being written even now when we dare to proclaim God’s peace in the face of the world’s fear.

The song rises again when we fill Christmas boxes for the families at the Yarmouth Food Pantry.

It’s a melody that floats through AA meetings, sober houses and warming shelters. It echoes in grief support groups and free clinic waiting rooms. It rises from climate change rallies and fair wage protests.

It rises again every time we glimpse God’s light shining in the midst of the world’s darkness. So let us travel through these Advent weeks with Mary’s song in our heart and with eyes and ears open to the new verses that God is writing in our world even now. Amen.

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