December 17, 2017 – 3rd Sunday of Advent
Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11; Canticle 15/Luke 1:46-55 – The Song of Mary
The Rev. Dr. Susan Kraus
On the third Sunday of Advent we light the rose-colored Advent candle to honor Mary, the mother of Jesus. In place of the psalm we read Canticle 15, The Song of Mary, from the Gospel of Luke. Luke gives us the background to the birth of Jesus.
The angel Gabriel announces to Mary that she will bear Jesus and that her relative Elizabeth, in her old age has conceived a son, who will be known as John the Baptist. Luke records that Mary went with haste to visit Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child in her womb leaped for joy. “And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.’” Mary replied with the song we recited this morning.
In this morning’s passage from Isaiah God declares, “For I the Lord love justice, I hate robbery and wrongdoing.” Mary’s song proclaims God’s strength to correct injustice. “He has shown the strength of his arm, he has scattered the proud in their conceit. He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up the lowly.” We are guided to look for God where the world would not expect to find God, among the lowly and poor, among those who suffer from injustice. God chose a humble young woman to bear Jesus, and she gave birth to him in very humble circumstances.
Later in Luke’s Gospel we read that after his baptism Jesus spent forty days in the wilderness being tempted and tested by the devil. At the end of this time Jesus was “filled with the power of the Spirit” and returned to Galilee. He went to the synagogue in Nazareth on the Sabbath, and he was given the scroll of the prophet Isaiah to read. The passage Jesus read was the beginning of our Old Testament lesson this morning, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” And Jesus added this comment, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
The ministry of Jesus – his years of traveling from place to place, healing the sick; feeding hungry people, sometimes with food, but more often with his teaching about the ways of God; forgiving sins; raising the dead; bringing hope in dark times – all of Jesus’ ministry gave substance to his words that day in the synagogue in Nazareth. “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
We who love God and seek to follow Jesus are called to give substance in our lives to God’s teaching revealed in scripture and in the life of Jesus. We are called to bring good news to the poor, to bind up the brokenhearted, to comfort those who mourn, to help prisoners find liberty. While we wait with hope for the coming of Christ and God’s kingdom, we are called to work for God’s kingdom here and now.
We may think that all this is too high and great a task for us. We are ordinary people. What can we do? In Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” the ghost of Marley says this to Scrooge – a first hint of the direction Scrooge’s conversion will eventually take. “… any Christian spirit working kindly in its little sphere, whatever it may be, will find its mortal life too short for its vast means of usefulness!”
Debbie King recently told me that her granddaughter Evie won the Student of the Month award in her kindergarten class. She earned the award for being kind to the other children. Evie has befriended an autistic child in her class. She looks after this classmate, helping with lunch and when school work is challenging. One boy in her class was afraid to go to school. Evie greets him each morning and holds his hand to walk with him to the school bus. The boy’s mother thanked Evie’s mother because now her son looks forward to school. Evie is just six years old. In her little world she has comforted a child afflicted with disability and helped release a child from his prison of fear. May the Lord help all of us to see the people around us with this child’s eyes of compassion and act, as she has, with love!
Mary – blessed among women and venerated by many Christians in the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Anglican Churches as the “Queen of Heaven” – was a humble young woman. She was vulnerable because unmarried and pregnant. She was a Jew living in a land occupied by the Romans, forced to travel to Bethlehem at the end of her pregnancy to be registered for tax purposes, only to find no room at the inn. She gave birth to the savior of the world among beasts without the women of her family to help her. The Queen of Heaven.
Jesus, a little baby, vulnerable and needy as all babies are, born in a stable, a Jew living in a land occupied by the Romans, finally as a man such a threat to the Romans and certain Jews with religious authority that he was crucified – the death reserved for criminals. God incarnate, God who humbled himself to become a human being and to submit to human limitations, even death. The King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
Do you see the shape of God’s work in these lives? We may look for God at work where the Song of Mary and the words of the prophet Isaiah and the example of the ministry of Jesus all point. We may look for God where justice is served, where hope is brought to the poor and oppressed, where the bereaved are comforted, where what has been ruined is rebuilt and raised up, where people are in awe of God and God’s teaching, where the hungry are fed. We may look for God in these places and work with God in these endeavors.
There is a simple Shaker hymn called “Love is Little” that speaks the truth we have been considering.
Love is little
Love is low
Love will make my spirit grow.
Grow in peace
Grow in light
Love will do the thing that’s right.