Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Sunday Sermon Notes 11.30.08

Growing up in a Protestant Christian church, we didn't pay much attention to Mary, except that she was the mother of Jesus and the young wife of Joseph. Other than the fact that she gave birth to the baby, we pretty much skipped her song in the Christmas story. I don't know why, maybe we were a little skittish about coming across too Catholic. Pity. Mary is quite the character. And her song is quite powerful.

And Mary said, 

I'm bursting with God-news; 

I'm dancing the song of my Savior God.
God took one good look at me,
and look what happened— 

I'm the most fortunate woman on earth!
What God has done for me
will never be forgotten,
the God whose very name is holy,
set apart from all others. 

His mercy flows in wave after wave 

on those who are in awe before him. 

He bared his arm and showed his strength, 

scattered the bluffing braggarts. 

He knocked tyrants off their high horses,
pulled victims out of the mud. 

The starving poor sat down to a banquet;
the callous rich were left out in the cold.

He embraced his chosen child, Israel;
he remembered and piled on the mercies,
piled them high. 

It's exactly what he promised, 

beginning with Abraham and right up to now.

Luke 1v46-55 (The Message)

We understand the stories and teachings of Jesus to be the heart of the Gospel, the Good News about what God is doing in the world. To give the word "gospel" a simple definition, I'm using this one from Scot McKnight:
The Gospel is - The work of God to restore us
to God and to others
for the good of others and the world.

With this kind of definition, it is worth asking: What’s the work of God that Mary is celebrating in her song? God has announced to Mary what he is going to do in her and through her as part of his ongoing work to restore his world. That what she's singing about, God's continued restoration of Israel - through her. And thus we get a glimpse into what kind of stories and teachings Luke is going to stitch together - he's given us the outline of his gospel in Mary's song. Well part of the outline, Zechariah's song is the other outline; Mary's song is about Jesus as King, Zechariah's song is about Jesus as Priest and Prophet. Mary's song is triumphant, she is confidant that Jesus will be the kind of king that rules with all the wisdom, justice and mercy we all hope for.

So, based on this song, what kind of stories and teachings should we expect from Jesus? The theme of reversal comes up alot in the stories and teachings of Jesus. So does healing the poor (to be sick was to be poor), feeding the multitudes, demonstrating power that rivaled the Herod's and Caesars, and showing mercy to the sinners, outcasts, marginalized, and trampled. Thus, there is one more question to ask: Based on this song, what kind of work should we be doing?

Especially at Christmastime, when we remember the "reason for the season", when we seek to keep "Christ in Christmas", you'd think we'd keep close to our heart Mary's song, which spells out for us the reason and the identity of the Christ. To live out the true spirit of Christmas, we'd look at the situations around us that need to be reversed. We'd start noticing the unnoticed, we'd start having mercy on the marginalized, we'd help out with getting healing to the hurting, we'd feed the famished, and use our power to make right the wrongs of our neighborhood and world.

All this seems a bit ambitious, but it's what the Spirit of Christ is all about, and it is what the Spirit wants to do in us, this Christmas and every day. We obviously can't accomplish this work of God by ourself, to restore the world is going to require some miracles. Which is what Christmas is all about. But before we can sing and live Mary's song, we have to speak with her heart: "I am the LORD's servant, may it be to me as you have said."

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