December 19: Love and Memory Sunday

Readings from the Scriptures (CEB) Luke 1: 46-57

46 Mary said, “With all my heart I glorify the Lord! 47     In the depths of who I am I rejoice in God my savior. 48 He has looked with favor on the low status of his servant.  

 Look! From now on, everyone will consider me highly favored 49 because the mighty one has done great things for me. Holy is his name. 50     He shows mercy to everyone, from one generation to the next, who honors him as God. 51 He has shown strength with his arm.

He has scattered those with arrogant thoughts and proud inclinations.  52     He has pulled the powerful down from their thrones and lifted up the lowly. 53 He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away

empty-handed. 54 He has come to the aid of his servant Israel, remembering his mercy, 55     just as he promised to our ancestors, to Abraham and to Abraham’s descendants forever.”  56 Mary stayed with Elizabeth about three months, and then returned to her home.

While our hearts in love we raise

Last week, we continued the story behind the story of Christmas, that of Zechariah and Elizabeth and the birth of John the Baptist.  Their story prepares the way for Jesus, but it is not without struggle.  Hope and peace had waned over time.  Sorrow and grief underpinned their joy.  So when Mary leaves “with haste” running from her parents who wanted nothing to do with her and her story, running from the judgment of her betrothed, Joseph, she instead runs towards the expectant love of her expecting cousin. 

The women meet in the middle of their shame, having experienced profound judgment from their community on which they relied.  But when Mary finally reaches Elizabeth, she finds her cousin healed. Elizabeth’s pregnancy had flipped the shame onto its head, as she once again recognizes the blessings of God.  But it took…what…six months?  The angel to Mary says that Elizabeth is six months pregnant, meaning that if you take that number and add it to how many days it took for Mary to reach Elizabeth…the journey to back to joy takes time.

Though, I don’t have to tell any of you that.  This year continued the postponement of funerals that we began last year, some waiting for the time to come that they can celebrate the way they want/need, only postponing pain while living in it at the same time.  We, like Mary, find ourselves running with our pain, desperately trying to escape it – yet every news headline we hear, every projection mapping of cases, every cancelled hoped-for-event, brings pain back into view.

Thank God for Elizabeth, who greets Mary, and who in the depth of Mary’s pain, meets it with an abundance of love.  For it is Elizabeth that has done the work of grieving, that gives Mary a crash course in it, enabling Mary to sing the song that becomes our scripture today. 

From the depths of who she is, Mary sings of the God of love that Elizabeth embodies.  The angel may have visited Mary, but it is Elizabeth who restores her to new life.  It is Elizabeth that bears love and mercy enough for Mary to remind her that the mighty one has done great things.  And it is here that the prophetic words of Mary transcend this young Israelite, to imagine what love means even today. 

God shows mercy from one generation to the next, to even today, in a time when we are merciless with one another.  We’ve become so intolerant in our quest for tolerance, that we no longer have patience for those who are out of step with the norm.  We don’t get far into the song before we encounter a vision of God challenging us.     Can we really worship a God who shows mercy to all?  For no longer will there be Jew nor Greek…vaccinated and unvaccinated, cisgender or trans, for we are all one…in Christ Jesus…this is the unconditional, unlimited mercy of an unexpected God who arrives in unconventional ways, loving all. 

52 God has pulled the powerful down from their thrones and lifted up the lowly.
53 God has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty-handed.

From silenced by parents and partners, Mary finds her voice in this powerful rallying cry: pull down the powerful, the billionaires appearing in magazine articles[1] that feed egos and create even more hero worship of those who have the potential to do so much good, if only we can gain the favour of these ‘golden calfs.’ Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low (Isaiah 40), as Mary imagines a time when this upheaval will be behind us.  But this isn’t a great reversal – this isn’t flipping the power in order to turn the oppressed into new oppressors.  So often we see that, the liberated become the taskmasters, those who have not healed from their pain only seek to inflict it on others.  Be it retaliatory wars (9/11, Pearl Harbour), or Zionist Israelites oppressing Palestinians inflicting newfound power upon the powerless – if we don’t break the cycles of pain and learn from them, pain will be our reality, again and again, over and over. 

Instead, Mary imagines a great divine equalization – a levelling off of all the inequities that we’ve let fester and grow between us, where finally none will stand looking down, nor looking up, but see one another face to face.  For when we see one another face to face, like Elizabeth saw Mary, like Mary sees the world, like God sees each one of us, we see the hurt behind our eyes, the masked pain that we stuff down, because “IT’S CHRISTMAS” as if that somehow negates all that comes before and after the one day of the year.  In fact, Madeleine L’Engle said it best in her poem, 

First Coming

He did not wait till the world was ready,
till men and nations were at peace.
He came when the Heavens were unsteady,
and prisoners cried out for release.

He did not wait for the perfect time.
He came when the need was deep and great.
He dined with sinners in all their grime,
turned water into wine. He did not wait

till hearts were pure. In joy he came
to a tarnished world of sin and doubt.
To a world like ours, of anguished shame
he came, and his Light would not go out.

He came to a world which did not mesh,
to heal its tangles, shield its scorn.
In the mystery of the Word made Flesh
the Maker of the stars was born.

We cannot wait till the world is sane
to raise our songs with joyful voice,
for to share our grief, to touch our pain,
He came with Love: Rejoice! Rejoice!

If this past year is any indication, we cannot wait till the world is sane…to bear our love to a hurting world.  We cannot wait to share our grief, or touch our pain, because this is why Christ came close to us.  For

The moment we choose to love
we begin to move against domination, against oppression. 
The moment we choose to love
we being to move towards freedom,
to act in ways that liberate ourselves and others.
 

(Bell Hooks, Outlaw Culture: Resisting Representations, 1994).

The moment we choose to hear Mary’s song as a long song for the earth, we hear of the imagined time when all is right with the world.  Between now and then, we choose to love in order to move us closer.  We choose to embrace the world with hope even when we ourselves may feel despair.  We choose to bring peace in a world that craves and causes division, we choose to bring joy even knowing how deep the grief of this season can be.  We choose love because hate is too great a burden to bear (Martin Luther King Jr.)

Thanks be to the God of love.


[1] https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/tv/story/2021-12-14/elon-musk-time-person-of-the-year-trevor-noah

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