December 13, 2015 // MAKING ROOM: CELEBRATION // Sara Wolbrecht // Luke 1:39-56
Alright two questions to get us started today – When in your life have you celebrated wildly, without inhibition? What happened that caused that response in you? Whether it was a spontaneous dance party – maybe you shouted and threw your hat in the air – the cliché event at the end of every graduation. Or maybe you jumped up and down, hollered. (I’ve seen some of you during Seahawk’s touchdowns, so I have an idea!). And then related – what are the most meaningful celebrations you have been a part of? If you would, find someone or two near you and take just a quick minute to name when you have celebrated – and what it was like, what did you do.
On the video of our wedding, after Jason and I recess out of the church, just the two of us, as we come to stop and turn toward each other, you see me jumping up and down – because I was very glad to be married to Jason. But whatever came up for you – hold that expression of celebration as we enter into this time now.
We are in our third Sunday of Advent – which means we have t-minus 11 shopping days left until Christmas, people. And we have embraced this season of waiting, of longing by focusing our journey through these dark, busy days on the business of Making Room pic. Recognizing that to wait is not a sit back on our heels and scroll on our phone kind of experience. But waiting is active. And we are being active in our waiting here at Salt House this Advent. We are engaging in daily practices of making room in our lives. And we’re reading through Luke 1, as the stage is set for Jesus birth.
Just to remember where we have been, week one we encountered Zechariah (Zechariah and the angel pic), who as he is working, doing his job as a priest in the temple, he is visited by the angel Gabriel, who lets Zechariah know that his wife Elizabeth will become pregnant in her old age after all these years. We named that like Zechariah, God shows up in our everyday, working, playing, grocery shopping, kinds of moments. That we can make room in our lives for wonder, to see the extraordinary in the ordinary. And last week we read on to see Mary also visited by Gabriel, (Mary and Gabriel pic) to hear how she would give birth to Jesus, God’s son. And we named that Mary is possibly the craziest woman of all time. And how we, too, like Mary, are invited into the wild possibilities of God – to say yes like Mary – which actually begins in our ability to say NO to so many other things that press in on us in our lives. Did you spend some time this week paying attention to the noes you could speak? …And now, we read on again, the very next verse from where we left off – Mary was pondering all of these things and the angel left her – and we read on.
Today, we read of Mary leaving to visit her cousin, Elizabeth. Both women miraculously pregnant – Elizabeth in her old age, Mary in her young age. And we will see that in their exchange, it causes Mary to sing, to celebrate.
It is only appropriate, that we, too, would actually sing Mary’s song. And so we’ll read the first part of our reading, but then we’ll awkwardly start singing where Mary’s song begins. There is music you picked up when you walked in if you like having notes to read. Or the words will be on the screen. Mary’s words of celebration become our words tonight – and do notice what she sings about…
Luke 1:39-45, then sung for 46-55, then 56
At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!”
And Mary said:
“My soul glorifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
holy is his name.
His mercy extends to those who fear him,
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.
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.”
Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months and then returned home.
I have come to love this moment, this beautiful conversation, before the song, shared between Mary and Elizabeth. After Gabriel leaves Mary she darts off, traveling to see her cousin, Elizabeth. And why I love this is because Mary is making a decisive choice. She has just said yes to the crazy movement of God – and now that Gabriel is gone, surely some of the reality of what she has said yes to is sinking in. Yes, to being an unwed pregnant woman – in a culture where sex outside of marriage – for a woman – was punishable by stoning to death. And also just the mind-numbing reality that she has somehow said yes to birthing the son of God – what do you do with that? And surely in that, too, Mary is very very excited.
What I see in Mary’s decision to go to Elizabeth – she is totally practicing good self-care. She’s going to be with a girlfriend, who will support her, make her a cup of tea (or a glass of wine), talk it out, tell her what she needs to hear – and who may even celebrate with her because she understands that God is doing something. We all have those friends. And Mary makes rooms, makes the choice to get what she needs.
When she gets there – Luke describes this greeting that they share – and this is the moment I love. Probably something like this (Mary and Elizabeth pic). And really I just see it like this totally girly moment: Eeeeeeeee! Lots of squealing and giggling and hugging and understanding. And I just love that image of two women together.
Then John, who is six months along, flips in Elizabeth’s belly – I know I will always remember what that feels like, when you’re pregnant and the baby starts rolling. And this stirring within Elizabeth stirs her spirit to know that God truly has blessed Mary to be the mother of Jesus – and just as Mary had hoped – Elizabeth in fact says what Mary needs to hear. Blessed are you! Blessed is your child! As Mary finds herself in this crazy new place, God speaks a word of joy and encouragement and comfort for Mary through Elizabeth.
So Mary is overwhelmed with goodness. And so she sings this song – like our own spontaneous, uninhibited shouts and cheers in the face of the greatest things, this song bubbles out of Mary with deep joy.
What I want us to notice today, is that these women make room to celebrate. And the word for us tonight, is that we, too can make room in our lives for celebration. That we like Mary, and like Miriam (Mose’s sister) in Exodus, like Hannah in 1 Samuel, like Zechariah in what we’ll read next week – they all sang songs of celebration. And we can make room to celebrate the good things. God had a way of starting this practice of celebration in how God created this world – as we read the creation poem of Genesis 1, as each piece of the earth is completed each day, there is the repeated refrain – that God saw that it was good. That we would be people who see the good things of this world, of God’s creation, of our daily lives – and that we would sing, dance, text, eat, party, toast, revel, savor – as we celebrate.
We say it this way – We make room to celebrate the Good Things.
And we could just leave it at that – to say, friends, let’s be people who party, that’s what the life of God is like – being people who notice the good things, who find reasons to see the sweet things of life and live into them. Celebrate Life. Amen. Let’s pop the champagne. That is absolutely the bottom line.
And yet. This song that Mary sings is not just any song. It’s one of the most famous songs in Christianity. It has been whispered in monasteries, chanted in cathedrals, recited in small remote churches by evening candlelight, and set to music with trumpets and timpani drums by Johann Sebastian Bach. When it comes to songs, this is arguably the bible’s greatest hit.
And I want us to ask together: Why is that? What is it about Mary’s song that has caused it to be sung and spoken throughout the centuries? Why is this a greatest hit?
Well, let’s notice, what does Mary sing about? It is a curious song for someone who has just found out she’s pregnant, this song is not what you would expect to hear as a typical “birth announcement song,” right? Did you notice the words and images she uses - what has the news of her son got to do with God’s strong power overthrowing the power structures of the world, demolishing the mighty and exalting the humble? Which is what she sings about.
Well, Mary sings THIS song about THIS stuff because Mary and Elizabeth share a dream. It is the ancient dream of Israel, of God’s people: that one day Israel’s God would do what he had said to Israel’s earliest ancestors: all nations would be blessed through Abraham’s family. That Israel would become this light to the world. But for that to happen, the powers that kept the world in slavery had to be toppled. Because nobody would normally thank God for blessing if they were poor, hungry, enslaved and miserable – which they were. God would have to win a victory over bullies, the power-brokers, the forces of evil which people like Mary and Elizabeth knew all too well, because they lived during the dark days of Herod the Great, whose casual brutality was backed up by the threat of Rome. Mary and Elizabeth, like so many Jews of their time, they searched the scriptures, they soaked themselves in the psalms and prophetic writings which spoke of mercy, hope, fulfillment, reversal, revolution, victory over evil, and of God coming to the rescue at last.
So of course, THIS is the song that she sings – these words she speaks are mostly words from scripture, words that were not only so familiar to her that they were memorized, but they were the vision and dream Mary held closest to her heart. The dream of what God would do to rescue His people. And so that is what bubbles out of her in this moment of celebration. Mary is not just celebrating a pregnancy, but she celebrates the movement of God – celebrating that God takes the initiative and that all that she has ever dreamed of for her family, her people, the world – those dreams are becoming a reality – and she is a part of how God is making it happen.
Mary’s song is known as The Magnificat, which is simply the first word she speaks (my soul magnifies the Lord…). N.T. Wright calls this song the gospel before the gospel, a fierce, bright shout of triumph thirty weeks before we get to Bethlehem, thirty years before Jesus’ death and resurrection. It’s all about God and it’s all about revolution. And it’s all because of Jesus – Jesus who has only just been conceived, not yet born, but who will be the one in whom all of this begins to happen.
So again, why is this a greatest hit? Well – this dream of ancient Israel that Mary celebrates, this is the dream that Jesus-followers of the past two thousand years have continued to dream. This is our dream, too. For ourselves, for our world. The revolution continues. And this song has become a battle cry throughout the centuries, rallying and reminding people of what God is doing in the world.
Friends, this means that we, too, are invited to celebrate revolution. To let this become our song, and to celebrate, name, savor, lift up the things that God is doing in us and in the world. But here’s the tough part: these Good Things of God, the stuff of revolution, the stuff of what God is up to, these things? Our culture does not always hold these things as awesome. We, as Jesus-followers celebrate not only the sparkling, well-accepted things that will get lots of likes and shares. But also the scandalously good things, too. Scandalous in that they are not the cool things that our culture always values. We get to celebrate when there is the turning-upside-down of things as Mary describes – like selfless generosity, abusive powers being stopped, the rich losing it all while the poor finally have what they need. When these kinds of things happen in our culture – they don’t tend to be celebrated as breaking news worth noting. But we make room to celebrate the scandalously good things of God. We make room to celebrate the Good Things of God
…including the scandalously Good Things of God.
I think of the climate change agreement that was made last night in France. Representatives of 195 nations reached a landmark accord that will, for the first time, commit nearly every country to lowering planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions to help stave off the most drastic effects of climate change. That is scandalously good, right? We celebrate revolution.
I think too of my friend Christopher in Oakland who works with an organization that gets women out of prostitution. He is literally the guy who goes and sits with young women at the police station so that they have someone there to advocate for them. And he’ll post things on Facebook – about how he spent the night at the jail – one time about how he had just gotten to the movie theater but had to leave when he got the call to go because a teenage prostitute had been picked up. These are women who are in horrible situations with a pimp, and they have no way out – except for the work of folks like Christopher. He is doing the slow work of revolution – and we get to celebrate with him the steps that God takes to redeem the lives of those young women, and stops the cycles of sex slavery, of commoditizing women, of abuse and oppression. God is always overthrowing the power structures of our world – and here is just one situation.
And here’s the final thing to consider, too – Mary and Elizabeth stood on the doorstep and celebrated. And yet that moment was not a perfectly Instagrammable moment. They couldn’t have taken a selfie that looked flawless. They didn’t have it all together. Elizabeth has lived a lifetime of shame, longing, not able to have children which is like a death sentence in that culture. Mary was embarking on a pregnancy that would cause great shame for her. And our point in this is that to make room to celebrate does not mean that we have all our sh** together. It does not mean that all the pain, uncertainty, anger, loneliness, fear that we carry is gone. We can still celebrate, like these women, we can celebrate the Good Things even when the hard things are still with us. We live in the tension of knowing that the Good can be there even when things aren’t perfect – and even far from it.
And to celebrate – what celebration looks like – does not mean throwing a Pinterest-worthy party with themed décor and fabulous place settings. Celebrating means acknowledging, savoring, entering into the goodness of what has happened. Not letting the moment pass without it being noticed and named. Which can absolutely mean the big celebrations, too – the wedding reception, the fancy bridal shower. And it also includes sitting still enough to watch a sunset. Or sending an emoji-laden text to the friend who finally is taking steps forward in their life. To remembering a friend’s birthday. Dropping off a card for the neighbor who just finished their final chemo treatment. Inviting over your friends for pizza and beer to celebrate your friend’s new job.
We make room to celebrate the Good Things of God
…including the scandalously Good Things of God
…even when our lives are messy.
And so this week – we celebrate. We don’t have to cry out for revolution – don’t feel intimidated by how we’ve named this value of calling out the things where God is turning this world upside down. Don’t let that scare you off, but I hope that you will let it excite you. And start where you’re at. Look around. Notice your life, the life of your friends and family and coworkers. We get to be people who celebrate. We look for the Good Things and we name them, share them, toast them. We find ways to savor things. And yes – we have a particular eye out for the scandalously Good Things of God.
The band is coming back up and for the rest of our time together we’re making some room to celebrate. So let me pray for us as we sing and as we head into Communion in a moment – for there is no greater party that Jesus throws than the party at his table. Let me pray for us…
God in this season where there are parties and decorations surrounding us, we acknowledge the goodness of celebration. Thank you that we get to align our hearts with yours every time we stop and notice and say – Oh, I see that this is good. We acknowledge, too, that the most profound and beautiful moments to celebrate are often those without a lot of fanfare – that there are also scandalously good things that you are doing in the world that we get to boldly embrace and name and celebrate, too. In these next moments, God we pray that you would draw us to you and into a place of practicing celebration. No matter where we find ourselves – we, too, like Mary and Elizabeth, can choose to celebrate, knowing that you also hold our messy lives in your hands, embracing all of who we are, and freeing us to make room for reckless abandon and uninhibited celebration. And so we breathe deeply of your grace and peace and joy that is with us, and we let our hearts go there now, as we sing this song of celebrating who you are as our God of all good things. Amen.