Sermon; Advent 4C; Luke 1:39-55
Today we hear the story of what has been dubbed, “The Visitation.” This is the time when Mary, after agreeing to be part of God's plan as announced by Gabriel, runs off to visit her cousin Elizabeth, who is also a key player in this story and experiencing a miraculous pregnancy of her own.
Upon her arrival, Elizabeth's unborn child leaps for joy, Elizabeth offers a blessing, and Mary responds with the Magnificat.
The Magnificat just might be the greatest hymn/prayer of leveling ever produced. It is politically subversive. It is full of hope. It looks forward to the time when all of those man-made mountains are flattened and valleys uplifted, thereby resulting in turning despair into joy. It proclaims how things will be at the coming of the Lord. There is much to be said, and much has been said, about how the Magnificat is one of the most socially, politically, and economically dangerous pieces of literature we have.
But before we get into that, we need to back up a few verses.
We need to back up to the last words spoken by Elizabeth: And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.
Blessed is she who believed. This is important.
Without belief, Mary would not have agreed to participate in this outlandish plan. Without belief, the Magnificat becomes just another pipe dream. Yes, the Magnificat sings of the coming of the Lord. Yes, the Magnificat glories in promises fulfilled. Yes, the Magnificat is deeply subversive to our way of life. But it is through belief that makes it possible.
Belief is sometimes a hard thing to get a grasp on. Sometimes belief is presented as something simple that will result in great things. If you only believe, you will be healed. If you only believe, you can close your eyes, click your heels together three times, and go home.
Sometimes it's used as a punishment. If you really believed, they wouldn't have died. And other like-sentiments.
But belief is more complicated than that. Sometimes what we believe happens within our seeing, such as Mary's belief that God has looked upon her with favor. More often than not, what we believe is yet to come, such as when Abraham was told he would be the father of a great nation. This is Advent – belief in the already and not yet go hand in hand.
One reason belief is complicated is because we believe in a God who, when asked, “Who should I say sent me?” said, “Tell them, 'I Am' sent you.” And in a confrontation with the religious leaders, Jesus said, “Before Abraham was, I am.”
For us, we experience time, past and present, and look forward to the future. But for God, there is no past and no future, there just is. God is self-defined as “I Am.” This makes the fulfillment of the kingdom problematic for us, because it is a future, yet-to-happen event. For God, it already is.
Another reason belief is complicated is because we must act on it.
It's not enough to say, “I believe in God.” It's not enough to recite the Creed. It's not enough to hear the Magnificat and admire how beautiful it is. We need to ask ourselves, both as individuals and as a church body, “What is it we are called to do?”
That question should be the foundation of this parish and our faith.
What is it we are called to do? We are called to worship, welcome, serve, and encourage. These are tangible things that our belief leads us to act on.
When we act on our belief, God will look with favor upon us. When we act on our belief, we can envision a time when the proud will be scattered, the powerful brought down, the lowly lifted up, and the hungry filled.
It's easy to believe when things are going well. It's much harder to believe when things are difficult. This is the tension we live into, this is the tension of Advent, and this is the tension Mary lived into.
May we follow the example of Mary and risk believing in God's promises that are not yet come but already here. And may that risk lead us to act on behalf of God in a world that sorely needs a righteous example.