Sermon – December 20, 2015 – Fourth Sunday of Advent

Advent 4 Year C
Luke 1:39-55

This week marked three years since the mass shooting at Sandy Hook elementary in Newtown, Connecticut.  Three years ago, I was preparing to preach an advent sermon at my congregation in San Francisco, a city with it’s own share of violence, when I heard the news.  I watched my TV in horror as the news reported 27 dead.  As so many did, I sat and I prayed.  I prayed to an end to violence, for safety, for peace, for healing.
A lot has happened in the past three years.  I was going to research just how many mass shootings there have been in our country since Sandy Hook but I couldn’t get my heart in the right place to hear the numbers.  Conservative estimates put the number of mass shootings just this year in the 200’s.  And I probably don’t need to remind anyone of what has happened in the past month alone.  I do know that somewhere in the past three years my prayers for change have been supplemented with lament as I ask “how long Lord?”  How long must we wait for an end to violence, for safety, for peace, for healing?  The beginning of a poem by Langston Hughes goes like this…
“I am so tired of waiting,
aren’t you,
for the world to become good
and beautiful, and kind?”
In the past three years we’ve been doing a lot of waiting.  Advent, of course, is a season of waiting. But there is a time in advent when our waiting must turn to preparation.  In this forth Sunday of Advent, our waiting has become tired.  With Christmas so close, we must prepare for God’s breaking into the world in the form of the Christ child.  It seems like these past three years we have been stuck perpetually in the season of Advent, waiting for God to do something.  Like the season of Advent itself, this waiting has a function… but I wonder if we too must collectively transition from waiting into a time of preparation.  I wonder if in our waiting we have become complacent.  Now is the time for our advent world to turn to preparation.  Not to wait for a world but to prepare a world that is good and beautiful and kind.
It’s a daunting task, no doubt, but our holy scriptures are full of stories of God equipping ordinary people to do extraordinary things.
Take Mary, for example.  We tend to “saintify” Mary, both literally and figuratively.  But when we do so, we forget just how truly unqualified she was.  Not only was she was a woman, in a time women when women were given the same social status as livestock, she was a young woman, and an unmarried young woman.  Not only this, she was from a poor family, of a minority race and religion, living in occupied land.  Yet God chooses her to bear Christ, to bring God’s presence and goodness into the world.  She is an accidental saint.  Mary’s power comes from her ordinariness.  She becomes a saint not because of who she is but in how she allows God to work through her.
When Mary first hears of her own daunting task, how she is called to prepare the way of the Lord, she does not back down.  She does not explain the ways in which she is unequipped for the job; She does not insist on waiting for someone more qualified.  She accepts and sings this revolutionary song.  Listen for how Mary speaks of God’s action.
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

Mary’s song does not start by listing all of the ways in which she is qualified for her work but by giving thanks to God for equipping her.  Emboldened and called by God to change the world, Mary transitions from quiet, oppressed teenager to a bold prophet—not satisfied with the way her world exists.  Mary isn’t a political powerhouse. She’s not supernaturally brave.  Her words indicate she’s just tired of waiting. And so she holds God to account, singing about revolution.
We cannot see Mary’s song as simply “asking” God to change things.  In the words of Poet Thomas John Carlisle, Mary is an “Offense against our apathy.” Instead, remember again how Mary describes who God is and what God is committed to.  Hungry are filled; tyrants are brought down, the oppressed are lifted up. This is what happens when God comes among and works through humans—the implications of incarnation.
I’ve heard that it was common for those fighting against apartheid in South Africa to sing songs of victory, long before any actual victory was in sight.  In a similar way, Mary does not sing about things that have already been made true, but of how our world will change if God is made incarnate in each of us on earth—what happens when we allow God to equip us, to work through us as agents of justice and change.  Mary’s song is not one of passive victory but of the fruits of active preparation.  She sings God’s promise into action.
How might we sing God’s promises into action, today?  How might we transition our own period of waiting into a time of preparation—preparing the way for a world where the goodness of God breaks into injustice.   Soon our time of Advent will be over and we will hear the Christmas story—a story about how God uses ordinary people, accidental saints, to enter into the world.  The incarnation, God made flesh and dwelling among us, dares us to see the world as inseparable from God’s love.  God’s kingdom comes in part through the ways in which we allow God’s Word, God’s love, to be made known in our own actions.  If we wish for a world that is good, and beautiful, and kind then we must be willing to let those parts of God dwell within our own being.
As a literary device, Mary’s song at the beginning of Luke prepares readers to hear Jesus’ own preaching.  As Mary sings of God’s promises, Jesus shows his followers how to embody those promises in the way they interact with the world: Seeking healing for broken, advocating for social outcasts, breaking down unjust systems.  Then, let us not forget the end of the story, when Jesus leaves his disciples—ordinary people—to complete this work on earth.
To the hurt of our world in perpetual advent, we respond by being church together.  When someone is hungry, we feed them.  When someone is in need of a home, we work together to house them. We use our faith as a guide to propose just policy. When refugees seek care and shelter, we help them. We use our own varied privileges to advocate for the oppressed and marginalized. When the world says terror and fear, we respond with love.
In Mary’s stubborn persistence, we cannot let darkness win.  We must refuse to stand- by idly.  We must refuse to wait for a more qualified saint to save the day.  Oppression thrives off of inaction; injustice feeds off of silence.  As this Advent comes to a close, may we transition from a time of waiting to a time of preparation.  May we respond to the injustices of our world with action.  In a world steeped in brokenness may we show goodness, beauty, and compassion.  I’m tired of waiting.
Like Mary, let us hone our own agency knowing that it is God who goes before us and equips us to change our world for the better.