In today’s Gospel Mary sings joyfully of what God has done, as many have since. Singing about God’s acts for us can have real consequences.
In East Germany in 1989 for several months preceding the fall of the Berlin wall, the citizens of Leipzig gathered to sing on Monday evenings by candlelight around St. Nikolai church – the church where Bach composed so many of his cantatas. Histories of the “velvet revolution” often overlook that over two months their numbers grew from just over a thousand people to more than three hundred thousand, over half the citizens of the city. They sang songs of hope and protest and justice, until their songs changed the world. Later, when someone asked one of the former officers of the Stasi, the GDR secret police, why they did not crush this protest like they had so many others, the officer replied “We had no contingency plan for song.” (David Lose “In the meantime…” 2015 reworked TL)
Tim visited in the GDR in the early 80’s and heard for himself the unknowable truth that was nonetheless well-known among church leaders: namely that Eric Honecker, leader of the GDR, and Bishop Schönberger head of the Lutheran Church, knew and respected each other. They had both been in concentration camps under the Nazis. The two leaders had an arrangement, that the church could be the pressure relief valve for the state, and …
Well … among church leaders the lack of contingency for singing was well-known, and known as an intentional ‘lack of preparation’ by Honecker. Together and so as not to be documented or suspected by the Russians, the two leaders planned for the fall of East Germany back into a reunified Germany, through singing in the church.
Our song is from today’s Psalm: Restore us, O God. Let your face shine upon us, and we shall be saved!
This refrain becomes most poignant in juxtaposition to the troubles of the people. Still on its own it bears noting that to have God’s face shine upon us is quite the experience.
Most everyone can remember a time when we felt the warm sunshine streaming down and warming our faces. Imagine how good that feels on a cold winter day, when the sun only peaks up above the horizon for a few hours each day. Imagine that storms and snow and slush have filled the skies, and streets for weeks. Then the sun shines free, welcomed and warm. For those few moments All is well.
Now take that memory and transposed it into the key of C for Jesus the Christ, the key of G for God, the key of S for the Holy Spirit …. While God’s face is hidden from us, we languish. As if caught in a spirit storm we find no joy, no purpose, no goodness in life. All is lost. Stretch this to make it the only vivid memory in our minds, and the hope that sustains us disappears. God has deserted us, or so we experience life.
Then enter into our lives God’s face, shining down on us as warm sunshine … and all is transformed … joy, purpose and goodness overflow each moment. God is present: All is well. All is well. All manner of things are well. [Julian of Norwich.]
Basking in God’s face shining in on us is beyond compare.
In the OT lesson for today Micah has, in typical prophet mode, let the people know they have sinned and are suffering because they are separated from God. Then he offers a vision, a restoration to the times of old. Like David a leader will rise. Micah gives the people the promise of a political solution for the challenges of his day.
We have used his words for much more; we’ve seen Jesus promised in them, and Jesus is so far beyond a political solution. Jesus is God’s complete and final solution to the timeless challenge of scapegoating and sin.
While the reasoning in the letter to the Hebrews may be dense, as obscure as the religious law it reflects, our second lesson for today makes clear that Jesus is the one-time sacrifice for all time foretold by the prophets. He replaces blood sacrifice and the indecipherable religious laws, traditions and ideas.
Even now, we can’t keep all God’s laws; no one is good enough to earn God’s favour. We need God’s saving action now and again and again, so we sing: Restore us, O God. Let your face shine upon us, and we shall be saved!
In the Gospel for today Mary sings a version of Hannah’s song. As all songs of faith, well composed and well sung, Mary sings a revolutionary song.
It is not just revolutionary in that God inspires us to revolve, to repent, to turn about and follow Jesus, instead of walking our own way and demanding that God follow us. Mary’s song is revolutionary in that it threatens corrupt power with God’s good order.
More than a few corrupt rulers have banned it.“The Magnificat was banned by the bishop from being sung or read in India under British rule. In the 1980’s, it was banned in Guatemala. In Argentina the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo – whose children all disappeared during the Dirty War (1976-1983) – placed the Magnificat’s words on posters throughout the capital plaza, and the military junta then outlawed any public display of Mary’s song.” – – The Subversive Magnificat: What Mary Expected The Messiah To Be Like https://kairoscenter.org/sermons-bible-studies-liturgies/politics-christmas-roman-empire/marys-magnificat-luke-146-55/ modified TL 2018
Why all the resistance, Mary’s song starts with Joy? What better way to start singing of God’s face shining upon us.
Mary realizes that God has taken a turn away from the powerful to the powerless. God looks to her, a lowly servant, caught pregnant out of wedlock. Yet Mary expects to be called great, not for what she has done, but for what God has done to and is doing through her.
This God is not the God of judgment that so many people fear without love. This is the God of mercy from generation to generation. God has great strength, and chooses to show it … Not to build up or sustain those with power and wealth, and pride. God scatters corrupt rulers as if they were despised weeds.
God then lifts up the lowly. God feeds the hungry, with good, nourishing food that makes for health. But the Rich God sends away empty handed. This revolution changes all power and privilege so that those caught in the bottom of injustice can sing, for to them God promises good food, good life, fair treatment, and great hope.
Using the Magnificat can change life, can bring us down if we are powerful, proud, and wealthy; but it brings up those of us who are humble out of necessity and position, wise but poor, who must count on God’s grace to survive each day. For our good honest labour has not netted us luxury and privilege.
We must work hard to survive the challenges of life whatever they may be: storms of climate change. bitter COLD.
Flood, famine, war, addictions, earthquakes, disappearing fish, species, glaciers, clean water, honest people, friends … disappearing children. Or cancer and other life taking diseases.
A teacher landed her first job teaching children in a large hospital. One of her first pupils was a preteen Tommy. His teacher said he needed to work on his grammar – especially adverbs and adjectives. So she planned a lesson.
The teacher found Tommy … in the burn unit. The sight of the small boy, terribly burned and in tremendous pain – shook her. Not knowing what else to do, the young teacher worked through her per-prepared grammar lesson. The boy’s lips slowly answered her questions and responded to her comments. In great pain they completed the lesson.
The teacher then fled the burn unit, certain that her grammar lesson had been a callous and useless exercise. She avoided that area of the hospital. Then one morning she ran into one of Tommy’s nurses.
“What did you do to him?” the nurse demanded. The teacher was shocked and in dread. The nurse continued. “We had just about given up on him because he had given up on himself. After your visit he changed. He started fighting back, and now his prognosis is really very good. Come see him.”
In disbelief the teacher returned to Tommy’s bedside. Still in pain, he was sitting up smiling a smile that reached his eyes. Tommy explained to the teacher, “I thought I was going to die for sure. Then you came. When you left I knew I couldn’t be dying. Who would bother to teach a dying boy the difference between adjectives and adverbs?” (source unknown)
Our challenges may be worse than Adjectives and Adverbs. They may be loved ones who abuse and take everything we have and more. Or enemies that want vengeance for things we never did. Coworkers who are mean, or haughty and proud. Or institutions that are corrupt and decaying, destroying people caught in their downward spiral.
Or our challenges may be just plain Evil, in so many different guises, tempting us to try futilely to make our own lives good enough for God.
From all that we need to be saved, for we cannot save ourselves. So we cry out in song: Restore us, O God. Let your face shine upon us, and we shall be saved! Amen