First Reading: Isaiah 2:1-5
The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.
In days to come
the mountain of the Lord’s house
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
and shall be raised above the hills;
all the nations shall stream to it.
Many peoples shall come and say,
‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the house of the God of Jacob;
that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths.’
For out of Zion shall go forth instruction,
and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He shall judge between the nations,
and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
they shall beat their swords into ploughshares,
and their spears into pruning-hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more.
O house of Jacob,
come, let us walk
in the light of the Lord!
Throughout Advent, we’ve been journeying with the family of Jesus, working our way through its history, its conflicts, and its secrets – and we’ve explored some of the ways our own family histories, conflicts, and secrets can either build us up or hold us back.
Now, before we go any further, I want y’all to know that I chose these Scriptures and themes months ago – but God has a sense of humor, it seems, and so we have a unique opportunity to take a step back from the loud, angry politics of today and look at how we live with one another through a different lens – the song of Mary, the mother of God.
So we’re going to take a look at the gospel according to Luke, where we pick up the story directly after the angel Gabriel appears to Mary and tells her she will bear a son who will save the world. He also mentions that her cousin, Elizabeth, was also having a baby – who would become John the Baptist.
Second Reading: Luke 1:39-56
In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leapt for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.’
And Mary said,
‘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 for ever.’
And Mary remained with her for about three months and then returned to her home.
Mary runs to Elizabeth, and at the sound of her voice Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit and pronounces blessing after blessing on her young relative.
And just for a second, I want us to sit in that moment: the welcome, the joy, and the unmistakable presence of God.
“Blessed is she who believed there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”
And Mary responds with this beautiful poetry that borrows from so many different parts of the Old Testament – including the prayers of Hannah, another mother who believed that God would keep the promises made to her.
But her song of praise is not about the joys of motherhood or even her own blessings and virtues. This is a song of wonder and marvel at how God is coming to us. It’s a song of celebration, certainly, but it’s also a song of vindication.
Because when God chose to become human, God didn’t aim for the families with power. God didn’t go for the influencers, the leaders, or the movers and shakers of the ancient world.
So Mary notices that all of those people who were so sure that God was on their side, that God loved and favored and honored them because of their righteousness, would soon find that God actually favored the woman who wouldn’t even find a spot on the lowest rung of the social and political ladder.
From the very beginning, God made it known that the power of heaven is not easily aligned with earthly powers. And so, the King of Kings, the Prince of Peace, the Son of God will not be born to a queen in a palace, or to the chief priest in Jerusalem – but to a teenage girl and a carpenter in the middle of nowhere.
Honestly, after a few decades of hearing this story over and over again, the absolute ridiculousness of this choice gets somewhat lost on us. After all, we’re kind of surrounded by loveable underdog stories, from Captain America to the tortoise and the hare.
But the message at the heart of Mary’s song of vindication is actually somewhat disconcerting – that while we wait for the day that Isaiah paints a picture of, where all nations will stream to the house of God to learn how to love one another, God takes sides.
And God does not side with the ones who can buy or take whatever they want.
God sides with the migrant workers who can’t negotiate their pay and aren’t given access to bathrooms.
God sides with the single moms who send their sick kids to daycare because they’re one missed shift away from not making rent this month.
God sides with the lonely man who looks forward to his Meals on Wheels delivery because that’s the one time every week someone genuinely asks how he’s doing and waits around for the answer.
God sides with the folks who faithfully come to get their box from the food pantry every month, with the farmers and factory workers who don’t get a say in how their crops are taxed and tariffed, with the kid who gets kicked out because they’re too much trouble, and with the exhausted caregivers and the wounded and the wandering.
God’s plan is rescue and redemption – and as we see in Jesus’ life and ministry, sometimes that means taking on the people who’ve taken power for themselves and used it to mistreat others. God takes those insiders and makes them outsiders – and brings the outsiders in from the cold.
What we see in our national politics, however, is multiple people and organizations who already have power fighting over who gets more power.
But here’s the thing: if you’re feeling frustrated and powerless right now, then maybe you’ve discovered a deeper truth about God’s incarnation: it was never about accumulating more power.
Maybe God came to us in vulnerability and humility to remind us that we are not the Saviors of the world – and God’s kingdom is not going to come from the halls of the White House or the Capitol Building.
Like the birth of Jesus, God’s kingdom starts small, in the shadowy corners of every human heart, and grows slowly. It must be carefully tended and cannot be drawn out by force.
So when the time comes, God is not going to ask you which politician you hated more. God’s going to ask you whether you fed the hungry, helped those who needed it, and offered compassion to people who didn’t deserve it. God’s going to ask you what you did with the power and resources you were given.
So let’s let the politicians deal with their own power battles—and instead focus on where we are called, and where we do have power: over our own actions, our own generosity and grace in this impossible season, and our own dedication to justice.
We end our worship service every week with the same charge and blessing, which includes these directives, each taken from Scripture:
Return no one evil for evil.
Support the weak.
Strengthen the fainthearted.
Hold on to all that is good.
Help the suffering
Honor all people.
Between the election and the impeachment trial, 2020 has the potential to be the ugliest year yet. You want to know what it means to follow Jesus, to live like a Christian in today’s world?
Focus less on accumulating more power for whichever politician you like more, and do those things in your own homes, your own community.
And if you want to judge a politician, judge them not by how well they can get what they want, but by how often they help the suffering, how often they justify bad behavior by saying “she started it!”, and how well they honor all people – even the ones on the other side of the aisle.
In Isaiah, you have people from every nation under heaven streaming to God’s house to learn God’s ways. There are no barriers, no entrance exams, and no demands made of the people who come to be taught – and God is absolutely impartial in telling them where they’re on the right track and where they’re going wrong. There is no special favor, even for the people of Israel, in this vision of God’s kingdom.
But you’ll also notice that they don’t have to go home to get their swords and spears before they re-fashion them into garden tools. They show up armed and defensive, ready to line up and do battle with each other if necessary. It’s only after they learn together in God’s house and after God settles their disputes, that they decide those big pieces of metal are now more useful for cultivating life than taking it.
And then, rather than spend their lives in perfect harmony on top of that mountain, they go home. Each of those people, from every corner of the world, takes what they have learned and brings it out into the world to share.
Friends, what I want you to remember in this chaos is this: you may not have the power to command armies, to make laws, or to solve all the world’s problems. You might barely have the energy to get out of bed tomorrow morning.
But God is still at work within you and through you. The world is desperate for your attention, your compassion, your mercy, and your hope, and it is God who empowers you through the Holy Spirit to take what you have and give it to the world.
Blessed are the ones who believe in the fulfillment of what God has spoken to them!