Reader: Cheryl Caldwell. audio begins with the scripture passage; sermon begins at 2:10.

Advent 4 Text: Luke 1: 39-56

Just in time, before we get to tomorrow night, we hear Mary’s song.
Just in time, before a great hush fills that stable, the way the sheer wonder of newborn child moves a labouring mother from howling to near speechless -- just in time, ahead of that, today Mary’s voice takes center stage, her song soaring, free as a bird in flight.
Just in time --for without her song, we might otherwise have shown up tomorrow night rather unprepared.

Her song, you see, as you might have noticed, is not a sweet lullaby but a revolutionary cry! She’s singing about the re-orienting work of God that is on its way through the child she’s carrying in her womb.  It’s not new work, this re-orienting of our lives. For generations this has been God’s call through the prophets --holding up the vision of shalom, the well-being of the world, the land, it’s peoples; all creation; that we would live out that vision of justice, where peace and plenty are enjoyed by all.

Perhaps what frees Mary to sing with such exuberant praise is her sensing that this vision, while long in coming, has not been forgotten nor abandoned, but is still God’s intention and very much alive … so alive and present, it’s living and growing right within her own body! in and through this child she now carries.  We hear her sing of the wonder too, that she, of all people, she in her poverty is somehow chosen to bear this hope into the world.

And you may have felt this yourself, when the words you are singing feel like your own -- they might have been given to you by someone else but you are in them, and they are in you! -- so here is Mary, singing with that deep down conviction, giving voice to the hearts and hungers of generations of people like herself for whom injustice has long been the norm. She’s singing about a new day coming as though she can see it, taste it! No wonder she begins “my soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my saviour!” This is an ecstatic Mary.

By the time we reach her tomorrow night, the air is different. We see Mary pondering in her heart all that the shepherds are saying. Her heart is open to their wonder, their joy, their affection.  Yet months have passed since she sang with such abandon.
In the meantime, there’s been whatever she has faced as an unwed pregnant woman. There’s been her extremely untimely and arduous journey thanks to an emperor who gives no thought or care to a young Jewish woman in her condition. And now, here she is in this unlikely birthing room. In the journey from ecstasy to pondering, no doubt there’s been a growing realization that to share in God’s re-orienting work, while long awaited and dearly yearned for, is not easy.

But then there’s the safe arrival of the child … and for a time at least, his tiny and tender vulnerability consumes her … consumes us.  As newborns do, they melt our hearts, call out of us our adoring, our joy, at the very least our care.

For many, this is where the story ends tomorrow night … a gentle knock on the door of the human heart -- evoking tenderness, a thought for another, an act of generosity perhaps, acts of charity -- most of which allow us to stay in our place and keep others in theirs: giver and receiver; rich and poor; high and low.  Meanwhile if we carried Mary’s song with us to the stable door, we’d realize that what we are beholding there in that newborn flesh is massive disruption of the way things are.
The coming of this child sets in motion the lifting up of the lowly, the restoring of dignity and honour where that has been stripped away, the granting of a seat at the table, a voice in the conversation.
The coming of this child sets in motion the disruption of power structures, humbling the mighty, rulers dethroned, the scattering of the proud, the rich being relieved of their wealth.
It’s not a change of places, but rather a great levelling where all have access to the means to life.

That’s what Mary sang in her exuberance. And do you recall?  She sang it as though it is already accomplished … that the lowly have been lifted and the mighty have been toppled.  Believing that a new world is being knit together in her own womb, and the child she bears will make all the difference, Mary lets her imagination carry her to see the fullness of this dream.
Yes, this hard world is real and it is miserable -- AND she knows that is not all there is to see or say. The suffering and injustice are horrific --AND they are decidedly not the will of God. So Mary sings undaunted, of tyrants dethroned, poor bellies full, mercy extended to the umpteemth generation, because the seed of God’s new world is as real as the child growing in her womb.

This is Mary’s gift to us … before we ever get to tomorrow night … the way she allows that vision of God’s promised future to fill her imagination and empower her action, even while the world around her smacks of a world bent on death and destruction. … the way she sings it out there for others to catch it … to imagine it … to wrap their lives around it.

I love the way Mary Luti goes on to say this:
You don’t have to be a woman, much less a pregnant one, to imagine what Mary imagines.
But we can’t imagine anything at all—anything true, that is— if we can’t see beyond our own privilege to notice and confess that
things in the world are not the way God intends.

We can’t imagine anything true at all if we can’t contain our getting and spending so that we can receive with an uncluttered heart
the vision and hope of God’s new day.

We can’t imagine the new thing God has in store if we don’t allow our souls to be touched, pierced by the unspeakable misery and breath-taking beauty of the world and all its creatures, if we don’t put ourselves regularly in the company of real suffering people and real amazing joy.

We can’t imagine a new way of life if we try to go it alone without the generations of the faithful alongside us, without a community with whom we faithfully practice imagining, a community within which are told and retold a thousand thousand times the stories of God’s dream. [1]

Just in time, before we arrive tomorrow night at the stable door, fearing that we have gone too far, hoping against hope that somehow there is yet the possibility of redemption, only to find there a tender vulnerable new born baby, and our heart sinks as we wonder what good is this? amidst the cruel and crippling pronouncements of bombastic rulers and slippery decision-makers upon whom the world is waiting, bracing for their next move?

Just in time, today, we let Mary’s voice rise above the others, announcing a deeper truth … another story line.
It’s no wonder she sang it … the way words can ride on the contours of the notes, penetrating even guarded hearts, in ways that words by themselves might not enter us.

And so let us join Mary, intone this song with her.
And as we sing, may we see with her “that old fox Herod, jittery and wobbling on his lofty throne!” [2]

[1] Mary Luti, “Hail Mary, Full of Imagination,” posted on page 3

[2] Mary Luti, “Hail Mary, Full of Imagination,” posted on page 3

Paraphrase of Luke 1:46-58 (Magnificat)
Words: Rory Cooney (1990)
Music: STAR OF THE COUNTY DOWN (Irish Traditional Folk Song)

Canticle of the Turning 

My soul cries out with a joyful shout
that the God of my heart is great,
And my spirit sings of the wondrous things
that you bring to the one who waits.
You fixed your sight on the servant's plight,
and my weakness you did not spurn,
So from east to west shall my name be blest.
Could the world be about to turn?

My heart shall sing of the day you bring.
Let the fires of your justice burn.
Wipe away all tears,
For the dawn draws near,
And the world is about to turn.
Though I am small, my God, my all,
you work great things in me.
And your mercy will last from the depths of the past
to the end of the age to be.
Your very name puts the proud to shame,
and those who would for you yearn,
You will show your might, put the strong to flight,
for the world is about to turn. (Refrain)

From the halls of power to the fortress tower,
not a stone will be left on stone.
Let the king beware for your justice tears
every tyrant from his throne.
The hungry poor shall weep no more,
for the food they can never earn;
These are tables spread, ev'ry mouth be fed,
for the world is about to turn. (Refrain)

Though the nations rage from age to age,
we remember who holds us fast:
God's mercy must deliver us
from the conqueror's crushing grasp.
This saving word that our forbears heard
is the promise that holds us bound,
'Til the spear and rod be crushed by God,
who is turning the world around. (Refrain)