Sunday, December 23, 2018
Scripture: Isaiah 35:1-10 & Luke 1:46-55
Rev. Troy Hauser Brydon
I want to start by thinking about babies. We love babies, don’t we? I see your faces after a baptism, when I get to show off our newest church family member. We smile. We do that little wave, as though the baby has any clue what we’re doing. We are filled with hope. Babies typically bring us a sense of hope that exists in its purest form. It’s a hope we generally have inside of us, but as life happens, the hope gets buried.
People have babies all the time. UNICEF estimates that an average of 4.3 babies are born every second of every day somewhere in the world. That results in over 370,000 babies born every day. Now, some babies are born into ideal circumstances. There are two parents involved and excited. They started the college fund early. They have good insurance and secure jobs. The baby is healthy. It’s all good.
But that’s not always the case. I knew a woman in a previous church who gave birth in an era where the doctors put the mother to sleep for delivery. This was long before ultrasounds. When she woke up, they handed her two babies. She had no idea she was carrying two boys. Babies are born in cars on the way to the hospital. They’re born during hurricanes. Babies are born in war zones. They arrive to parents struggling with addiction. In this world where there is so much that is wrong, the hope that it takes to bring new life into a refugee camp or a violent neighborhood is, frankly, staggering.
We live in the wealthiest nation in the history of the world, and yet all of our success has not insulated us from difficulties, nor has it resulted in a society where all have what they need. It’s easy to get overwhelmed with the constant barrage of news and to get discouraged. Russia is meddling in our elections, and also creating destabilization all over the world. Peace in the Middle East remains a dream. The images coming from Yemen of children starving to death because of a Saudi war are horrific. Refugees are fleeing their homes in record numbers. Children are separated from their families at our borders, with one even dying while in our custody recently. How horrific is that? Climate change is severely changing the world all around us. Hundreds died today in a tsunami in Indonesia. The market is showing signs of shakiness. There’s sexual abuse in the church. There’s an emboldening of hate groups in our country. Need I go on? How can we be hopeful in the face of such grim news? Billy Joel was right when he sang, “We didn’t start the fire. It was always burning, since the world’s been turning.”
2,500 years ago, the writer of Ecclesiastes proclaimed, “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; there is nothing new under the sun” (Eccl. 1:9). We see what is wrong with the world, and we’d like to fix it. Fifty years ago our country and world were in a time of incredible turmoil. It was 1968. Vietnam was raging. Martin Luther King Jr. had been assassinated. Countries committed to communism and to capitalism were at each other. Positively speaking, the Beatles were huge and learning how to push their music to a new level. The band had spent time in India on a meditation retreat, and John Lennon penned the band’s first overtly political song, “Revolution,” which appeared on the White Album. The band wrestled with whether or not this song should be recorded, since it would not have as popular an appeal, and since it put them in the midst of the cultural and social upheaval going on all around them.
The song begins:
You say you want a revolution
Well, you know
We all want to change the world
You tell me that it’s evolution
Well, you know
We all want to change the world
Hard to believe that was fifty years ago. Now, I don’t believe that today is equally as turbulent as the late 60s. Maybe those of you who lived through them could tell me. The fact remains that there is still so much in need of change today. We’d like to see the revolution that fixes the inequities, that rights the wrongs. We all want to change the world, right? I’m sure all of us have ideas for what would make the world a better place, but if history is any example at all, all of our attempts at revolution won’t ultimately cure what ails us. Only God can do that.
That revolutionary spirit lives in the Bible. We have seen it so clearly in the song Mary sings as she visits her cousin, Elizabeth. They are waiting for a revolution, and it is happening, quite literally, within them. John and Jesus are growing in their wombs, promising a different future for them and for the whole world. Mary – young, poor, and hopeful – sings out,
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…God 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.”
In the beauty of this season, have we really paused to think about what Mary is saying? Does it disturb us that this is about reordering the whole world? What might it call into question from our own lives?
I’m struck by how Mary’s song touches on the totality of time. She is living in the present, where what God is doing is literally growing inside of her, inspiring her to sing about God’s faithfulness. Yet, this is a song that is grounded in the past faithfulness of God. I was actually surprised by the verb tenses as I read the song this week. It is almost entirely focused on God’s past actions in the world. God has shown strength. God has scattered the proud. God has filled the hungry. Even though Mary’s present circumstances were far from ideal, she has this firm foundation of all God has done for her people. Things may not be right – the Romans are in charge, she’ll be threatened by Herod, she’ll live as a refugee with Jesus and Joseph – and yet she can count on God’s past actions as a guarantee of future promises. And so, this song is also about what has not yet happened. Through this baby in her womb, God will enact this revolution, changing the world forever. Which brings this all back to the present. Mary says, “God’s mercy is for those who fear him,” meaning that to all who would receive this mercy, it is readily available. God is extending this to all of us right now – redeeming our past, enlivening our present, and guaranteeing our future. I really see this as the key to this passage. For the change – the revolution – to begin in each individual involves a step of personal trust in what God is doing. If we listen carefully, we find that there really are two ways to live in this world. There are those who have heard God’s promises and who trust God with their lives, and there are those who believe that they are better off running their own lives apart from God. The revolution begins by giving God proper place in your life, and from there the outcomes that we hope for begin to be possible.
God’s invasion of the world in Jesus is the revolution we need. It begins there for all of us. But it doesn’t stay there. As Jesus changes us from the inside out, we find the ways we interact with the whole world begin to change. This revolution of soul changes everything. It changes how we treat others. It causes us to see the face of Christ in the downtrodden, the outcast, the homeless, and the refugee. It reorients how we view money and legacy, shifting our focus from having the best life possible to how much we can bless others with what we have. It revolutionizes our lives because it makes us realize that we have a God-given obligation to transform our community.
Maryanne did such a good job picking out music this week. We began with a hymn that traces the themes of watchfulness and waiting. We are looking for signs of what God is doing because God has promised to make things right. The hymn we’re going to sing in a few minutes is a modern retelling of Mary’s song. I really hope you pay attention to the words as you sing them. This is one worth knowing well. I think this very well could be what Mary would have written if this were all happening now. Listen to just some of the words:
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;
there are tables spread; every mouth be fed,
for the world is about to turn.
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 forebears heard
is the promise which holds us bound,
till the spear and rod can be crushed by God,
who is turning the world around.
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.
God’s revolution starts quietly on the inside of each one of us, but then it moves from us into the world, changing things along the way. In this wonderful season as we sit on the edge of Christmas Eve, we cling to the promises of God. In both Mary’s song and the beautiful passage from Isaiah, we see God’s promise that gladness and joy will someday scare off sorrow and mourning, but we still live in the reality of a very present darkness, filled with struggle and injustice. We know this is not the way it is supposed to be.
As the revolution takes root inside each of us, God calls us to come alongside those in our world who are struggling. Christians should be the first ones lining up to care for the broken, to stand up against injustice, to speak up against environmental abuse, and to open their arms to refugees, but sadly, many of us have settled for lives that are cloistered and safe, lives that avert their eyes from the homeless and hopeless.
So, you say you want a revolution? Well, you know…we all want to change the world. That revolution begins by giving Christ first place in your life. That revolution continues as you begin to see the whole world through God’s loving eyes. It’s a love that is so fierce it will not put up with injustice forever. It is a love so deep that it welcomes all who would come to it. It is a love filled with such patience and hope that it continues to wait for us to accept it.
As we prepare our lives to welcome the baby Jesus, let us see the fierce hope that grows in our hearts for a world set right. Let us celebrate him coming, and let us recognize that his coming means life cannot be normal for us. Christ came into the world because God loves the world enough to start the revolution. And you are someone God is counting on in changing the world.