Dec. 18, 2021

Prayer of the Day

Stir up your power, Lord Christ, and come. With your abundant grace and might, free us from the sin that binds us, that we may receive you in joy and serve you always, for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Micah 5:2-5a

2But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah,
  who are one of the little clans of Judah,
 from you shall come forth for me
  one who is to rule in Israel,
 whose origin is from of old,
  from ancient days.
3Therefore he shall give them up until the time
  when she who is in labor has brought forth;
 then the rest of his kindred shall return
  to the people of Israel.
4And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord,
  in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
 And they shall live secure, for now he shall be great
  to the ends of the earth;
5aand he shall be the one of peace.

Luke 1:39-55

39In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 40where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. 45And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”
  46And Mary said, 
 “My soul magnifies the Lord,
  47and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
  Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
  and holy is his name.
50His mercy is for those who fear him
  from generation to generation.
51He has shown strength with his arm;
  he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
52He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
  and lifted up the lowly;
53he has filled the hungry with good things,
  and sent the rich away empty.
54He has helped his servant Israel,
  in remembrance of his mercy,
55according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
  to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

Visitation, Church of El Sitio, El Sitio, El Salvador

Sermon – Pastor Meggan Manlove

Last week’s wonderful Christmas Pageant ended with Mary’s Magnificat, so named because she magnifies God. Diane recited the words beautifully. We have sung the words this morning and you heard me read them, putting the song in its narrative context. But even with the repetition, there is a lot packed into those ten scripture verses.

What’s more, it is hard to know where to place oneself in this song about the reordering of power and resources and wealth. We, gathered in this space, do not represent the top 1% in this country. We are a somewhat economically diverse congregation. Some of us have lost jobs. Many of us have walked alongside people who are not paid what they should be paid. All of us have seen the inequity in our economic, healthcare, education, and other systems. The inequity has been laid bare in our region and country recently and in years past. In other words, we have been, or we have walked closely alongside the lowly, the hungry.

And yet, by the world’s standards, most of us are well off. Whether looking to various developing countries across the globe or to the poorest counties in these United States, we are in contrast the rich, the powerful, the proud. We have such luxuries as shelter, clean water, food, electricity, and plumbing. And most of us also have such luxuries as emotional support, friends, and some leisure.

Back to my original question, where do we see ourselves in Mary’s song? How do we at Trinity Lutheran, in Nampa, Idaho at the close of 2021 hear or sing this song? It is natural to hear, and sing is with an individual perspective. Mary herself begins the song that way, “My soul magnifies the Lord…for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.”

She talks about herself only so long as it takes every English teacher to approve. Did you ever have a teacher implore you, “show me in your writing, don’t tell. Show me.” Mary does not just tell us about God, she shows us with her own body–the poor, young woman. It is this poor, young woman who the creator of all has chosen to carry God with us, Immanuel, Jesus. 

But Mary herself does not stay individual or personal for long. Although Mary begins with the very personal, she quickly moves to the collective. And there is the invitation for we who listen and sing her song 2000 years later. Certainly this song is about me, but more importantly it is about us, us the congregation, us the larger Christian church.

Mary is singing specifically about her people, Israel, God’s chosen people. She sings not just of herself, the lowly one, but all the lowly, all the poor. She sings not just of a reordering for her own life, but for all of Israel, the corporate, the collective. But in singing about all the lowly, all the hungry, all the poor, she invites into her song more than Israel. In just a few lines, she has made this a global song for all the lowly poor. 

It is so much, this call for systems to be overturned, for a basic leveling, enough for all. Perhaps the very best news in Mary’s song is the main actor. It is not Mary, not her cousin Elizabeth, not Joseph, not even us. The subject of the verbs of powerful action is in every case God

And though God is certainly doing something new in the birth of Jesus, Immanuel, it is not out of God’s character. Mary’s song has echoes from her own ancestors’ songs sung throughout what we call the Old Testament: Moses and Miriam after the Exodus, Deborah, and mostly of all Hannah, the mother of Samuel. These echoes are significant for the way they so clearly extend the activity of God celebrated by Mary far back into the past. Mary’s song is continuous with the old old story of God’s love for all creation. 

So, let’s be clear here, Mary’s song is not a revolutionary call to human action but a celebration of God’s action. God’s dramatic work is against those who would take power into their own hands, according to Mary’s song. 

On the other hand, the story of God’s redemption is not God’s story only. Through his gracious initiative, God seeks out other actors, partners like Mary, who will share in God’s work. Mary’s song cannot be defined as a clarion call to revolutionary activity, then. And yet, there’s always an “and yet,” Mary’s song does solicit from its audience outside the narrative, from us, a similar choice. 

So, the good news is that God is faithful, and God continues to act. We tend to think of the Holy Spirit showing up first at Pentecost, but that was the Spirit given to the church. Remember that the Spirit of God moved over the waters at the beginning of creation. Already in Luke Chapter 1 an angel has promised Mary that the Holy Spirit will come upon her. We give thanks for the good news that the Holy Spirit has and continues to act.

Is there actually any hope for us if we are in fact the collective rulers? Absolutely. God’s triumph over those who oppose him is itself a redemptive act, placing his opponents in a position whereby they might elect to join God’s project. One commentator suggested, “God flings the proud of heart to the earth, in the hope that they will be…delivered from their ridiculous vaunting and flaunting, to become free and obedient children of God and brothers and sisters to others.”

The other not so good news is that all of this happens in the Holy Spirit’s own time, and sometimes it takes longer than our human hearts would desire. But Mary’s song is speaking of big systems and structures that cannot always be toppled overnight. But occasionally we can look back and really see the Holy Spirit’s action.

That was my experience this week. Trinity New Hope affordable housing is in the middle of our annual online multi-week fundraising campaign, which always makes me pause and think, if not sing like Mary, of our ancestors. I cannot help but reflect on the ancestors of our faith, some gone and some of you still with us, who were part of this congregation when we first leased a portion of our land to Mercy Housing. That was in the mid-1990s. The houses were built, and they just sat there, occupied by different people for 25 years.

Meanwhile, I was growing up in South Dakota with a father who talked pretty regularly about Millard Fuller, the father of Habitat for Humanity. My father helped found the Black Hills Habitat for Humanity Chapter. And I went to a college that sent hundreds of students, including myself, every year on Habitat for Humanity Spring Break Trips. I did not speak the language of affordable housing when I took the call to Trinity, but that housing was a basic human right had been drilled into me from an early age.

This winter I was asked to serve on the Leap Housing Board. Why? Because Leap thinks a premiere way to solve the housing crisis in the Treasure Valley is to use access church land and they want someone who can tell the story. The staff and board saw this congregation as a key to changing the culture of our housing, changing the conversation from Not in My Backyard to Yes in God’s Backyard.

So, this Wednesday, when I attended my first Leap board meeting, I was singing and praying with Mary, “according to the promise he made to our ancestors.” We’re talking over 30 years, which feels like forever in my lifetime. But what a gift, to have a glimpse of what the Holy Spirit can do, of how God is the actor, but we are in fact invited to partner. 

What song will we sing next? As a congregation? As the larger Christian Church? I am not sure exactly, but Mary’s song can help us again. Her words are clear. The invitation is not in code. God’s vision for the world, spelled out in the Magnificat, is consistent with songs of the ancestors, with Moses and Miriam and Deborah and Hannah. On this fourth Sunday of Advent as we physically wait for the world to turn, for the days to get longer, we can hope and trust that the Holy Spirit is still active. With hearts open, we can join the song.

Prayers of Intercession (Sundays and Seasons)

In this season of watching and waiting, let us pray for all people and places that yearn for God’s presence.

A brief silence.Nurturing God, you give us life and care for our every need. Use the church’s gifts and ministries for your service, bringing your word to all who seek your transforming grace. Hear us, O God.Your mercy is great.

Creator God, you proclaim your boundless love for all that you have made. Renew barren lands, polluted waters, and melting ice caps. Make us servants of your creation that brings forth abundant life. Hear us, O God.Your mercy is great.

Righteous God, you bring down the mighty and lift up the lowly. Strengthen those who seek justice. Bless the work of community organizers, activists, journalists, and all who call our attention to imbalances of power. Hear us, O God.Your mercy is great.

Compassionate God, you proclaim your love and mercy. Show your lovingkindness to teen parents and those who are pregnant. Comfort any struggling with infertility and those who await test results, are in treatment and hospice care, and others in need (especially). Hear us, O God.Your mercy is great.

Gracious God, you fill the hungry with good things. Bless the feeding ministries of this congregation and community. Guide us to share your bounty with those who hunger or live in poverty. Hear us, O God.Your mercy is great.

Here other intercessions may be offered.Faithful God, you stir up the hearts of those who love you. We give you thanks for those who, like Mary, were courageous in their witness (especially). Give us such courage until that day when you fulfill all things. Hear us, O God.Your mercy is great.

God of new life, you come among us in the places we least expect. Receive these prayers and those of our hearts, in the name of Jesus.Amen.

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