Sermon Title – Make me a channel of Your peace.
Please click on the pdf icon above if you would like to read the sermon text.
Sermon Title – Make me a channel of Your peace.
Please click on the pdf icon above if you would like to read the sermon text.
Order of Service:
Call to worship
Hymn (Complete Mission Praise 3) Abba Father
Isaiah 11: 1-11
Luke 2: 39-52
Hymn (CMP 32) An army of ordinary people
Sermon ‘Growing and Learning’ – scroll down to read the sermon text
Hymn (CMP 167) Give me oil in my lamp, keep me burning (2 verses: 1 & 4)
Hymn (CMP 33) And can it be (2 verses: 1 & 3)
Growing and Learning
As I was preparing the sermon, a particular prayer came to mind, the prayer that was always said at the end of the Girls Brigade session:
“Hear us Jesus as we pray,
Help us love You more each day,
at Girls Brigade and everywhere.
Help us know You’re always there.
Daisy prayed, Hear us Jesus as we pray, help us love You more each day.
We do need Jesus’s help to love Him more and more. We do need His help to learn to love.
In our New Testament reading, Jesus is the same age as Daisy: 12 years old. When you grow up, you discover and learn so many things.
Unlike Daisy, when she was saying this prayer, Jesus was not at his home, which was in Nazareth. In our story, Jesus is in the temple in Jerusalem. He went there with Mary his mother and Joseph to celebrate with thousands of other Israelites the Feast of Pesach. In English it’s called the ‘Passover’. What is celebrated at this feast is the freedom they were given by God, after years and years of slavery in Egypt. When they were led out of Egypt, they were guided by someone who was chosen by God and his name was Moses. And Moses guided the people of Israel out of Egypt in the way that God wanted him to do.
So it was for this feast that Jesus, with his mother Mary and Joseph, travelled from Nazareth to Jerusalem. They travelled as part of a group, a big group of people. Everybody was happy. Jesus was too. He was excited because this was the first time he was going to see the temple in Jerusalem. After a long journey they arrived in the city and then, after going through the small streets he saw…the temple. It was an enormous building and because it was built on a mountain, it looked even higher than it was.
It was also terribly busy. You can imagine: thousands of people arrived there from all different places, so things could get easily out of hand. Therefore, there were stewards who tried to make things go smoothly, but there were also teachers, priests, beggars and tradesmen, trying to do business by selling animals for offering. It just looked like a big, busy market place. Jesus saw a lot of toil. Not quite what He expected. For what He knew was that God works when people have peace when they trust Him. So He wondered…Is this the house where God lives, the house that He built? Jesus was thinking of the words of this Psalm,
Unless the Lord builds the house,
those who build it labor in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city,
the watchman stays awake in vain.
It is in vain that you rise up early
and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil;
for he gives to his beloved sleep. (Psalm 127:1,2)
Jesus had to stay with His mum Mary at the square where women had to stay behind. Joseph went through to the square where the animals were offered. Joseph had a lamb that he took with him and Jesus knew what was going to happen to it. It was going to be looked at by a priest, and if he thought it was perfect, the lamb was slaughtered. Then some of the blood of the lamb was going to be taken by the priest and he was going to put it on the altar. It was a ritual and Jesus knew what that ritual meant. It meant God’s forgiveness: the blood of the lamb covered the sins of the people; it washed away the sins of the people. The lamb could then be taken back and eaten by the family, at the Passover meal. Jesus knew all these things. He was a thinker. He thought a lot about God and wanted to find out more about Him.
Therefore, during the days of the Passover feast Jesus chose to spend time in that part of the temple where the Ten Commandments were taught. The Ten Commandments were rules given by God to Moses and Moses had to pass on those rules to the other Israelites. It was wise men who explained the meaning of the Ten Commandments.
In this story, Jesus listens very carefully to what these men say about these commandments, about these rules that God had given Moses. But more than anything, Jesus is keen on hearing more about who God is. What can these wise men tell Him about God Himself? Jesus listens, and then starts to ask questions.
God said to Moses that He always would be with His people, but how? And can we call Him Father? Moses also said that God’s children turned away from Him. Why did they do that?
Jesus asks deep, challenging questions. The wise men had never had a pupil before whose mind and heart were so full of God. At such a young age. They were amazed. Some of them liked having such a keen pupil. But others found Jesus with His sharp questions, irritating.
The wise men wonder: why is this boy like this? Well, through the stories he heard from his parents it started to dawn on Jesus that God must be His Father.
So while the wise men were dealing with his questions, they didn’t know that this boy Jesus was searching for His own Father, exploring, moving closer and closer to Him.
What this meant for Joseph and Mary was that Jesus slowly but surely distanced Himself from them. And that was painful for Mary and Joseph. That distancing of Jesus from them, while they loved Him. That pain was only going to be intensified. It was going to be unbearable, when Mary was going to see this same Jesus, her son, on the cross, from a distance.
The fact that Joseph and Mary were already on their way home when they realized that Jesus was not with them, is a sign that he was given freedom; that they trusted him. They didn’t expect him to stay within their sight, all the time. They found Him, after three days.
After three days, Jesus was found.
Later, Jesus would be lost again for three days, in death after which He would appear to His loved ones .
For now, in our story of this morning, Mary and Joseph find Him, after three distressing days, in the midst of the teachers. He was listening to them. Taking in the words they spoke. Making them His own, before He Himself would speak, teach and interpret the same Ten Commandments.
Jesus’s home was the tradition of His fellow believers. For that is what they were: Jesus and the teachers of the Law; they shared their unshakable belief in God.
From that belief and the traditions that came with that Jewish belief, Jesus grew, as it says at the end of the story
‘And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favour with God and man’. (Luke 2:52)
During Jesus’s ministry, Jesus speaks about the Law and when He does, He means the Ten Commandments that were given to the Prophet Moses, ages and ages ago. Moses wrote down the ways in which God wanted His people to live. So when Jesus says,
Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets, I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them (Matthew 5:17)
He says: Don’t think, because it was ages and ages ago that those rules were given, they do not count anymore for I, the Son of God, am here to help you to love, and so to put in practice the rules that Moses, ages and ages ago, wrote down.
For when people do that, what happens then is that the light of Jesus; His way of living, can be shown by them. And other people can see something of Jesus. And His way is the way of love, a love that never stops burning
Luke 2: 21-39
Ten days in to the new year, and what has changed? The year is new, 2021, but we still find ourselves within the same struggle of 2020?
Words from the book of Ecclesiastes say,
…there is nothing new under the sun.
Is there a thing of which it is said,
“See, this is new”?.. (Ecclesiastes 9-10)
These word have a tone of cynicism, and we too may feel that same cynicism.
So, what’s new? Well, the birth of a child is always new. Children were born in the midst of the challenges and sadness of last year and they continue to be born. Every new born child is a new creation. Creation begins anew, every time a child is born. That is what the birth of a child is, from a biblical point of view.
After telling us the story about the birth of God’s Son, the Gospel writer Luke tells us what happened to the baby boy that was born in a stable in Bethlehem, when he was eight days old. And we’re told, because Luke wants to draw our attention to the fact that Jesus was born as a Jewish baby boy. For on that day, the eight day, He, like any other Jewish boy, was circumcised and was given His Name. Mary knew, before she had conceived, that her son would be called Jesus, and Joseph knew that as well. He was told in a dream. Still, it was not until the eight day, that God’s Son was given the name Jesus, as was required by the Law of the Lord.
The Gospel writer Luke also tells about Mary’s cousin Elizabeth. Elizabeth too had conceived. Elizabeth’s husband was Zachariah, the priest. And they were a couple that were far too old to become parents. For nature, they were too old, for God they weren’t. He gave them a son, despite their old age:
Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. And her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her. And on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child. And they would have called him Zechariah after his father, but his mother answered, “No; he shall be called John.” And they said to her, “None of your relatives is called by this name.” And they made signs to his father, inquiring what he wanted him to be called. And he asked for a writing tablet and wrote, “His name is John.” And they all wondered. (Luke 1:-57-63)
Here we have it again: wonder, after a discussion had taken place about the child’s name. John? Where does that name come from, no one in the family is called John; he should be called Zachariah, after his father.
The birth of John the Baptist; a child born for a particular purpose of God. Because of that, the patriarchal practice that the son is called after his father, didn’t happen. Instead, God’s way happened. He was called John, according to God’s will, who called him.
God’s ways cause to wonder, as His ways are not ours. He who created the world in seven days didn’t call it a day, after those seven days of creation. No, being a God of new beginnings, He begins over and over again. And therefore, since the eight day follows those seven days of creation, it is that eight day that symbolizes in the bible, God’s new beginning.
That is why a Jewish baby boy is circumcised on the eight day, because on that day he, as God’s new creation, enters the covenant that God made with Abraham. The baby boy is brought into that covenant by his parents and so is included and participates in that covenant. In fact, in Hebrew it doesn’t say that a covenant is made; a covenant is cut. Belonging to God is something that cuts deeply. It involves heart and soul and might, as it says,
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord Your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. (Deuteronomy 6: 4-5)
Like all other Jewish baby boys, both John and Jesus are brought into God’s covenant on the eight day. Their names are called out on that day. Just as the Law of the Lord required. But there’s a difference in how it happens. There are lots of people on John’s eight day. As for Jesus, it says,
And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb. (Luke 2:21)
That’s all it says. A plain statement. It seems as if Luke thinks: ‘less is more’. And that more lies in His name. No, not just more, everything lies in His Name, in the Hebrew name that he was called, Yeshua, which means, God saves. Who He is, what he will do, His whole being is held in this name.
He is the Saviour, through whom God came to save the world. He was called Jesus for us. So that we would be saved, following Him. There was the blood from his flesh that came with his circumcision, but so much more blood was to come from His flesh, later, for us.
Mary and Joseph didn’t know, but the old Simeon did.
And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.” (Luke 2: 34-35)
Both he and the old Anna, had been waiting for their redeemer. The solidness of their faith, their patience, their joy when they at last after years and years of waiting see Him.
And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem. (Luke 2: 38)
Meeting our Redeemer. It’s not a superficial thing. It’s deep, as he reveals thoughts from the hearts, as Simeon says.
And when they had performed everything according to the Law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him. (Luke 2:39-40)
May, through our Lord Jesus Christ, the favor of God be upon you all
It was Frank’s first time as the department store Santa and just before the grotto opened for the day, he looked out through the curtains to see a queue of mums and dads and children snaking all the way from the grotto to the toy department. ‘What am I letting myself in for?’ he wondered. ‘Am I going to be any good at this? I think I look the part, I’ve got the glasses and the white beard, I’ve got the red robe with the white fur and a red suit and I’ve got the black boots, I’ve got plenty of padding. I look like Santa, even if I don’t feel like him. Hope I’m going to be okay.’
Jackie the elf sensed his trepidation. Jackie usually worked behind the makeup counter but every December she took two weeks’ holiday to work beside Santa in the grotto because she just loved Christmas so much. She’d seen plenty of Santas come and go, and she could tell Frank was nervous.
‘Look, don’t worry about it,’ she said. ‘Try to relax and enjoy yourself. Just, whatever you do, try not to scare the kids, won’t you? Be jolly, be Santa.’
Frank did relax, and for a while everything was okay, and he did enjoy himself. For the first half a dozen children, that is. But the seventh one, well, it didn’t go so great.
Frank could tell the wee boy was scared of him. As he came into the grotto he was half hiding behind his mum, looking at Frank as if he were some kind of ogre, not friendly old Santa Claus. And as soon as his mum sat him down beside Frank, he started bawling and crying. You could probably hear him in the menswear department, and that was on the floor above. He just wouldn’t stop. And his mum just looked at Frank expectantly, as if to say, ‘Well, you’re Santa, deal with it.’ Frank looked at Jackie the elf, but he didn’t get any support there – Jackie just folded her arms and looked amused. She’d seen it all before.
None of Frank’s ‘Ho, ho, ho’s’ seemed to be having any effect. And telling the wee boy he was definitely on the nice list and not the naughty one didn’t help either. But then Frank had an idea.
First he took off the glasses, and the boy could see the eyes that were looking back at him weren’t the eyes of an old man, but they were young and they were twinkly. Then he took off the white beard and the wee boy stopped crying and looked at him curiously. Then Frank took off the red robe and jacket, leaving him in just an ordinary t-shirt. The wee boy looked at him and laughed, the tears all gone.
Now both of them, Frank and the wee boy, were quite relaxed and happy in each other’s company. And now they were the best of pals, Frank told the boy a story. It was a story about how once, a very long time ago, God decided he was going to come down to earth to live alongside the people there, to be among them. He didn’t want to frighten the people, so he was born the same way as they were, he wore the same clothes as they did, he lived an ordinary life just like them. The wee boy listened, hanging on Frank’s every word, his eyes getting wider and wider. And as Frank told the story, he started to put all the Santa gear back on again. He put on the red jacket and the red robe, the glasses and, finally, the long white beard. Eventually, dressed as Santa again, Frank gave the wee boy his gift and then, all too soon, time was up. There was a whole queue of children waiting to see Santa, so the wee boy and his mum had to leave. As they went, his mum turned to Jackie and said, ‘That was nice, but it’s a shame that your Santa spoiled all the magic.’
Looking back at Frank, the department store Santa, Jackie smiled and said, ‘Maybe it ended the magic, but I think it’s started a whole lot of wonder.’
We dress up Christmas in all sorts of ways, we give it a red suit and a white beard and, sometimes for us, like the wee boy in the department store, it all gets a bit overwhelming. This year, maybe more than any other we can all remember, Christmas is pared back, stripped down – you could say it’s like Frank sitting there in his t-shirt instead of his Santa gear. But I think this year gives us the perfect opportunity, if opportunity is needed, to remember the true message of Christmas – that God is with us, God is among us. And next year, well, next year we’ll put all the gear back on again and Christmas will be just like we’ve come to know it. But the message will still hold true, no matter how much we dress it up.
The birth of a child brings about emotions in the parents that cannot be described by words. Emotions that overwhelm, deep love, intense joy. After months of waiting, after all the pain that comes with giving birth, there is pure wonder.
And the child itself, as it grows, he or she discovers all sorts of things, with amazement, watched by its parents.
Pure wonder is something that happens to you, you’re captured by it. In our bible readings, it happens to the shepherds, and to the people who hear from the shepherds what has been told about this new born child in the stable.
The story doesn’t say that they believed what they heard. It says that they wondered.
But then, can faith begin without wonder?
There are people who wonder about things a lot. There are people who do less so and there are people who just don’t.
How do we hear the story of the birth of Jesus; the story about Jesus’s mother and Joseph; the story about the shepherds. How do we hear the stories that follow from there? The story that tells about the twelve year old Jesus in the temple. Only twelve years old, He amazes the teachers of the Scriptures with his insight. And Jesus continues to amaze people when He heals the sick, when He speaks to people words that make them aware of new things.
Words that regularly amaze, shock His disciples, for instance when they stop children to come to Him. Jesus reacts to that by doing the opposite. He called the children to Him, saying:
“Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” (Luke 18:16-17)
The little boy in John’s story was scared until Frank removed all the layers that made him Santa. That stripping off layers, that made the boy calm down. And then when Frank told the boy the story about how God chose to come down to earth to be with His people, the boy heard every word Fank was saying. And hearing them, the boy’s eyes got wider. He was amazed.
Just like the shepherds when they were told about the new born king by the angels; just like the people who, through the shepherds heard about the new born baby in the stable.
In the midst of all those wondering people there is one who starts to think deeper,
‘Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart’
Would she have begun to see connections between what she was told, knew, came to know, what she felt? All her pondering was brought about by that wonder, that came to her when she was told the Good News that she was going to give birth to God’s Son. The news that she, humbly, received, without understanding how that could be.
How much of our thinking allows for; is triggered by wonder? Is it not all too often played down, stifled even, by the layers that we are not so willing to remove: the layer of the insistence on self-protection; the layer of ‘wanting to fix things’, the layer of ‘wanting to stay in control’.
That would be the reason why Jesus took a child as example for his disciples and for us now. For a child is free from those layers. Therefore, for a child, there is so much room for wonder.
As Frank could see in the eyes of the little boy who listened to Frank’s story about God coming down to earth; about how He chose to do it: as one of us, to be with us.
Following this new born boy in Bethlehem’s stable, we’re taken into lots of stories with people who wonder, amazed about what Jesus does, what He says, when He refers back to what has been said in stories that tell about His ancestors, in the Old Testament; to what has been said by the prophets who foretold His birth.
May the story of Jesus’ birth with all those other bible stories, kindle in our hearts a whole lot of wonder, encouraging us to discover more and more about the Holy One, who chose to come down in the vulnerability of new born baby, for us, to be with us.
Abigail is quite a popular name. It means, ‘father’s joy’. You may well know an Abigail.
Our Old Testament passage, which is part of a bigger story has an Abigail. Does she do justice to her name? What is the story here?
First of all the prophet Samuel is no longer there; the prophet who anointed the young shepherd David king, while Saul was still king, had died. Even though Samuel and David didn’t see much of each other, David was aware of Samuel’s presence; of his prophetic voice and that was a silent support to David.
The fact that in our story Saul is still king, is the reason why we find David in the wilderness. For Saul is after him. And in this wilderness of Paran, David is a steppe sheriff. A good, caring one. He looks well after the shepherds of Nabal, a wealthy businessman, who is Abigail’s husband. So David is the shepherd of these shepherds, but at the moment the sheep of these shepherds are not in the fields. They’ve been taken away as they’re getting sheared. That also means partying; a yearly feast than no shepherd wants to miss: the celebration of lots of wool with lots of drinking, and lots of food. Nobody thinks about the fact that the harvest is good also thanks to David, who had been protecting Nabal’s shepherds, so they could do their work in peace.
David thinks, ‘give a little, take a little’. So David sends his men. Say to Nabal: ‘Peace be to you, and peace be to your house, and peace to all that you have, from David, the son of Jesse. He has taken good care of your men. Share a little bit of what you’ve gained.’
It was not unusual to do so, to give a bit of the profit. It was courtesy to do so, but Nabal’s refusal is so much more than meanness and rudeness.
Nabal is not just mean and rude. That’s what it may be to us: unfair, unkind, just taking no giving. But in Bible stories it doesn’t stop with how things are for us, human beings. Bible stories give more, they also tell how things are seen by God.
David? Who’s he?
Well, David is the chosen king by God. God had His plan with David. So what we actually have here is scoffing at God.
This scoffing from Nabal echos what Pharaoh once did,
“Who is the Lord’, Pharao said, ‘that I should obey his voice.. I do not know the Lord.
When David hears this, he is furious.
“Every man strap on his sword!”
Now this doesn’t sound like David, so touchy and so violent. It is as if things are different, now Samuel is no longer there for David. Has it changed David? Is David a bit lost without Samuel’s prophetic voice? Has David lost direction?
Let’s hope not. Good Lord, do something. For if You don’t, your chosen king David is going to be like Saul and then what? Then we’ll be back at square one.
What is it again Isaiah says…?
The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
on them has light shone. (Isaiah 9:2)
David is at this point of walking in the darkness of his anger. And this is where this story, that happens in the wilderness of Paran, that seems so not relevant to us, is exactly the opposite of irrelevant.
For the darkness in which David finds himself, is not different from ours; is not different from the people of whom Isaiah says,
The people who walked in darkness
We pray the words of the Lord’s prayer together, every Sunday, ’Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil’.
Do we, kind of know what we’re saying at the moment we’re saying it, and then forget when we find ourselves, like David, caught in exactly that moment of temptation?
For the temptations to let our reactions and actions be determined by our anger, our impatience, self interest, all these temptations come to us on a pretty regular basis. That is why the first prayer of our worship is the prayer of confession, when we bring to God all those things that we thought, said and done that were not in line with God’s will, but that were detached from Him.
So through David, we can see ourselves. His anger may be justified, anger in itself is not sin, but how it’s handled can come close to sin and become precisely that.
As for Nabal, the husband of the discerning and beautiful Abigail, Nabal means ‘fool’.
Foolishness is spelled out and illustrated in the book of Proverbs:
Answer not a fool according to his folly,
lest you be like him yourself.
Answer a fool according to his folly,
lest he be wise in his own eyes.
Whoever sends a message by the hand of a fool
cuts off his own feet and drinks violence.
And wisdom is spelled out too.
In the same book of Proverbs, wisdom is this:
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,
and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.
For by me your days will be multiplied,
and years will be added to your life.
If you are wise, you are wise for yourself;
if you scoff, you alone will bear it. (9:10-12)
Foolishness vs wisdom.
So here, in our story we have the couple, Mr Fool and Mrs Wise.
What now may begin to emerge is that this is not a story that gives us historical facts. This story is actually a parable that has truths that don’t stop being truths.
We see how human David is. He is overwhelmed by his anger and his reaction is to give in, just as we often do, it’s so natural. But that has consequences. And the consequences lead us more and more away from God into darkness, from which we cannot save ourselves, even though we think we can. We do so by switching on a light, a light that we can find: finding things that cheer us up, that keep ourselves busy, by taking ourselves not too seriously. But those lights last only so long, they’re superficial.
The light that came to Mary is different.
“Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.
That same light came to Joseph, in a dream, when the Lord spoke to him,
…Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:20-21)
Now, it would be wise, discerning, to acknowledge that God’s son was born as a Jewish boy, which means that the name He was given was Yeshua, rather than Jesus. Yesua means ‘God saves’. If you have that in mind, what the Lord said to Joseph makes more sense,
She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Yeshua (meaning, ‘God saves) for he will save his people from their sins
Our parable about David, and Nabal and Abigail, it doesn’t stop with David giving in to the temptation of his anger. We’ll follow the story next week and see how God went His way with David, how He didn’t let go what His Hand began through Samuel, in David.
That’s is how God is, He doesn’t let go what His Hand began. And that is why we will have Christmas again.
If you ever watch the program ‘Britain’s Got Talent’, you see and hear sometimes a young girl or boy singing with a voice that you never expected to come out of such a young person. A voice that leaves even Simon Cowell speechless; mature, powerful, filled with emotions that could normally only come from a man or woman with life experience.
It’s a bit like that in our New Testament reading. Its words come from the young Jewish girl Mary, but the words with which she expresses herself are immensely powerful; words that come out of her soul; words that spell out the essence of who God is: mighty, holy, filled by His mercy.
It is Mary’s Magnificat. She begins with magnifying the Lord, as her Saviour, how He has done great things for her, but then she moves away from herself. There is shift of focus from the personal to those who fear Him. Her view broadens as she draws into her song, God’s way, God’s history with the whole of Israel
And so Mary’s song works like a stone that is thrown into a pond, creating circles that become bigger. Mary’s song begins as a song that proclaims and celebrates God as the Saviour in her life, after which she moves to all the people of Israel, to whom she belongs, as they all, like Mary, have experienced Him as their Saviour.
Hymns in which God’s might, holiness and mercy are praised have been sung by more women, long before Mary, who all have experienced that God turned His words into deeds.
Miriam, the sister of Moses, the judge Deborah, and Hanna, the mother of Samuel. They are all Old Testament women who have done what Mary does, generations before her, each from within their time and circumstances.
In the book of Judges, Deborah the judge, sings
“That the leaders took the lead in Israel,
that the people offered themselves willingly,
bless the Lord!
“Hear, O kings; give ear, O princes;
to the Lord I will sing;
I will make melody to the Lord, the God of Israel”
Hannah, after leaving her little boy Samuel in the Temple and so kept her promise to God that she would give her son back to Him, sings:
‘My heart exults in the Lord, my strength is exalted in the Lord. My mouth derides my enemies, because I rejoice in your salvation’.
And Miriam, Moses sister, when Israel had crossed the Red Sea after which their enemies, Pharaoh and his men drowned, Miriam sang with all the women,
‘Sing to the Lord, for He has triumphed gloriously’
Miriam and Mary. There is this close connection between their names. But that connection signifies so much more as both stand within the salvation story, in which we also have been given our place.
All those inspiring forces from the past are mobilised and channelled into Mary’s hymn of praise.
The voices from women of Israel. Israel, the people with whom God chose to have this unique partnership. But from that partnership all the nations in the world were to be blessed, through the covenant, that God made with Abraham. And that is why Mary concludes her song with him, Abraham. The intimacy between God and Israel has its root in how God spoke to Abraham and from then to Abraham’s offspring. And because of that special and intimate bond, Israel belongs to no other god than to the God of Abraham.
That is why Israel is so often called virgin.
‘Again I will build you, and you shall be built, O virgin Israel ‘(Jeremiah 31:4)
‘She despises you, she scorns you, the virgin daughter of Zion’ (2 Kings 19:21)
As the mother of God’s Son, Mary represents this virgin Israel; and so she belongs first to God only. And from this virgin, Jesus Christ was born, out of God’s will, not out of procreation but from His visit to Mary, God’s Son was born.
Out of Israel. And so,only so; only in this way; the way of God, salvation came from the Jews.
It may feel bittersweet, to focus on Mary’s words that express her awe and wonder about God, while we aren’t allowed to sing the words of the song that we would have sung,
Tell out, my soul, the greatness of the Lord!
Unnumbered blessings give my spirit voice;
Tender to me the promise of his word;
In God my Savior shall my heart rejoice
Tell out, my soul, the greatness of his Name!
Make known his might, the deeds his arm has done;
His mercy sure, from age to age to same;
His holy Name–the Lord, the Mighty One
Tell out, my soul, the greatness of his might!
Powers and dominions lay their glory by
Proud hearts and stubborn wills are put to flight
The hungry fed, the humble lifted high
Tell out, my soul, the glories of his word!
Firm is his promise, and his mercy sure
Tell out, my soul, the greatness of the Lord
To children’s children and for evermore!
Our reading says: Mary said, ‘My soul magnifies the Lord’. And magnifying the Lord can of course be done with loud voices. That is what we want through singing, it’s what we long to do. And we will again, but meanwhile, be comforted. Remember that the One to whom our praise is addressed; the One in whom we have faith, He doesn’t mind whether we express ourselves loudly or quietly in our hearts. He doesn’t hear or see us better, when we are loud.
The way we in which praise, in which we confess our faith in Him..it may well be more important to ourselves than to God. What matters for Him is that we do it, in the church, outside the church, in our homes, outside, loud or quiet, singing or just saying. What counts for Him is what is really there in our hearts; what He finds there, within us.
Human nature doesn’t allow much for being humble. Naturally, that’s not what we choose to be. Yes, we are willing when it’s not too costly, when it doesn’t touch our pride too much, when it doesn’t last too long. We don’t want to be left the darkness that, we feel, comes with dependence. We want the opposite: the light of our independence, our strength, our control.
But that is not state that Mary is in when she magnifies the Lord. That is not the light in which Mary stands when she says the words, ‘Let it be to me according to Your Word.’ When she says those words, she finds herself standing in the light of God’s grace. Maybe, realizing that, letting that sink in more, we may be drawn more into that state of humility.
It’s the state that God chose for Himself, when for Him the time was right to reveal Himself as He did: humble, in the vulnerability of a new born baby.
God’s choice to show His face in His own Son Jesus Christ, His choice for the humility that comes with love, which is patient, kind, which doesn’t envy or boast, is not arrogant or rude.
Let God’s choice for love be our choice too.
After all, we have been created by Him, in His image…