Fourth Sunday In Advent: Love

In October 1984, BBC reporter Michael Buerk produced a series of reports
highlighting the tragic famine in Ethiopia that was taking place at that time. He even
described it as “a biblical famine in the 20th century.” One of the many people watching
this report was Boomtown Rats singer Bob Geldof. He was so deeply affected by what he
saw that he immediately got on the phone to some of his musician friends and started to
put together a fund raising song. On Nov. 25

th artists like Phil Collins, Bono, and Sting showed up to the Polygram studio and recorded the hit, “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” in one day. It was a major success worldwide and is the second biggest selling single in the UK. Even more impressive, Geldof had originally hoped that it would raise 70,000 pounds for Ethiopia when in fact in one year it raised 8 million pounds. It also resulted in many other charity singles like We Are the World and has been re-recorded three times. All of the recordings have supported charities including the most recent Ebola crisis in West Africa. This song has been named one of the top 10 most influential and revolutionary
songs of all time in part because of the effect it had on raising both awareness and funds
for a humanitarian crisis. Songs can be powerful tools that can be influential, even
revolutionary, in our world.

Mary’s magnificat, her song of praise that she sings in response to Elizabeth’s words of blessing, is influential and revolutionary. I imagine that in the presence of Elizabeth, the kind old woman who is the only one to know Mary’s joy, Mary is finally able to release everything she’s been feeling about this pregnancy, and surprisingly it is a song of praise. Mary could have just as easily sang a lament song about the tragedy of her circumstance. Mary could have sang a song of curses because she unwillingly has found herself in this situation. But instead Mary’s soul magnifies the Lord. This is partly because Elizabeth welcomes Mary and says, “Blessed are you among woman, blessed is the fruit of your womb.” In our culture, being blessed is often interpreted as having privilege in life.

The blessedness of Mary is different, however, and I have alluded to it in the first part of
this message. In practical terms Mary is not blessed with privilege. She is a peasant girl
from a small village who has been disgraced with an unmarried pregnancy. And we know,
from her song, that she knows what kind of life her son will live. She knows the
unspeakable grief she will experience as she watches her child experience rejection, shame
and crucifixion. Yet, she praises God. And the song she sings, while it starts with a song
about her own soul and salvation and how the Mighty One has done great things for her it
transitions to the great things God has done and will do through her son for all people.
Mary’s song recalls Hannah’s song found in 1 Samuel 2:1-10. Like Mary, Hannah
has experienced a miraculous pregnancy. Like Mary’s son, Hannah’s son Samuel spoke
God’s words. Both women, both mothers, sing praises to God for the overturning of
society’s structures by bringing low the powerful and lifting up the lowly. This is why John
Birch, the author of our recent Bible Study, states, that Mary’s song has “been called the
most revolutionary document in the world. There are echoes of moral, social and economic
revolution in these words…Mary was not only a humble servant of God, but more than that
she was a wise, courageous, and prophetic young woman.”

The God Mary praises in this song is not content with merely pointing people
toward heaven but is about to begin redemptive word on earth. God’s strength will be
shown when the proud are humbled and the powerful will be dethroned. Through Jesus
God will disrupt the powerful of this world- now that is a revolutionary song. God’s love is
revolutionary and Mary knows that first hand. This song is clearly good news for the pour
and the lowly, but not such great news for the wealthy or the powerful. Except that this
song also talks about the transformational love that Jesus brings. Theologian Judith Jones
points out, “Those who stand in awe only of themselves and their own power will be
judged. Yet if the wealthy and powerful can only see it, by bringing them down- by
emptying and humbling them- God is saving them.”
Imagine being a young boy and travelling to the prison gate with your Mother to
sing hymns to your Father who was imprisoned due to the fact that he would not conform to the state church in England. Imagine that father telling you that if you don’t like the
hymns found in the hymnal to write your own and so you begin with just a few and end up
writing hundreds. Imagine writing one such hymn and it becoming one of the greatest
Christmas carols despite the fact that you do not actually celebrate Christmas. Isaac Watts
did not need to imagine because it happened to him. Mr. Watts never intended for “Joy to
the World” to become a carol. The extreme version of protestantism that the family
practised prohibited them from acknowledging Christmas. The hymn is in fact based on
psalm 98. It appeared in his collection of poems entitled, “The Psalms of David, Imitated in the language of the New Testament.” Essentially Watt’s Joy to the World is a re-
interpretation of Psalm 98 through the lens of Jesus. This song celebrates that revolutionary and transformational love that is and will be experienced not just for humanity but for all of creation! All of creation is exploding with joy at the coming of Christ. Not only is Mary’s soul magnifying the Lord but all of creation sings to the influence that Jesus will have in their lives. That’s the revolutionary love that we celebrate and sing about at Christmas. Amen