Christmas Eve Sermon, 11AM

Luke 1:46-55

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
     and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
 for God has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
 for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is God’s name.
 God’s mercy is for those who fear God
from generation to generation.
 God has shown strength with God’s arm;
God has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
 God has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
 God has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
 God has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of God’s mercy,
 according to the promise God made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

Something miraculous happened that first Christmas.

 

We’re not the sure HOW it happened.

 

But we do know that it changed the world forever.

 

Between 70-100 years after Mary sang her beautiful song that we heard in our scripture today, 4 people, who call themselves Matthew, Mark, Luke and John set about writing down the story of Jesus from their perspective.

 

None of them was there as an eye-witness to the angels or Mary’s song or Jesus’ birth, but they all undoubtedly grew up hearing stories of that first Christmas.

 

It’s not so hard to imagine.

 

Many of us grew up hearing stories of our parents or grandparents.

 

Or the story of our church, Church of the Good Shepherd.

 

And everyone tells those stories slightly differently.

 

When it comes to the story of this church, for example, Shirlee and Floyd Coppage may tell me about the important role of our young families and how faith in God and in our mission kept people steadfast, even in the toughest times.

 

Art Stuart, who started coming a bit later but who was here when we moved into this building, hasn’t talked to me as much about the young families, but he has talked to me about the hard work of the adults in the church and how no matter what needed to be done, we figure out a way to do it ourselves.

 

Orp Christopher never talked to me about painting or electrical wiring the way Art hard, but she certainly told me plenty of stories. In addition to telling the story about how she kicked the California Conference representative out of her house, Orp loved to tell me stories about the raucous church choir rehearsals at her house, and how vital the choir was from the very beginning, and how the choir was a key factor in the growth of the early church.

 

But talk Paul Mohr, our founding pastor, and he’ll tell you a slightly different take on the choir. According to him, the choir was having a little TOO much fun at Orp’s house, and he had to insist that they move their practices to the church, because people who weren’t in the choir feared that the choir was doing more partying than rehearsing.

 

So what REALLY happened in our history?

 

Well, all of it.

 

And…when we tell stories about influential moments in our history, we have to choose what details we want to emphasize.

 

In the Bible, we have 4 Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John and we have 3 different versions of Jesus’ birth.

 

We only have 3, because Mark begins with Jesus’ ministry and leaves out his birth all together.

 

John doesn’t tell many details either. Just that Jesus was there from the beginning and that God became human.

 

Matthew is fairly scant on details – there are no shepherds, no inn. And there’s no angel that appears to Mary. The author of Matthew talks about the angel that appears to Joseph to reassure him. Matthew also talks about the wise men, who the rest leave out.

 

And then we have Luke, the author of today’s text, who centers the narrative around the experience of Mary.

 

Just as the choir is important in Orp’s story and faith in Shirlee and Floyd’s and hard work in Art’s, for the author of Luke, Mary is the one who brings the story all together.

 

She is the one who the angel tells first about the coming birth of Jesus.

 

She is also the one who God chooses to inhabit. Before Jesus is born, Jesus spends his first 9 months with Mary. They share the same food, the same body, the same life force.

 

She feels his heartbeat in harmony with hers before anyone hears his first cry.

 

Mary, this ordinary young woman, not a queen, not someone famous, just an ordinary woman, someone like any of us.

THAT is who God chooses first.

 

For Luke, God choosing Mary is important.

 

And for Luke, Mary is not only the one who bears Jesus, but the one who in her womb, in her very being, ties together the entire history of the Jewish people and the promise of new life and hope in the messiah.

 

Mary is the keystone, that piece in the arch that holds together the arc of the past and the arc of the future together.

 

She is the one who, when Elizabeth calls her blessed, sings a song that takes directly from the song of Hannah. Hannah, a mother who wrote her own poetic song over 600 years before Mary, when Hannah herself was promised a miraculous pregnancy.

 

Listen to this except form Hannah’s song. It’s nearly identical to Mary’s.

““My soul magnifies the Lord;, Hannah sings.     my strength is exalted in my God my salvation. The bows of the mighty are broken,
but the feeble are given new strength.
Those who were full are begging for bread,
but those who were hungry are fat with excess.

 

It’s almost identical.

 

When Luke tells Mary’s story in this way, he reminds us of all of the women before her, all of the ordinary women, all of the women who were set up against great odds, and yet found strength in God and in one another.

By connecting her to Hannah, the author of Luke connects her to all of us, and to all of our histories, and to all of the women and men who came before us and had faith, even in the most difficult times.

 

Of course, Mary’s song doesn’t just quote the Old Testament, it also quotes Jesus, and his sermon on the mount.

 

Jesus, in his ministry, will proclaim,

“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

 

Mary’s song is not just an echo of the past, it is foreshadowing Jesus’ life and ministry as well as the work of the church.

 

Remember that Mary’s song is not just a light-hearted pop number. It is a prophetic message about a God who throughout history has fought for the “have-nots”. Listen again. Mary says,

God has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
53 God has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
Mary’s words will become Jesus’ words. And our words.

 

Our mission at Church of the Good Shepherd is to create a just world through community, one life at a time.

We are a part of that broader story that Mary holds together.

 

The story of God’s justice and peace.

 

Christmas day, for Luke is not the end all be all.

 

It’s one day, one moment in history that goes back thousands of years and continues thousands of years beyond anything the author could have imagined.

 

Christmas is the beginning of a new chapter, certainly. Nothing will be the same once Jesus is in the world.

 

But it’s not the final chapter.

 

God is still speaking.

 

Through the words of Mary, and through us.

 

So my challenge to us this Christmas is to ask ourselves – what is our place in this story?

 

In God’s arch of history, where do we come in?

 

How is God still speaking through us?

 

Amen.

 

Advent Candle Lighting

 

Sarah: Mary was full of life and promise. We remember her today as we also celebrate the child in her womb, Jesus the Christ.

 

Tammy: At the beginning of the service, we relit the candles of hope, peace, and love, remembering the light of Christ, which shines in and through us.

 

Sarah: Today, we light the 4th candle. And it’s pink! But why is it pink?

 

Well, in the earliest years of the church, the only recognized season was Lent, the 7-week period leading up to Easter. It was a season of fasting and prayer, and during that season, the church used to light 7 blue candles—blue signifying repentance.

 

Tammy: However solemn the season, Lent also had a bit of hope and joy, because people knew that the death of Christ led to the resurrection on Easter Sunday. In ancient times, the story goes, church leaders would honor a citizen with a pink rose to acknowledge the joy and hope they brought to the people. In time, that pink rose became a pink candle, which was lit on one Sunday each Lent to remind us of the joy of the resurrection to come. <Tammy light stick from one of the candles on the altar and get ready to light the pink candle>

 

Sarah: When the church started celebrating the season of Advent, it was seen as a parallel season to Lent—a time for reflection and preparation. At the same time, Advent is also a time to prepare for the coming joy of the birth of Christ. So one Sunday each Advent, we light a pink candle as we celebrate joy.

 

May we remember all of the labor of our staff and volunteers, celebrate the life-giving work of this community, and light this candle in anticipation of the great joy of Jesus’ birth.

 

<Tammy  lights pink candle here>

 

Let us pray… <Sarah says a prayer here>

 

<silent prayer> <prayer of Jesus>