Sermon for Fourth Sunday of Advent
Sunday, December 23, 2012
I must begin this morning’s sermon with a confession: I have never seen “The Sound of Music.” I know – I must be some sort of heretic. How I have managed to navigate twenty-seven years of life without seeing the most popular musical of all time is beyond the comprehension of most people. Now, this isn’t to say that I haven’t seen other musicals. Maggie cajoled me into seeing “Wicked,” which I secretly loved. And I still secretly listen to the soundtrack in my car.
But my favorite musical of all time is – are you ready for it? – the gospel of Luke. The first two chapters of Luke read like a musical. Characters are always bursting into song. Zechariah bursts out with his song, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel.” At the birth of Jesus, a multitude of angels sings to shepherds, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” The finale is sung by Simeon, “Lord, you now have set your servant free, to go in peace as you have promised!”
But if there is one song, if there is an overture to the whole musical production of the gospel of Luke, it’s the song of Mary. The song we read together as a canticle this morning. Mary remembers that she is but a lowly servant. And in spite of this, or maybe because of her lowly status, God has chosen her to be a vessel for the salvation of the world. Yes – God has chosen a poor, unwed, teenage girl to give birth to the King of all creation.
Now, as in all musicals, there is some sort of background story. For “The Sound of Music,” it’s the beginning of World War II. For “Wicked,” it’s the “Wizard of Oz.” For this musical at the beginning of Luke’s gospel, it’s the story of Adam and Eve. In the garden of Eden, the story is one of disobedience to God. Adam and Eve refuse to follow God’s commands, and end up cast out of the garden. Putting gender roles aside, it seems to be that Eve is at fault for allowing herself to be beguiled by the serpent, and therefore disobeying God. That’s the background story to the Song of Mary.
And the Song of Mary is the complete reversal of the Adam and Eve story. This time, instead of the woman disobeying God, the woman gives a radical “Yes!” to God. Mary agrees to bear the child of God, and serve as the vessel for the birth of Jesus. The old story, the story of Adam and Eve, is rewritten. And so Mary, though she was just a poor, unwed, teenage mother, is now venerated for saying “yes” to God.
Tragically, though, the world still sees women more like Eve than like Mary. For too long, Eve has taken all of the blame for the sinfulness of humanity. We point the finger at her disobedience in the garden, and say that it’s all her fault. “If only she had been as good as Adam then this whole thing would have never happened. It’s all the woman’s fault.”
And how often do we still hear that same overture today? How often are women blamed and accused? How often are women disrespected in favor of men? All too often. Just as Christians have used Eve as a tool to explain their own sinfulness, society today uses women as a tool.
The numbers are startling. We all know about the glass ceiling. But listen to this: on average, full-time-employed women earn 20% less than their male counterparts after one year of work. And that’s just the beginning. Nearly one half of women who become sex slaves in the United States pass through Harris County. And though the numbers are uncertain, that could be up to eight thousand women a year who pass through our county as part of a pernicious cycle of human trafficking. I could go on with the ugly details, but they are too gruesome to share from the pulpit.
The world is using women as a tool. A tool for cheap labor. A tool for pleasure. We are using women with an “Eve” sort of mindset. A mindset that allows society to blame women for the limitations we place on them. We have forgotten that the story of Eve was rewritten.
God choses the lowly in this world as vessels of his grace. God did not pick out Mary because she was rich or well-educated or popular. God chose Mary because God likes to put a twist on stories. The Song of Mary is full of twists: the lowly are favored, the powerful are brought down from their thrones, the hungry are filled, the rich are sent away empty.
As a society, it’s time for us to make a decision. We can continue to use women as tools. We can pay them less, we can desecrate their bodies, we can blame them. In other words, we can use them like Eve.
Or we can choose women. We can choose women like God chose Mary. We can raise up the lowly. We can invest them with positions of authority. We can respect them. Instead of turning up our at noses at unwed, teenage, mothers – we can help them, because they are just like the Mother of our Lord.
In 2013, our church is going to begin working with the Interfaith Hospitality Network. With IHN, we are going to help homeless families as they work to get back on their feet. This work is a crucial first step in helping women get off the streets and away from the sex traffickers. And next year, when we are working with single mothers, I trust that we won’t disrespect them like the world disrespects them. I hope that we will sing the Song of Mary: “Our soul magnifies the Lord and our spirits rejoice in God our Savior, because God has looked with favor on the lowliness of these servants.”
Now, I realize the irony of this sermon. Here I am – a man in a vocation that had been reserved for men for the past nineteen centuries – telling you to respect women. Here I am – a man who is so much a male figure, that I have asked all of you to refer to me as “Father.” I get it. I get the irony.
But take a deeper look. Because that’s where God looks. God does not care if we are men or women. God does not care what country we are from. God does not care if we like musicals or if we can’t stand all the singing and the dancing. God simply cares that we are his disciples. As Paul says, “In Christ there is no Jew or Greek, no slave or free, no male and female.” See, in Christ, there is only love.
And that’s what it boils down to. Loving our neighbor as ourselves. Loving everybody, regardless of gender or background. Loving them enough to stand up against injustice and discrimination. Loving our neighbors enough to say no to cruelty and slavery.
In conclusion, indulge me to make a careful observation of the obvious – the world did not end on Friday. As it turns out, all the Mayan Doomsday predictions were wrong. But here’s the catch – the Song of Mary is actually calling us to end the world as it is. The gospel is calling us to end the pernicious cycles of greed and lust and evil. God is calling us to raise up the lowly and fill the hungry with good things. Jesus is calling us – is calling this church – to end the world as we know it.
Holy Comforter – I too have a prediction. I have a prediction that in 2013, we are going to help the end the world and its sinister designs. And that next year, as we stand on the cusp of 2014, the old world of injustice and discrimination and poverty will be coming to an end. And with God’s help, a new world of equality and love will be born. And when that happens, even though I can’t stand it now – I will burst out with a song and dance – “My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God, the savior of the world.”