A sermon on Luke 1:39-55
Dickey Memorial Presbyterian Church
19 December 2021
From 2010 through 2016, I served as the director of the Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations.
Memories of precious people, painful international events, and amazing happenings swirl in my heart and mind.
Among my favorite memory is the moment I have come to call the good night ritual. .
Each night, I shut off my computer,
turned out the light,
and left the office.
I walked down the hall to the elevator
and pushed the call button.
When the cab arrived, I pushed “1” to go downstairs.
Hector would be there to see me out.
And always we spoke.
Sometimes we talked about weather or family.
Often, we talked sports. Conversations got interesting the week my Steelers beat Hector’s Jets.
After some conversation, I made for the door,
As I stepped across the hallway, I heard Hector’s final words:
always the same words,
always in the same, kind voice:
“Good night, Marko.
Get home safe.”
In Advent and Christmas, we think of home in many ways.
“Please Come Home for Christmas,” sings Aaron Neville.
“I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” sings Oscar Peterson.[i]
Spoiler alert. If you have forgotten the ending of A Christmas Carol; if you have never seen It’s a Wonderful Life, I invite you to plug your ears for a moment. I will let you know when the spoilers are done.
After the visits of three ghosts in A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Scrooge sends a feast to Bob Cratchit’s home and then travels to celebrate at his nephew’s home.
After the visit of one rather ordinary angel second class, in the climactic moment of George Bailey’s renewal, he makes his way home.
I see places I have lived at different times when I hear the word “home”.
Unique sights, smells, and sounds.
Home also recalls people. Beloved people. Family. Friends. Chosen family. Different in different homes. But always people.
Home is a place.
123 Sesame St.
80 Main St., Apt. 23D
Home is people.
Elder Vilmarie Cintrón-Olivieri observes that as a poor, unwed teenager, Mary was surrounded by dangers and uncertainty – both physical and societal. When she learned of her pregnancy, Mary sought a haven, a sanctuary, home.[ii]
Home for Mary was a place. The house of her relative Elizabeth. Home was people. Zechariah was there. Silent, but there. More importantly, Elizabeth and the baby in her womb, were present.
They welcome and affirm Mary. And in a moment that Stephen Sondheim could have written, Mary breaks into a song. “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” The Magnificat. A song that has been set in many ways over the centuries, including the Canticle of the Turning which we will sing shortly.
The Magnificat holds together the grittiness of life on the margins, the resilient hope of those who trust in God, and the power to image a new way of living.
My friend the Rev. Margaret Aymer suggests that we need to revise our view of Mary. Rather than gentle Mary, meek and mild, Margaret says Mary is better seen as Jesus’ radical Jewish Mama. A woman full of strength and courage and hope. An alternative vision fires her imagination. God’s vision of justice, equity, and peace. This vision, sung in Mary’s song, no doubt found its way into the lullabies she sang to Jesus and the stories she told him. It shaped him. It guided his living. His words and deeds exemplify his mama’s song.[iii]
Consider, church: the Triune God – Creator, Christ, and Holy Spirit or whatever formula you use – exists in relationship.
Made in God’s image, we are made for relationships. The late bell hooks reminds us of this when she says that healing is an act of communion. Rarely, if ever, she says, are any of us healed in isolation. Healing comes through relationships. Life comes through relationships.[iv]
We are made for each other. We are made for relationships of integrity, compassion, justice, equity, solidarity, accountability, responsibility, and love. We are made to be home to one another.
The village of Le Chambon in France provided sanctuary and home to Jews during the Second World War. Fleeing the monstrous, sinful evil of the Nazis, Jews would arrive in this Huguenot village. They made their way to the building we Presbyterians would call the manse. They knocked and were usually greeted by Magda Trocme with the words, “Welcome. Come in.” The process of creating home began. Years later, asked why their village and people became a sanctuary of home, Magda replied, “They knocked. What else could we do?”[v]
This theology – that God has made us and called us to be home for one another – was shared by those who ran the Underground Railroad. It is shared by those who welcome refugees, who support citizens returning from incarceration, and who offer sanctuary to individuals and families at risk of deportation to the violence-filled places they have fled.
Whether they are running for their lives or they are buffeted and battered by life, we will encounter people in need of refuge, haven, and sanctuary. Through Jesus Christ, God who is love, God who is our sanctuary and home, empowers us to say, “Welcome. Come in.”
Part of what allows us to create home is God’s gift of imagination. Our shared humanity allows us to imagine the pain and the fear of people in need.
More importantly, our faith allows us to imagine our relatedness to the entire human family. Each child is our child. Every person created and loved by God is a person to whom we are bound by the unbreakable cords of God’s love.
Imagination is an act of faithful subversion in a world that tells us nothing will change. Things will always be the same. There is nothing we can do about it.
Not so, says imagination. Not so. There can be, there is, another way. Imagination is the root of joy. Imagination is the source of hope. When we dare to imagine that Jesus just might be on to something when he tells us to love one another; we take the first steps toward loving one another.
At home with Elizabeth, Mary’s imagination inspired her to break into song about what God has done, what God will do, and what God is doing. Mary’s song, Rachel Held Evans reminds us, declares that God has chosen sides. [vi]
God has chosen not narcissistic rulers or leaders, but an un-wed, un-believed teenage girl for the holy task of birthing, nursing, and nurturing God.
God has chosen not the powerful, but the humble.
Not the rich, but the poor.
Not the occupying force, but people pushed to the margins.
God has made a home. That home, Jesus reveals, is among the people the world casts aside. Women. Children. The poor. Lepers. Samaritans. Tax collectors. Sinners. God’s home includes people of every sexual orientation and every gender identity, people living on the streets, people whose immigration papers do not match the government standards, people battling addiction, people dealing with mental illness, and anyone pushed aside by the culture of domination.
Any time we human creatures seek to keep some of God’s children out and we draw a line to exclude and we say, “you do not belong,” God wipes the line aside. “Hold my beer,” the Holy Spirit says, and she begins the patient, careful work of removing the line and welcoming all God’s children home.
Church, we know that does not happen quickly enough. We know people, too many precious people, are wounded in the time it takes God to erase the lines. That grieves us and God. But we also know that patiently, persistently God is at work. And God invites us to join that work.
In her defiant, prophetic, imaginative song, Mary—a dark-skinned woman who would become a refugee, a member of a religious minority in an occupied land—names this reality: God makes a home for and with those who have been driven to the margins by the powerful. And we are invited to meet God there on the margins and be welcomed home.
During Advent, we journey home.
During Advent, we work to create home.
During Advent and always, may we journey and work with the stubborn, unsentimental hope of Jesus’ radical Jewish Mama – a woman so convinced the baby inside her would change everything, she proclaimed that:
The powerful have already been humbled;
The vulnerable have already been lifted up;
The world is turning;
And it is turning toward home.
Thanks be to God. Amen.
[i] Many artists have recorded both songs. The versions by Aaron Neville and Oscar Peterson were the first to appear in my iTunes Library.
[ii] This comes from Vilmarie’s commentary on Luke 1:39-55 in the Sanctified Art Close to Home Sermon Planning Guide for this Sunday.
[iii] I found this image from the Rev. Dr. Margaret Aymer a couple years ago. I can no longer find the source.
[v] The story of Le Chambon is told by Philip Haille in Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed. See also https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Le_Chambon-sur-Lignon.