Piles of Prophets and Presents
Is your Christmas shopping done yet? Are the presents piling higher and higher for your loved ones? There is no doubt the doing of Christmas keeps us busy. How are we listening to the call of the prophets and not just hearing the call to piles of presents which is loud.
Marketing is effective. We can often recall the effective jingles of must haves from decades gone by. I can still hear in my mind during Christmas movies the jingles of Go! Go! Power Wheels. Maybe you can hear the jingles from the slinky or even, Davey Crocket. And we hear the words, the music and begin to imagine that is what we want and sometimes we even imagine that it is what we need. We forget that what is needed is a true and ultimate answer to our weariness from being outside of God’s way.
During Advent, we sit at the feet of the prophets listening and preparing. We hear John the Baptist and Isaiah; we hear Malachi and Jeremiah. Prophets who do not predict the future, but rather who tell the truth so fully that we can see hope and future in it. We are instructed to hear the angel voices, listen to the prophets – this hints at the fact that we might not listen, that we might be drawn into other things instead of putting value on the words of the prophets and angels. In fact, sometimes, it is hard to hear the whisper of the prophets over the resounding crinkle and piling of the presents around us.
As we continue in our series on Luke’s carols and modern carols, we pause from the presents to center ourselves. On this third Sunday of Advent, we listen to the hushed singing of “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” knowing that the prophets of God continue to speak. From this hymn, we hear of a weary world needing and desiring to rejoice. Weary of doing and keeping up. Weary of conflict and hardship. Weary of medical challenges and financial struggles. Weary from the weight of the world.
The Reverend Edmund Sears composed a prophetic response in a five-stanza poem, now called “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” in 1849 as a part time preacher in Wayland, Massachusetts. With the Mexican-American war fresh in his mind, he wrote prophetically of the way of Christ as an essential alternative to sin and the strife of not knowing the Christian message. In an often-omitted stanza, he wrote:
“Yet with the woes of sin and strife, the world has suffered long;
Beneath the angel-strain have rolled Two thousand years of wrong;
And man, at war with man, hears not the love-song which they bring;
O hush the noise, ye men of strife, and hear the angels sing. ”
As the prophet of old called the people to repent from their divisive and broken ways, Rev. Sears joins the piles of prophets calling us today to turn from ‘two thousand years of wrong’ and hear the angels sing. What you might ask, are the angels singing? They sing, “Peace on the earth, good will to all from heaven’s all glorious throng.”
A weary world rejoicing from Rev. Sears carol is the prophetic sister to Mary’s proclamations and the prophetic words of Isaiah. Prophets are those who call us to God’s ways. They often disrupt our status quo, do not accept rationalizations, and cut through excuses to God’s ways. How do you know if a prophet is from God? Does what they proclaim sound like God? Do they point us to justice and life-giving transformation? Prophet often receive the hard end of the stick. They have been killed through biblical and modern times; prophets have been exiled and shamed. But prophets highlight brokenness, not to be hurtful, but rather encourage growth and fully discipleship.
Isaiah, proclaimed God’s word as a spokesperson and change agent. Isaiah was a prophet! The prophet Isaiah was one of three voices who wrote in the book of Isaiah. This Isaiah, deutro-Isaiah, spoke to the exiles with a word of hope.
The prophet deutro-Isaiah proclaims a time when stumbling knees will the strong, blinded eyes will see, deaf ears will hear, muted tongues will sing, and crippled legs will leap. As Judeans return to their land from their exile, even their limitations will become full functional. Their dis-abilities will become full abilities. This is a word of hope for all of us who look forward to the full realized coming of Christ when we too, will know full wholeness and healing. Those of us who find the wall as knees begin to stumble and wobble who will know strong knees in God’s ultimate way.
Those of us who are silenced and feel silenced, like there is no place for us, our words will lift in songs of freedom and joy. Those of us who must walk our every step, fearful of our bodies betraying us will walk confidently and break into a skip and hop. Those of us for whom fear and worry is a constant companion, keeping all others out, will find future possibilities filled with hope and courage, instead of sighing and sorrow. The dry places will flourish in the way of God. Even the desert shall bloom, cried the prophet.
The highway of God made in the desert shall be a place for all of God’s people. When we hear of the way of God, we have often painted it as narrow with pitfalls, ditches, and off ramps. In Isaiah 35, this is NOT the image. Verse 8 illustrates that it is wide and easy to navigate it, that even a fool will not go astray.
The prophet indicates the highway is for all, but indicates not the unclean. Let me clarify what that means. Unclean is not a permanent state. Unclean is not the same as evil or outside of God’s way. In the Jewish tradition, unclean is a temporary state to be resolved. Unclean comes when you come into contact with a corpse. Caring for the body of your dead loved one, made you unclean. Unclean, in the Jewish tradition came during the time of a woman’s menstruation, her period. Unclean, came after the act of sex. All of these occasions to become unclean (and others) were resolved with ritual cleaning and sacrifice. None of these were reasons to keep someone permanently outside of God’s way.
Jesus’s birth, life, death, and resurrection changed the system. After Jesus, no one was any longer unclean or temporarily outside of the body. The news of Jesus’ birth was given to a great prophet, his mother, Mary. Mary’s words in the Magnificat, called so because My soul magnifies (the beginning phrase) is Magnificat in Latin, celibately wildly the rightness of the ways of God and in light of pain and suffering, and feeling as though the world has been off kilter for so long as they long for the coming of the Messiah.
Mary and Elizabeth learned this dream of God’s kingdom at the knees of their mothers, alongside their fathers on the way to the Temple, sung by their peers as they played. The dream of the prophets in which a Messiah would come was easily to her lips. One day, God would fulfill the promise to the biblical ancestors to rescue individuals and communities from evil, from oppression. Every word of the Magnificat is quoted from a prophet, many from Hannah in 1 Samuel 2.
On this pink, Gaudete Sunday, we hear the voice of young woman, who elsewise would not have been listened to, Mary raises her voice as God’s prophet, telling truth and pointing to God. Her voice is subversive and dangerous. New Testament scholar Scot Knight shares that “[u]nlike ‘Away in a Manger,’ this prayer was apparently considered subversive, politically dangerous” and “might incite the oppressed people to riot.” It was indeed banned from being sung or read in India under British rule. In the 1980’s, it was banned in Guatemala. In addition, after the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo—whose children all disappeared during the Dirty War (1976-1983)—placed the Magnificat’s words on posters throughout the capital plaza, the military junta of Argentina outlawed any public display of Mary’s song. ” Theologian R. Alan Culpepper notes, “[t]he overthrow of the powerful has not come about through the mounting up of the weak in rebellion but through the coming of God in the weakness of a child” Mary’s Magnificat is to be taken seriously. The Magnificat is prophecy. It proclaims God’s way in the world.
In this way, we understand the statement by Meister Eckhart of the 14th century: “We are all meant to be mothers of God.” We are all meant to carry the peace and presence of Christ, in our very bodies. We are all meant to participate in righting the world and listening to God. The cry to buy and consume might be louder than other calls, like God’s call for you know God’s ways and live in peace. When do you lie in stillness to heart the angels sing? Where do you find, yourself knowing peace? Where do you stand on the shoulders of prophets? Not just peace and quiet as a respite from those around you jabbering on. But peace in your soul.
For lo! the days are hastening on, By prophets seen of old,
When with the ever-circling years Shall come the time foretold,
When the new heaven and earth shall own The Prince of Peace, their King,
And the whole world send back the song Which now the angels sing.
This is the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, thanks be to God, Amen.
Old Testament Lesson: Isaiah 35:1-10
The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice with joy and singing. The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, the majesty of Carmel and Sharon. They shall see the glory of the Lord, the majesty of our God. Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who are of a fearful heart, “Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God. He will come with vengeance, with terrible recompense. He will come and save you.” Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy. For waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water; the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp, the grass shall become reeds and rushes. A highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Holy Way; the unclean shall not travel on it, but it shall be for God’s people; no traveler, not even fools, shall go astray. No lion shall be there, nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it; they shall not be found there, but the redeemed shall walk there. And the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.
Gospel Lesson: Luke 1: 46-55
And Mary said,
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he 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 his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”
Meditations For Your Week
Sunday, December 11 ~ Saturday, December 17
Sunday: “And Mary said, ‘My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed” Luke 1: 46-48. Mary sings out God’s praises as she hears God’s gift and promises to her. Have you stilled yourself to hear God’s gift and promises to you?
Monday: “For the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.” Luke 1: 49. Ask God to open your heart to see where God has done great things. Give thanks to God for the gift of Jesus.
Tuesday: “God’s mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.” Luke 1: 50. Mary sings of God’s mercies that come before her. She knew God’s faithfulness across generations. Read of God’s faithfulness in the Bible and ask others where God has been merciful in their lives.
Wednesday: “God has shown strength with his arm; God has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.” Luke 1: 51. God is concerned not only with our outer actions, but also with our inner thoughts. Prayerfully ask God to show you where you need to depend on God’s strength and act in humility.
Thursday: “God has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly;” Luke 1: 52. God rights the world across time and place. Where is God calling you to bring down the powerful and lift up the lowly?
Friday: “God has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. God has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy” Luke 1: 53-54. God cares deeply about hunger and justice. How have you fed the hungry and sought justice?
Saturday: “According to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.’” Luke 1: 55. God’s promises that Mary celebrates begin with the story of creation and trace through our biblical ancestors. You are a part of that line. Give thanks to God for God’s promises.