Contact us LOGIN
December 23, 2018

“Sing Along!” by the Rev. Don Wahlig, December 23, 2018, Year C / Advent 4 – Micah 5:2-5a  •  Hebrews 10:5-10  •  Luke 1:39-55

THEME:  Become agents of God’s mercy and justice in order to share his love and joy, especially among those who have known very little of either one.


Have you ever seen someone who absolutely loves to sing?  Their whole face lights up. 

Earlier this week, I was reminded of what that looks like when I ran across a video of Susan Boyle.  You may remember that she is the Scottish singer who became famous after she performed on the TV show Britain's Got Talent back in 2009.  Almost overnight, she went from singing in her church choir to international musical sensation.

Not only does she have an astounding voice, but, when she sings, everything about her conveys sheer joy.  As I read our gospel text, I pictured Mary looking just the same.

Mary is paying a visit to her much older relative, Elizabeth.  Until, Elizabeth has been childless, much to her shame. 

Mary has already been visited by the Angel Gabriel.  Just as he promised, not only is she now pregnant, but so is Elizabeth. 

Elizabeth is in the 6th month of pregnancy with the future John the Baptist.  Mary’s greeting is all it takes to set John the Baptist leaping for joy within Elizabeth’s womb.  

Although it’s not clear in the printing of our Bibles, Mary’s response is a song:  what has become known as the Magnificat, the Latin translation of the first word.

 Mary’s song is a prayer of praise for the blessing bestowed on her by God, his merciful redemption of Israel, and the fulfillment of his promises to Abraham and the Patriarchs. 

At this point, we might stop and try to understand why Mary is so joyful.  Afterall, she is an unwed mother whose premature pregnancy could lead to ostracism and even death. 

Things don’t look much better on the political front.  Her nation is at the very lowest ebb of its existence. The Romans control every aspect of life through their puppet king, Herod the Great.

It’s been half a millennium since Israel has known independence.  That’s 500 years without a king on the throne of Israel.  It's been an equally long time since God spoke to the people through the prophets. 

Everywhere in Mary’s world, there is poverty, oppression and violence.  The vast majority of the people barely scratch out a living, while a small but powerful handful of elites live lives of ostentation and excess. 

Any who dare to confront their Roman occupiers are killed.  Crosses dot the landscape as warnings to those Jewish patriots who dare resist Rome’s power.

The one bright light in Mary’s life is her betrothed – Joseph.  Luke is silent about how Joseph is taking the news of her pregnancy.

Even if Joseph is understanding, it wouldn’t surprise anyone if Mary’s pregnancy is making things difficult between her and her family, and her prospective in-laws. 

So much in Mary's life and in the life of the nation is cause not for gratitude, but for grief and despair.

But Mary's focus is not on how tough life is.  Her focus is on thanking and praising God.  Even though her present circumstances offer no reason for hope, she has believed Gabriel’s promise.

The child in her womb will be God’s own son.  He will rule on David’s throne in fulfillment of God’s promise of an everlasting Davidic dynasty.  And, in God’s Kingdom, injustice and suffering will not stand. 

The lowly will be uplifted, not oppressed.  An economy of scarcity will give way to universal generosity; there will be enough food for everyone.  The powerful will no longer be permitted to control and exploit others, nor will the rich be permitted to add to their wealth.

There is not even a whiff of vengeance or triumphalism here.  All will have enough; all will have value in God’s eyes.  For Luke, this is what God’s mercy and justice look like.

As Mary sings her song with full-throated rapture, we soon notice something a little odd.  Th e verbs are all in the past tense.  It’s as if all of this has already happened, even though the Christ child hasn’t even been born yet!

 So sure is Mary that God will do what he’s promised, that she sings about it as an accomplished fact.  Now, that’s faith!

Mary’s faith is exactly what the writer of Hebrews meant when he wrote, “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

Augustine, one of the greatest theologians of the early church, said it even better.  He wrote, “Faith is to believe what you do not yet see; the reward of faith is to see what you believe.”

His point is that faith and reason go hand in hand.  We have faith in something we believe to be true because we trust the authority of the one behind it, the source of the truth.  

Faith then allows us to examine that truth in order to understand it better.  So, faith is the key that opens the door to greater understanding.

That’s exactly what Mary experienced.  She trusted Gabriel’s promise because it came from God. 

Because she trusted God, her faith in his promise enabled her to see things differently.  Her faith gave her insight to understand the true nature of the kingdom her son would usher in.  Because she understood it, she was certain of it, so certain she regarded it as if it were already here!

But what about the voices of the skeptics?  Those who say, “Hang on a minute.  It’s been 2,000 years since Mary sang her song and still injustice and suffering are everywhere.  I don’t see any sign of the Kingdom!  And its naïve to even look for it.” 

More often than not, this kind of cynicism comes from folks who’ve simply given up on the Kingdom, or never expected it in the first place.

If they believe in the reality of the Kingdom at all, it’s only because they see it as coming exclusively at the end of this world.  The way they see things, until Christ returns, it’s futile to look for God’s reign of mercy and justice.

That’s a far cry from what Jesus taught.  He grew up to teach that the Kingdom is breaking in wherever he is present.  And he’s present wherever his love is made tangible in the words and actions of his disciples.

That’s what you and I are here to do:  become agents of God’s mercy and justice in order to share his love and joy, especially among those who have known very little of either one.

The Christian sociologist and renowned speaker, Tony Campolo, tells a story of what this looked like for him.  At a conference in Honolulu, he had trouble sleeping one night because of the 8-hour time difference.

So, he found himself at a small all-night diner at 3:30 in the morning.  As he sat drinking coffee and eating a donut at the counter, a group of 8 or 9 boisterous prostitutes suddenly burst in and sat on either side of him.

He overheard the woman beside him, Agnes, tell her friend that the next day would be her 39th birthday, but she’d never had a birthday party.  Sadly, her friend was not sympathetic in the least.

Tony suddenly got the idea to surprise Agnes with a party.  After they left, he suggested to the owner, a gruff old curmudgeon named Harry, that they throw a birthday party for Agnes the following night.

Harry thought it was a great idea. He even volunteered to bake the cake if Tony would take care of the decorations. 

Somehow the word spread about Agnes’ surprise birthday party.  By 3:15 the next morning that tiny little diner was packed with prostitutes, the cafe owner and his wife, and Tony.

When Agnes walked in she was overwhelmed.  Amid all the streamers and balloons, there was Harry holding a birthday cake, while everyone sang Happy Birthday at the top of their lungs.

Poor Agnes was stunned. She broke into tears.  She was sobbing so hard she couldn’t even blow out her birthday candles.  She’d never had a birthday cake, and so, instead of cutting it, she asked if she could take it home to show her mother who lived down the block.  Tony said sure.

When Agnes left there was silence. After an awkward minute or two, Tony did what a Christian minister should. He said, “What do you say we pray?”  And he did. 

When he finished praying for Agnes, that she might know the new life that Jesus offers her, Harry leaned across the counter and wagged his finger at Tony.  He said, “Hey, you told us you’re a sociologist.  You’re not a sociologist.  You’re a preacher!  What kind of church do you preach in?”

Thinking fast on his feet, Tony came up with the perfect answer.  He said, “The kind of church that throws birthday parties for prostitutes at 3:30 in the morning.”

Harry, the owner, said “No, you don’t.  I’d JOIN a church like that!”

That’s the point of Tony’s story.  That is exactly the kind of church Jesus calls us to be.  The church that brings celebration into the lives of people who have nothing to celebrate.

As Tony says, “We’ve got to do more than give them bread and clothes.  We’ve got to bring love and joy into their lives.”

Friends, who in your life could use a little joy?  This Christmas and New Year’s holiday, who will you see who needs to be loved?

Whether we can think of someone right now or not, I guarantee God will put just such a person into our path.

When that happens, may we all remember the source of the joy that made Mary sing.  And may we lead others to sing God’s praises right along with her.

May it be so. 

Last Published: December 27, 2018 9:44 AM