Luke 1:46b-55 and Excerpts from Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl
Sunday December 11th, 2022
By Rev. Nicole M. Lamarche
Welcome everyone again on this third Sunday of Advent and this second Sunday in December on this beautiful morning!
I invite you now to let yourself take some deep breaths as you are moved, to let yourself arrive a bit more fully. And if you are comfortable to join me in the preacher’s prayer from Psalm 19.
Gracious God, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, our Rock, and our Redeemer Amen.
“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for God has looked with favor on the lowliness of God’s servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed…”
During the time when the British governed India, these words were prohibited from being sung in church. They were too powerful, too able to do as the writer said, “pierce through the enveloping gloom”
“for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is God’s name.”
In the 1980s, the government of Guatemala banned any public recitation of these words. Because they seemed to be too radical- too revolutionary, too emboldening, too empowering, to be able to release the freedom among the people.
“God has shown strength with his arm; God has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.”
And during the time of what is called the Dirty War in Argentina, the mothers of Los Desaparecidos, put these words on posters throughout the capital plaza and the military junta forbid and outlawed any display of them.
“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.”
Since they have been spoken and sung, recited and re-membered into human hearts, these words from Mary, called the Magnificat, using the phrasing of Peter Dooly, “afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted…”
Because as one writer put it, “perhaps the song doesn’t sound like good news if you are well fed, or rich, or in a position of power and might — or if you benefit from systems that oppress.” How does the Magnificat feel to you? 1
But why is that? For many reasons, I have been pondering this question lately. Why is it that those that have everything they need, fear others having the same? Why has the Magnificat been so threatening to those in positions of power? Why is it that so many of us who are fed, believe that something will be lost if others too have full stomachs? And why is it that people of faith are often the loudest voices arguing against things like universal healthcare and free school lunch? Why is it that even Christians argue against the lowly being lifted up?
This week I watched a white Congresswoman from the Midwest shed dramatic tears on the House floor, claiming that people of faith must vote against marriage equality. She said while sobbing, “I’ll tell you my priorities,” “Protect religious liberty. Protect people of faith. And protect Americans who believe in a true meaning of marriage…”
After I was done watching her speak I shouted out loud to the screen, “What are you so afraid of?”
It is clear that she sees herself as protecting something, but what? If she doesn’t love a woman and doesn’t want to marry one, she doesn’t have to! Religious liberty doesn’t mean the right of the government to impose her religious views on the rest of us. I know she isn’t the only one who feels this way, she just had the courage to be honest and what she said represents more than just this one issue.
Is she worried she could be turned away with a cup that has nothing? Is she worried about what might happen when those who think differently than her, are in power? Is she afraid of having her way of life, her beliefs and way of being, decentered? I am guessing that’s a yes.
But part of the message we receive from Mary today is a reminder that some of what we have set up as humans is simply upside down as far as God is concerned. And some of our fears are based on the needs of our egos to live with the illusion of some level of control. And some of our systems offer us the idea that this is all a zero-sum game, ruled by scarcity and that we can’t all have what we need, so we just have to fight for ours, to get more, to take care of our own.
But what if that isn’t true? What if that’s a lie from white supremacy and patriarchy and unbridled capitalism? Yes I am going there today! And what if part of the underlying, unchangeable, unsettling truth about the Magnificat is that it offers us another paradigm?
Because with almost every line Mary speaks of righting things, of sharing things, of turning it upside down, where it needs to be. She sings of God valuing the worth and dignity of each human being because she knows we don’t always do that for one another. She offers a vision of abundance and enough, of ensuring that each one is cared for. And while that line about the rich being sent away empty might be the reason these words were banned by governments, I wonder if what Mary is saying is that they won’t be given anything then, because they already have what they need, rather than the idea that rich people are left to be discarded, I think what she’s saying is that all will be filled. A vision that pierces through any gloom to point us to another paradigm.
That line “I sensed my spirit piercing through the enveloping gloom” as you heard comes from Viktor Frankl, a Holocaust survivor and invested his life in supporting those with depression and those who struggled with suicidal ideation. And he offers his powerful words of purpose and light, even after that. And what he offered made me think of Mary’s words for us today because they too pierce through the gloom, offering us light.
“God has performed mighty deeds..
God has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
God has brought down rulers from their thrones
and lifted up the lowly…”
The lies that tell us if I have what I need, you won’t be able to. The lies that tell us, that there isn’t enough, or we are not enough. The lies that tell us that worth comes from wealth. The lies that tell us some of us can have it all, while some of us wither.
But I think that God says through Mary and to us now that we are each deserving and worthy, made in love and to love in different ways, capable of being used by the Divine for great things, whatever our circumstance. Mary says that in God, there is enough.
What would it be like for us to live that out here, more fully? To ensure that not one person among us goes hungry or leaves empty? What would it be like to live with abundance, instead of scarcity? How can we more fully live into our call as people of faith that are able to pierce through the enveloping gloom, to proclaim joyfully all the goodness that abounds? What would it be like to live the Magnificat?
What a gift to be able to show up together, over two thousand years later to hear these words again, to remember what God is up to.
In God, we can pierce through it all and know, we need not fear, love guides us, there is enough. May it be so. Amen.
© Rev. Nicole M. Lamarche