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East Harwich, MA 02645
First Reading Isaiah 35: 1-10 (NRSVUE)
Reader: 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 shouting.
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 shall be opened;
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.
Second Reading Luke 1: 46b-55 (NRSVUE)|
Reader: And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the lowly state 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.
indeed, 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 imagination of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones
and lifted the lowly.
he has filled the hungry with good things
and sent the rich away empty.
He has come to the aid of his child Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”
Advent 3: Sacred Space
11 December 2022
The Rev Dr Dianne ES Carpenter
Luke 1: 46b-55
The pregnancy of Mary is connected to the promise of justice and joy in the readings this week. Mary’s womb becomes a sacred space for the gestation of grace that moves into, and is transforming, the world. We will ponder the spaces we inhabit at home, work, and community, asking whether they are feeding, nurturing, and reflecting the freedom and joy that is so desperately needed.
When my daughter and I were in seminary in the early 80s I was the music director at Watertown UMC. Nicole was in elementary school, and she was Mary in the Nativity pageant one year. The unique costume for Mary is the blue head scarf. While purple for Royalty and repentance has been the color of Advent and Lent traditionally. In some churches Advent has been changed to the blue of Mary. One of those churches was Franklin where I served before retiring in 2018 and my worship director made me this blue stole.
The Sarum Rite was the original basis for the liturgy of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer and where blue was used for the color of Advent. It was often specified that it be an indigo to represent the darkness before the birth. Early art shows church leaders in ornately decorated blue robes. Shades of blue symbolize royalty, the coming of the King, hope, the night sky before the dawn, the sea before creation, and Mary. Remember early dyes were made from nature. Some historians suggest that northern European dyes were made from berries that produced blue while southern Europe was able to make purple dyes.
Tradition puts the rose-colored candle in the Advent wreath—not to symbolize Mary, but to reflect the lessening emphasis on penitence, the nearing of the end of the fast, the pending birth, and the second coming. Rose or pink represents joy. The 3rd Sunday in Advent marks the halfway point, and we are allowed to be excited for the coming event. In the Roman Catholic tradition, it is called Gaudete Sunday, from the Latin for “rejoice.” It takes its name from one of the traditional readings from Philippians which begins, “Rejoice in the Lord always.”
Justice – depicted as a blindfolded woman is cause to rejoice and so the symbols and the colors of the day come together during the 3rd week of Advent. Making a place for the growth of justice and joy–deep and abiding goodness–is the archetypal feminine divine presence in this Advent faith story.
Mary so completely embodies the victims of her age –a member of a conquered people, caught up in a census to extract tribute for the invading culture rather than a safety net or representation for the impoverished and disinherited. Mary was not a “person” in the legal sense. She was dependent on the promises of her God and the largess of her husband.
Mary’s Magnificat is a staple of Advent, often on this third Sunday in which we highlight joy. The song is a “power ballad” in the terminology of musical theater. Power ballads are songs in shows that hold so much emotion, and can fill the theater with amazing energy, bringing the joyful, now-convicted audience to their feet. They are often found just before intermission or at the end of the show. I would say that Mary’s power ballad is the former, coming before the birth, sung with a full belly pregnant with possibility. She “brings it,” as we say, and her “yes” to providing a Sacred Place for the holy inspires us to our own “yes” to adore, create, and nurture places where goodness is born.
Mary magnifies the Lord, proclaiming God’s greatness and rejoicing in God as Savior. She begins with God’s actions in her own life, for in choosing her to be the mother of the Messiah, the Mighty One has indeed “done great things for” her. Now she recognizes with awe that all generations will call her blessed.
In our culture #blessed has become a meme, and “feeling blessed” makes regular appearances in Facebook posts. People tweet images or post pictures of themselves enjoying a delicious meal or an exotic vacation or a shopping spree at their favorite store. “Blessed” has come to mean living a life of privilege and comfort. Using the term has become a way of celebrating those moments when everything is going well and all seems right with the world — or at least one’s own little corner of it.
The blessedness that Mary celebrates stands in stark contrast to our culture’s attitude. By our standards she does not look at all blessed. As she will soon learn from Simeon if she hasn’t perceived it already, being the mother of the messiah is scarcely an unmixed blessing. She will bear the unspeakable grief of watching as her son is rejected, shamed, and crucified: “This child is destined for the falling and rising of many in Israel … and a sword will pierce your own soul too” (Luke 2:34–35). Despite all this, Mary praises God for honoring her.
Mary sings about the God who saves not just souls, but embodied people. The God she celebrates is not content merely to point people toward heaven; God’s redemptive work begins here on earth. God fills the hungry not only with hope, but with food. Rather than being satisfied with comforting the lowly, Mary’s Lord lifts them up, granting them dignity and honor, a seat at the table and a voice in the conversation. At the same time, God shows strength by disrupting the world’s power structures, dethroning rulers, and humbling the mighty.
Both in Mary’s song and in Jesus’ ministry we see the God who loves us as we are but does not leave us as we are. He heals the lepers and unites them with their community. Zacchaeus, especially, shows us God’s saving love in action. Jesus brings Zacchaeus down from his wealth and up from his shame as a tax collector. In the process he frees him. Salvation has come to his house (Luke 19:9).
Mary’s song magnifies the Savior who loves the whole world with a love that makes creation whole. God’s saving judgment is for all of us, bringing us down from the pride that fills us with ourselves until we can’t see either God or neighbor, bringing us up from the shame that distorts our worldview and convinces us that no one — not even God — could love us. The mother of the Messiah has experienced God’s blessing. She is not #blessed. Her blessing, like ours, is a cross-shaped blessing,
This week’s focus on Sacred Places points us to the places within ourselves as well as places in our homes and organizations, not to mention Mother Earth as needing our recognition of sacrality and justice. Concern for the planet and for our social fabric. This is not so much about gender, but about the capacity to create something and to nurture it to fullness.
Rohr says that “creation is the First Bible, and it existed for 13.7 billion years before the second Bible was written” (page 12, Universal Christ). I invite us to look closely at their surroundings and to see the sacred reflected there. Rohr’s theology is a form of panentheism. This is different from pantheism in that he does not say all things are God. But God is in all things. This is a really important distinction!
[All of creation] is “Real Presence.” We could call it the primordial “Christification” or anointing of the universe at Creation. This is not pantheism (God is everything), but panentheism (God is in everything!). Such a central message of cosmic incarnation was never seriously taught in the Western, overly individualistic church, except by a few like Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179), Francis of Assisi (1181-1226), and Bonaventure (1221-1274). It was much more common in the Eastern Church, especially in early scholars and mystics like Maximus the Confessor, Gregory of Nyssa, and Symeon the New Theologian.
Inspired by the more contemporary mystic scientist, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Franciscan sister and scientist Ilia Delio writes: “Christ invests himself organically within all creation, immersing himself in things, in the heart of matter, and thus unifying the world. The universe is physically impregnated to the very core of its matter by the influence of his superhuman nature. Everything is physically ‘Christified,’ gathered up by the incarnate Word as nourishment that assimilates, transforms, and divinizes. [Ilia Delio,
The Unbearable Wholeness of Being: God, Evolution, and the Power of Love (Orbis Books: 2013), 2] the 14th century German mystic Meister Eckhart asked a rather provocative question for his time when he wrote what is the good of Mary giving birth to the son of God all those years ago if I do not give birth to God today. We are all mothers of God he writes, or God is always needing to be born. we are all mothers of God where God is always needing to be born more recently grace Jansen wrote in her book Becoming Divine that maybe we should think about shifting our focus in our theology from being preoccupied with violence and sacrifice and death and built upon mortality and instead be preoccupied with birth and the wonder and the hope and possibility that comes with that. She asked a similar question what Christianity would look like if the focus were birth not death, human flourishing not suffering, and this world not the next.
Advent is a time for pondering those kinds of questions as you and I prepare for Jesus to be born anew in our hearts. Can we make Mary’s song our song and live like we believe that God can turn the world around? are we willing to partner with God to help that happen? Are we willing to walk away empty so that the hungry may be filled and you and focus on birthing God into the world each day by the choices that we make?
I believe the answer to all those questions is yes but like Mary we must have courage we must have the confidence of our faith my soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior for the Mighty One has done great things for me and holy is his the name.
Perhaps the shiny decorations on our Christmas tree will remind us that the universe is physically impregnated to the very core of its matter. It is anointed from its beginning “Christified.” May our community and its surroundings shine with the reflection of the sacred, and may our own eyes be anointed to see it.