On Advent 4C -December 19, 2021
For St James Lutheran Church and Episcopal Church of the Saviour in Hanford, CA.
Preachers who listen to the Sermon Brainwave podcast have been more or less challenged this week by Dr. Matt Skinner, so today, I begin with describing gnomic aorist tense in Greek. Now Greek is not for wimps and I find it much easier to understand on cold medication, so it’s ok for this to be too much on a Sunday morning.
Aorist tense is past tense. A completed thing. Done. But… as we all know, people have habits, an M.O.. A manner in which we can expect them to continue behaving because… they do! As such, a gnomic aorist verb indicates a completed thing, but one in which we can have reasonable expectation of continuing to happen because… it does.
And speaking of M.O…..
Have you ever wondered who the first Christians were? One could say we meet them today; we hear from them, and even more importantly, we hear their song and declaration.
Meet Elisabeth– whose old womb had failed her for many years, leaving her in a position of high authority and also considered a shame to her community and her husband, Zecharaiah, the high priest.
Elisabeth could be officially the first Christian, the first to claim out loud that Christ is her Lord. She looks to this much younger cousin and rather than dismissing her, she proclaims joy and awe, respect and wonder at the gift of their relationship when she has been ostracized and shunned for years. And she names the child in Mary’s womb as Lord.
Meet John– the babe well on his way to entering the world. Likely entering her last trimester, Elisabeth feels him leap within upon seeing Mary. John, who would be ostracized himself in many ways, who was a loner and, well, even to the Jewish people, weird. He would come to say that his cousin is far greater than himself. Humble and yet ready and eager to call out the behaviour of many alongside his cousin, he jumps with joy at the nearness of Jesus.
Meet Joseph -in the backstory, who we hear nothing from on the topic, but his actions speak louder than words. And he supports Mary in all the ways that really matter. She leaves their home, leaving him to tend to his own meals and care in order to go spend 3 months with her cousin. That says it all. His life was a living breathing example of service to the Lord.
And Mary. A woman of her time, full of youth, promise, and a baby who is not her husband’s. A woman who was a troublemaker of the best degree- willing to offer up her entire life and reputation for this promise from God. She does not dismiss her significantly older cousin, Elisabeth, but goes to her with joy. And when they greet, she sings her song of resistance to the troubles and injustice of the world.
It seems that God has a way of gathering the rag tag bunch of misfits as an M.O. Because here they are, the very first followers of this Christ, this messiah who is to come to save.
It seems an odd way to declare salvation to the world, two pregnant women who sing. As if that would change anything.
But it does; Mary’s declaration, her song of resistance is lifted up and recorded in writing, passed down and celebrated through the centuries to come. Yet she is of no account. She is nobody. And still, for centuries, her song was the only allowed song for Vespers!
The whole of it is odd. The whole of it breaks the ways in which we expect to hear from God and how power will be overthrown. And yet, it is just God’s way; God’s M.O. Mary’s song uses the gnomic aorist tense to share just how God has done all these wonderful things and WILL KEEP ON doing them.
God has gathered the ones society shunned. God will continue to gather the ones society will shun. God has filled prophets like Elizabeth and Mary with the Spirit and God will continue to raise up prophets, filling them with the Spirit. God has undone the power structures of humanity and God will continue to dismantle them. And God will do it in the least expected of ways, and will keep doing it in unexpected ways.
Advent is a time of preparation, a time of waiting. As followers of our Christ today, it is hard to prepare for something when we don’t know what we will need. How are we to prepare?
We respond as God’s people always have: we cry out to our God. And then we receive the gifts that God brings to us in order to be prepared:To be gathered into a rag tag bunch. To welcome others when they come to us. To open our hearts to the joyous filling of the Holy Spirit. To leap with joy at the one who brings good news to us. To sing of resistance and hold hope.
That is all we need to prepare. Because, as Mary sings with glee, God has done the rest, and God will keep doing the rest. That is God’s way…