Sermon For December 15 – Advent 3 – Isaiah 42:5-16 – Joy

Luke 1:46-66 – Mary’s Magnificat and the birth of John the Baptist

“Discover The Light: The Light Brings Joy – By Upsetting The Status Quo”

Franklin Circle Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

Cleveland, Ohio ~

Rev. Allen V. Harris, Pastor & Preacher

Twitter: @FranklinCircle ~ Pastor’s Blog:

To watch a video of this sermon, go online to:

IMG_2642Sometimes a light isn’t something that comes from outside but something that is turned on from within oneself.  Sometimes a light isn’t something that illuminates what is but sheds light on what might be.  Sometimes a light isn’t that which calms fears, but that which upsets the status quo and unnerves complacency.

How many of us have ever found ourselves in a tight fix, a difficult place, an uncomfortable arrangement, or a compromising position?  All of us at one time or another, I suspect.  How many of us have just gone along with the flow of things even when we did not think the direction we were headed was the right one?  My hope is that is an unfamiliar situation for most of us, but I fear otherwise.  I now otherwise for myself.

But lets think more positively.  How many of us when things were not right, out of sorts, difficult had that light turn on inside us – in our hearts, our heads, our souls, wherever – that shed light on the subject at hand and gave us the insight, courage, or just plane chutzpah to do something different, which is another way of saying we changed the course of history?

marysmagnificatMary had just such a moment of revelation and inner illumination.  Into her world – which was a grim and daunting world at best – came news that would turn her life upside down: she, an unwed young woman living on the edges of poverty in a country occupied by a power-hungry peoples hell-bent on world domination – was pregnant.  Again, how many of us can relate to that instantaneous moment when our lives changed by one single piece of news: the test came back positive, there were no survivors, the contract was rejected, the bid wasn’t accepted, the diploma will not be issued, the test came back negative, the position has already been filled, the letter was returned undeliverable, the fire took everything, the phone number has been changed…

Lives turn topsy turvey in an instant, sometimes giving us negative news.  But our worlds can be upended for good news, too: the reason you’re so sick is because you are so pregnant, the new job requires a move across country, your sister needs you to keep her son for “awhile,” you’ve been accepted to the school you never imagined you’d get into, you’re a perfect match for the transplant, he said yes, she said yes, your essay was accepted, the management position is yours if you’ll take it…

In either instance, there is no magic in the response, only everything you are and all that you’ve worked to be is needed in an instant, a breath, right now.  The singing group “The Flirtations” have a song called “Something Inside So Strong.”  Sometimes responding to worlds being turned upside down involves tapping into something inside that is so strong you never imagined it would be there to draw upon.  But at other times what it takes is to dive into the abyss of the unknown, the vulnerable, the not-quite-yet-ready-for-prime-time courage and just do what only instinct and dumb luck might have you do.  I’m not sure exactly what it was for Mary, or for Elizabeth her cousin, but it seemed that both of them had allowed to surface that which the years of being immersed in their religious tradition and constant prayer often brings: faith.  Not something you can buy off the shelf nor work on a the office, the gym, or the yoga studio.  Just faith nurtured in so many ways: at the synagogue or church, at home, at the knees of your parents and grandparents, on the long walk, in the library, in the quiet place in your heart.

Certainly what we learn about from Mary is that wherever we might find that faith to respond to life’s incredible moments of upheaval and change, we cannot tie it to keeping the status quo.  In fact, it is when we respond thinking that after all is said and done things will look pretty much the same, life will go on as before, and nobody will notice anything different that we really mess things up – ourselves first and foremost.  If we pretend that responding faithfully to life’s incredible challenges will result in life as is we risk distorting the outcome in ways that are not only unhealthy, but dangerous.

You see, Mary was crystal clear in her response of not just accepting but celebrating this life-altering news of the impending birth of a child – and a very special child at that – that the world was going to change, and change significantly.  The light that turned on inside of her soul shone beyond her being to illuminate the fact that the world around her was out of kilter for many if not most of its citizens and something needed to change.  The inequities and injustices suffered by the vast majority of her people, and poor marginalized people like her around the world, had unfortunately become the status quo and her news helped to make clear this was unacceptable.  That is why she sang:

Mary & Elizabeth

Mary & Elizabeth

God’s mercy is for those who fear God from generation to generation.  God has shown strength with God’s arm; has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. 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.

And likewise Elizabeth understood that this baby born an old woman and an old man would be a baby who would challenge the sins of a corrupt world and face the consequences of such revolutionary behavior!

This is not the first time such news changed the world.  Hannah had sang a similar song when she was informed of her pregnancy and the impending birth of Samuel.  And Isaiah, who spoke to a peoples upended by exile, occupation, and the destruction of all that was sacred to them, was able to sing:

See, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare; before they spring forth, I tell you of them. Sing to the Lord a new song, God’s praise from the end of the earth!

My beloved, things happen, and sometimes really life-altering things happen: horrible, wonderful, and everything in between.  This is not God’s doing, it is the way of creation.  We have very little control over much of what happens that turns our worlds upside down.  But what we do have more control over, if we’ve allowed our lives to be steeped in the faith of the ages, is to respond in such a way as to understand the changes that are thrust upon our lives can be transformed into Good News for us and for the world around us.  Does this mean things will stay the same, that complacency can be coddled and the status quo maintained?  Not on your life!!!!

But what it does mean is that what can come afterwards can give us joy!  Joy just like we expected?  Probably not.  Most certainly not.  But joy nonetheless!  Mary’s joy, Elizabeth’s joy, Isaiah’s joy, our joy is not that the light that is turned on inside us shows us pretty and sweet and comforting things, but that the light that beams from within shows us the way things can be: justice, equality, right-relationship, dignity, respect, and joy.  Let us look for the light that comes from within and seek out the joy that is possible, no matter what our circumstances are.

Thanks Be To God!