Advent 4, Sunday, 23rd December, 2018 - Luke 1.39-55
Theme A Time for Celebration
For the past 4 Sundays we have been heading through Advent towards Christmas.
On the first Sunday, back on December 2nd we thought about Advent as a time of encouragement. It was a time of waiting, and therefore patience, which was strengthened by encouraging each other and giving each other hope. We tried to imagine what things were like for the little Jewish Christian community in Jerusalem a generation after Jesus’ death on the cross, resurrection and Ascension. There was no less waiting there than there had been for the Jews who had been waiting for a Messiah for hundreds of years.
On the second Sunday we thought about Advent being a time for renewal. This renewal was instigated by Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptist. We likened John and his role to that of the SES, RFS, police and other emergency services win a natural disaster. The people of these organisations warn people and help get them out of harm’s way. John lived in a situation in which the Jewish people were becoming more and more frustrated, chafing under the yoke of the Herodians and the Romans. They were inching towards military insurrection, but John, preparing the way for his cousins Jesus, offered instead personal and societal renewal, Violence was NOT the way, he argued. Instead, John’s agenda was “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins”. The task and destiny of Israel was not to become a great and powerful nations, but to lead the nations back to God. It was to be renewed, and to become the source of renewal. Last Friday was the 31st anniversary of my ordination.
It was also, much more importantly, the 200th anniversary since governor Lachlan Macquarie suggested that the continent on which we live be named not “new Holland”, but “Australia”. Australia nears “South Land”, and it is a shortening of the name that the Portuguese explorer Pedro Fernandes de Queirós gave it: “Australia del Espirito Santo” The South Land of the Holy Spirit”. Would it not be wonderful if Australia became known not as a country besotted with sport and characterised by petty selfishness. but as the south land of the holy spirit, famous as the source of renewal! The preparatory, renewing ministry of John the baptism, and the fantastic rescue work that our volunteers do give us a picture of what can be done spiritually.
Last Sunday we followed the theme of Advent as a time of justice. The selfishness and corruption that characterises so much of our public like, and that of other English-speaking countries, the US and Great Britain, works against Australia fulfilling our high calling to be the land of the Holy Spirit. John the baptist urged those around his to seek justice, and to be generous with what they had. That is equally applicable today.
And so to the 4th and last Sunday in Advent. When you have celebrated wildly, without inhibition? Advent is also a time of celebration. Somehow, lots of good church-attending people get the idea that moving your body in worship is sinful,
or at least a defective form of worship. That is enlightenment nonsense! My namesake David danced before the Ark of the Covenant as it was being brought into Jerusalem, to the disgust of his wife Michal. The foetus John the Baptist leapt in Elizabeth’s womb when Mary came visiting with the foetus Jesus. In her delight Elizabeth sang a song. You actually find lots of songs, or fragments of songs in Scripture. And so to Mary’s response, the famous Magnificat. It’s a song. In our day it might have been rap, in the sense that it might have been made up on the spot, brilliantly. But Mary’s song incorporates elements from Miriam’s song, and from Hannah’s song. So let me try it.
“My soul declares that the Lord is great,
my spirit exults in my saviour, my God.
He saw His servant-girl in her hu-mil-i-ty;
from now I’ll be blessed by all peoples to come.
The Powerful One, whose name is holy,
has done great things for me, for me.
His mercy extends from father to son,
from mother to daughter for those who fear Him.
Powerful things He has done with His arm:
He routed the arrogant through their own cunning.
Down from their thrones He hurled the rulers,
up from the earth he raised the humble.
The hungry He filled with the fat of the land,
but the rich he sent off with nothing to eat.
He has rescued his servant, Israel His child,
because he remembered His mercy of old,
just as He said to our long-ago ancestors -
Abraham and his descendants forever.”
The commentator’s says of the Magnificat:
“…if you lived in any kind of culture where rhythm and beat mattered, it would be the sort of song you could clap your hands to, or stamp on the ground. It’s one of the most famous songs in Christianity. It’s been whispered in monasteries, chanted in cathedrals, recited in small, remote churches by evening candlelight, and set to music with trumpets and kettledrums by Johan Sebastian Bach. It’s the gospel before the gospel, a fierce bright shout of triumph 30 weeks before Bethlehem, 30 years before Calvary and Easter. It goes with a swing and a cape and a stamp. It’s all about God sonf it’ all about revolution. And it’s all because of Jesus - Jesus who’s only just been conceived, not yet born, but who has made Elisabeth’s baby leap for joy in her womb and made Mary giddy with excitement and hope and triumph. In many cultures today,