Come by here, Lord. Come by here. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, for you are our strength and our Redeemer. Amen.
Good morning, Cathedral family! There is no question that I have heard more over the last few months than, “How will we ever get out of this?” In as much as this question is perhaps prompted by pandemic fatigue, it is really about much more than that. For this is in many respects, a universal human question that has been asked throughout various particularities of history. As we, as human beings, try to navigate our way through, if not out of, the culture of sin in which we seem to be trapped. A culture of sin is one that alienates us from God’s very hopes for God’s creation, for God’s world, for God’s people. And thus, it is a culture that alienates us one from another. Indeed, alienates us from our very divinely created selves.
In this, our particularity, it is a culture defined by our lurching, lurching, as a nation, as a people, between an exclusive notion of American exceptionalism and an inclusive vision of Liberty and justice for all. The culture of sin that is ours finds us betwixt and between the hard truths of history and the undemanding accounts of myths. Indeed, it is a culture that sees us as a nation and as a people lurching between health and well-being on the one hand and disease and ill-being on the other. In short, this is a culture that finds us in a kind of tug of war between our better and our worst selves. And so it is, that the question of how we ever get out of this is in reality, a question from a nation and a people asking, how we will ever get out of a culture of sin that is marked by dehumanizing racial and economic inequalities, demoralizing political and philosophical divides and devastating ecological and environmental destruction?
And this I know to be true. We can’t legislate or litigate our way out of it. And we certainly can’t harass or hate our way out of it. And so how, how are we ever it to get out of this culture of sin that undeniably fosters despair and death and not the joy in life that God wants for us all? The answer to this question begins with God’s unconditional love for us. For here’s the thing, our God who is perfect love, has loved us into life and is consistently loving us into loving. Loving us into loving our way out of this culture of sin in which we are trapped.
And this brings us to this Fourth Sunday of Advent. Advent, Cathedral Family, is the season on our Christian calendar that reminds us that our God is a God who is always coming toward us. Coming toward us in and out of love, loving us into loving our way out of that, which alienate us from God’s hope, from one another and from ourselves. And so what does this mean? What does the love of God look like that is coming toward us, loving us into loving? This brings us to our gospel reading this morning, where we find the Song of Mary, the Magnificat. Now, while this song is at once a song of praise and prophecy, reminiscent of the song of Hannah, song in thanksgiving for the birth of her son, Samuel, Mary’s song is also a song of love. For it makes clear through praise and prophecy, what it looks like for God to come in to our world, loving us into loving.
As Peruvian theologian, Gustavo Gutiérrez says, “The Magnificat expresses”, and he says humbly, “what it means to be loved by God”. And so, What does it mean? What does it mean that God comes loving us into loving? It means first and foremost, being proximate, being proximate with who those the world has deemed unlovable. “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord”, Mary sings, “my spirit rejoices in God my savior. For God has looked with favor on God’s lowly servant”. God has looked with favor upon God’s lowly servant.
There were no persons lowlier than women in the first century world that was Mary’s. A woman had virtually no existence apart from a man. In fact, somewhere between the ages of 12 and 14, around Mary’s age, girls pass from being under the rule of their father to being under the rule of their husband’s, husband’s chosen by their fathers. In Mary’s world, for a woman to be without a male guardian in her life was to be without a means to live, which meant a harsh reality, especially for widows. And to be sure, apart from a man, a woman was without voice for women were not allowed to speak in public. Moreover, women were not permitted to worship or even enter into the Inner Sanctum of the temple, that is, the place where God was believed to dwell like the altar or the sanctuary for that matter. Can you imagine the Cathedral without women? Yet this lowly woman, who was not even allowed into the temple, is the one chosen by God to be the bearer of the incarnate love, that is God. Not to even mention that other lowly woman, Elizabeth, who was chosen by God to bear the forerunner of God’s incarnate love.
Cathedral Family, the incarnate love of God that came into our world through Jesus made itself known and present through women, the lowliest of servants. And so it is, that the love of God that is always coming to us is loving us into being proximate, proximate, with the lowly servants of our world in this our time. That is those that are too often forgotten, the ones that are the marginalized, the poor, the ones that are deemed the problems. Those that have been regarded as perhaps essential laborers, but not essential persons. Similar to Elizabeth and Mary, as they were considered essential for giving labor to male heirs, but apart from that, not essential persons in society.
The point of the matter is that God comes to us, loving us into being proximate with the unloved in our society and in our world. And be clear. To be proximate is about more than pilgrimages or acts of services, sincere and important as those things may be. But rather the proximity, that God is loving us into, is about bringing to the top and indeed to the center, of our seeing, of our knowing, indeed of our being, the very history, experiences, stories, perspectives, and dreams of those Mary’s and Elizabeth’s of this, our world. Those whose history, whose knowledge, experience has been forgotten, marginalized and rejected just as they have been. As they are thought to possess nothing worth knowing. Yet here again, it is through the lowly servants that God comes. It is their perspective on the world that God favors. For who, who would know better, the sin shattering potential of God’s love than those who are most unloved by the world.
And so Mary sings, “God has looked with favor upon God’s lowly servant”. What does it mean for God to love us into loving? It means being proximate, proximate, with the lowly, and it means being pregnant with impossible possibilities. “Blessed are you among women. And blessed is the fruit of your womb”, said Elizabeth to Mary. How impossible it surely seemed in Mary’s first century world that a young girl without a husband would be pregnant and live to proclaim it. For an unwed pregnant woman in Mary’s world was subject to being stoned to death. And even more impossible would be the thought that this unwed girl would be pregnant with the Christ child. Simply, utterly, impossible. Yet that which was impossible by the standards of the world was possible with God. And so it is that the love that is God, which comes to us through Mary is a love that is pregnant with impossible possibilities. Loving us, loving us into expanding our very moral imaginations of the kind of love that is possible for our world.
Cathedral family, God does not play by, and is certainly not limited to, controlled, or constrained by our rules, our standards, our judgements, our norms, or even our logic in thinking, when it comes to what is possible for God’s world and for God’s people. The love of God coming to us is pregnant with impossible possibility that transcends as one writer puts it, “the laws, customs and coercions of our society, and even the demands of the church”. And so it is, so it is, a love, God’s love, that is loving us into expanding our very moral imagination of what a world could look like liberated from a culture of sin that discriminates, dehumanizes, and destroys people because of who they are or who they are not, or because of where they come from or don’t come from, or because of what they look like or don’t look like. And unfortunately, the list can go on.
Simply put, God is loving us into imagining a world marked by a peace that surpasses all human understanding. This is a peace where the violence that is poverty, inequity and inequality is no more. The God that comes to us is loving us into imagining a world, a world marked by a freedom where we are indeed free. Free from every yoke that would prevent us from living into our kinder, gentler, gracious, compassionate, better selves. And our God that is coming is loving us to imagine a world marked by a justice that is good news to the poor. A justice that truly sets at liberty all those who are oppressed. Such a world seems impossible, yet it is possible with God. The love of God, which comes through Mary is pregnant with impossible possibilities, loving us into the peace, the freedom, the justice, that is the love of God.
And this brings me to the final aspect of what it means for God to love us into loving. For when all is said and done, it means parity. Parity with our created humanity. “God 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 empty way”, Mary sings. Now some have suggested that these words of Mary’s reflect a great reversal where the positions of the world’s entitled privileged powerful, and the world’s unentitled unprivileged powerless are swapped. But such a reversal is some respects easy. But remember, God loves us into that which seems impossible. God loves us into that, which is not easy. And so Mary sings, not of an inverted reality where the ways of the world are turned upside down and those on top were consigned to the bottom rungs of society. while those on the bottom were elevated to the top rungs. No, no. Rather God is loving us into parity, parity with our created humanity. Put simply God is loving us into being, as my youngest sister would say, “the dressed-up dirt that we are”.
As you have heard me say from this pulpit before, but it bears repeating as God keeps trying to make this point in God’s coming to us, and that is this: no one, absolutely no one, is more or less worthy than a decent place to live, a secure job to work, enough food to eat, or the means to health and well-being, let long more or less deserving of being able to jog, sleep, drive or bird watch, without their lives being threatened. Because here is the thing. We are all lovingly created out of the dust of the earth as children of God. Each and every one of us from the person at the border to the person in a palace.
And so it is that God is loving us into parity with our created selves, which means into parity with one another so that there is no person, no community that lords over or subjugates another. And there is no person or no community that is lorded over by or subjugated by another. God is loving us into a world where all are treated as equal and thus have equal opportunity and access to that, which allows each and every person to flourish as the sacred beings that they are. And so it is such parity requires that the entitled, privileged powerful in this world be lowered and the unentitled unprivileged powerless in this world be lifted up, so that all are returned to the parity of their creation as sacred children of God. Nothing more and nothing less. And so it is that Mary sings, “God has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich empty away”. What does it mean for God to love us into loving? It means being proximate with the lowly, being pregnant with impossible possibilities. And it means parity with our sacred creation.
Now back to the beginning. How are we ever to get out of this? Cathedral Family, only that which is grounded in and defined by the love of God, truly transforms us in our world. And thus can truly free us from the culture of sin in which we are trapped. And so it is that this Advent Four reminds us that our God, our God out of love for us continues to come toward us, loving us into loving our way out of that, which stands between us a better world and a better people. Left for us to decide is if we will truly open ourselves to receiving and being bearers of God’s love and thus being able to sing with integrity, the Song of Mary, “our soul proclaims the greatness that is the love of God.” On this Advent Four, I pray that it be so. Amen.