Thursday, December 26, 2019

Advent Magnificat Series | Luke 1:54-55: Blessed to Receive the Promise w/ Our Ancestors w/ Scott Brill + Saturday, December 21

Advent 2019: The Magnificat for Every Tribe, Tongue, and Nation (Luke 1:45-55)

I don't think The Magnificat is done with us. In 2020, I think Mary still wants to sing to us, individually and as a local church. 

Sermon Scriptures | Luke 1:54-55

Sermon Manuscript for "Blessed to Receive the Promise with Our Ancestors w/ Scott Brill 

I am once again honored to preach to you this afternoon, and I am definitely honored by the “company of preachers” from the past month or so that I get to join – Pastor Tim, Pastor Tra’vorus, Mike, and last week, Katie. I consider myself blessed to be able to sit under your teaching – and pray that my teaching is a continuation of yours.

There is also another “company” of preachers that I stand in this afternoon – in particular, three men whose preaching God has used to deeply shape my life in Him. Two of them, Scotti Old and Ed Danks, are now at rest with our ancestors – in the same way, I pray that my preaching today is also a continuation of theirs.

1) Continuity

So let’s pick up on that idea of continuation – or continuity – because Mary’s song definitely does. As we linger one last time in Advent – with Christmas mere days away – and as we immerse ourselves one more time in Mary’s song, we are paying particular attention to the last two verses: “He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, 55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

As these verses show us, Mary is a woman deeply rooted. As a teenager, without much formal education (which would have been unavailable to her as an adolescent woman…) she knows the story of her people from their Scriptures. She is connected to those who have come before her. She has taken their longings and the promises from God that they had been clinging to throughout the centuries – and she has made them her own. Her joyful song is not just about the present (she is literally pregnant with God’s redemption) or about the future (that the child in her womb will one day grow up to be the risen and ascended Savior and coming-again Judge of the world). Mary’s song is about the past. It is a song of Tradition.

Now “tradition” can be a great thing. In the next couple of days, we will all step into traditions that are very important to our families. In the Brill household, as our girls all return for Christmas, there are some things that must be so – the tree has to be decorated a certain way, baby Jesus must go in the manger before we open stockings, we must have the same food (including my Christmas Eve birthday cheesecake – an essential tradition!)

Our traditions are great things when they are our traditions. But when you get to mixing traditions things can get a little dicey. In August, Kathryn and Warren will get married and next year you’ll have to bring together Brill Christmas traditions and McGee Christmas traditions – and work out something that honors the past but also looks forward to the future. For me, that also embodies what I love about Emmaus City Church. To be a truly multi-denominational, multi-generational, multi-ethnic congregation means everyone’s a little comfortable and a little uncomfortable at the same time. It should be that way. That’s the soil that love grows in.

With that in mind, let me fully press in to the first point of my sermon by making nearly everyone in this worship space uncomfortable: Which is that we are blessed to receive God’s promise within the traditions of our ancestors – including the tradition of Mary herself. Because most of my ministry work with InterVarsity is in contexts where Protestants and Catholics come together for mission, I’ve become familiar with the ways in which Protestants are kind of allergic to Mary. There are a lot of reasons for that. The divisions of the past 500 years between Catholics and Protestants are deep, long and painful. And like in all family fights, we have tended to denigrate what is held dear by the folk we’re fighting with. If you Catholics are going to elevate and revere Mary, then we Protestants are going to make her an afterthought – no one really that special.

It is unfortunate, because she is “Notre Dame”
 – our Lady, too. She belongs to the whole church. Because (as we’ve seen) her song is a song for all of us, and her “yes” to God (totally unique in the whole of Scripture) is a “yes” on behalf of all of us. You may have noticed I brought along another edition of “Scott’s sermon show and tell.”

This is an icon (another tradition of the Church!) called “Theotokos of the Unburnt Bush” 300 A.D. or so, Christians attempted to locate holy sites from the OT and build churches or shrines there. One of those was the traditional site of Moses and the burning bush. That quickly became associated with Mary, because she too held the holy presence of God but was not consumed by it.

Theotokos of the Unburnt Bush

This icon shows Mary in solidarity with her ancestors – with Jacob, Moses, Isaiah and Ezekiel. Mary is at the center, because while all these men had spectacular encounters with God’s holiness (and felt fortunate to have lived through it), this woman had God’s holiness inside her.

So we need to consider our reaction to her. Elizabeth was right in her greeting to Mary: “Blessed are you among women – and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus.” Perhaps we need to consider how God may be inviting each of us, and all of us, to move her from the outer edges …

I don’t know the whole story about why we are focusing on Mary and her song in these last weeks of 2019. But I don’t think we’re done with it in 2020. I think the challenge to each of us is to consider how Mary wants to still sing to us – individually and as a local church – into 2020. I commend that to your reflection and prayers over the next few weeks.

2) Solidarity

And now I need to move on to the other two points of this sermon. Mary’s song is a song of continuity with the past – and it becomes our song of continuity with her. But it is also a song of solidarity – both past and present. Mary has taken to her herself the longings of the generations of her people. She knows what to expect when she is expecting justice. She knows that while it looks on the outside as though nothing has changed, her seemingly small “yes” to God has changed everything.

Remember when Mike started the sermon series by recounting the prophetic songs of young women from the late 90s and early 2000s. I was a little surprised that “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” was not on that list. In particular, the first track on that album, “Lost Ones”, is a song very much aligned with Mary’s song of turning the tables on the rich and powerful (and ultimately on the devil).

From the opening line “go line up the revolutionaries” the song churns out image after image of reversals (many of them biblical) and build to the refrain of “You might win some, but you just lost one” To me this is perfect anthemic refrain for Mary’s seemingly small ‘yes’: “hey powers and principalities; hey Satan – you might win some, but you just lost one” and that “lost one” to the devil’s voice – in contrast to our mother Eve in the garden – is going to make all the difference in the salvation of the world.

Also throughout this series, we’ve heard stories about faithful women who have said “yes” to Jesus – Fannie Lou Hamer, Mary Paik Lee. So I have another one for you: Chiara Lubich. Chiara grew up in the 20s and 30s as poor Catholic girl in depression-ravaged Trent, Italy. In 1943, in the midst of an Allied bombing campaign against her city, Chiara and some of her young women friends began to read the gospels together as they huddled in the bomb shelter (quite unusual for Catholics of that time to be reading Scripture outside the liturgy). In the midst of their shared suffering, the gospels began to come alive to them in Mary’s words to the servants at Cana wedding in John 2: “do whatever he tells you.” This commitment to living the gospel – and especially the commands of Jesus to love one another and lay down one’s life for one’s friends began to draw more and more people to their little community, which became known as the Focolare (an Italian word meaning “hearth”). The Focolare are now one of the largest lay communities of Catholics (and includes non-Catholics as well) in the world and Chiara herself became a spiritual guide to many people – including Pope John Paul II.

Here’s a quote from Chiara on how “doing” or “living” the great reversal of the Magnificat influenced the early ministry of the Focolare:

We had aimed at the poorest areas of Trent, in the effort to kindle the love the Gospel speaks of there, looking after the needy with the help of those who were better off. By doing so, we hoped to bring about equality in fraternity in the city. This activity won the esteem of the local politicians and aroused their desire to do likewise on a larger scale. Consequently, instead of a vicious circle, mutual love created a virtuous circle which re-established trust, re-opened hope and recomposed the torn personal and civil bonds. In a context of war-caused lawlessness, we started out again from love—the law of laws, the supreme value, the principle and synthesis of all values. This love, capable of re-building community, brought about unity among citizens which is the essential premise of any communal life.

I think Chiara’s “yes” to Jesus, modeled after Mary – is a challenge to me and to us, Emmaus City: How is Jesus calling me, calling us together, to build a virtuous circle, rather than a vicious one – and to be a part of the “great reversal” here in Worcester by fostering mutual love? To see more “lost ones” to the devil through our sharing and self-giving?

3) Abundant Life

In this passage, we’ve seen that Mary’s song is a song of continuity, it’s a song of solidarity, but there’s more going on there, and it’s found in the very last word of her song – “forever.” So Mary’s song is also a song about the future I have to admit I’m kind of put off that word ‘forever’ – it sounds a little too “happily ever after” for me. And I’m not a happily-ever-after kind of guy. It’s probably appropriate that I’m preaching on the darkest day of the year. Those of you who’ve spent some time with me know that I can be a pretty skeptical and even cynical person. If you’re having too much fun at your holiday party, I’m the guy you need to invite. I’ll come throw the proverbial wet blanket on the festivities.

My own internal refrain is the exact opposite of Mary’s song; on repeat inside my head often is the phrase: “This isn’t going well, and probably isn’t going to end that well” And in a way I’m right. At some point it’s not going to “end well” for any of us. As the English writer George Bernard Shaw once said: “the statistics on death are overwhelming; one out of every one person dies” This is why the manufactured happiness that is promoted during the Christmas season can feel pretty unreal to some of us. And for others even a place of pain and grief – as we connect more to the memories of loved ones we have lost or trauma we have experienced around this time of the year.

But – and now I’m preaching to myself – Mary’s song is about way more than having yourself a merry little Christmas and muddling through somehow. Mary is inviting us further down – into the pain and grief and out the other side. Mary’s song is a song of life. Life for us. Life for Mary. Life for “servant Israel”; life for Abraham. She is not evoking the memories of her ancestors. She is fully aware that they are alive and present with her. The promise of God to them was not some far-off distant hope for a better future for their descendants. The promise of God to them was that they would not die. That the better future for the world included them in a resurrected life.

It’s interesting to me that when Jesus confronted the resurrection skeptics in Mark 12, he invokes the story of Moses in the burning bush: 26 And as for the dead being raised, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the story about the bush, how God said to him, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? 27 He is God not of the dead, but of the living; you are quite wrong.”

Yes, Jesus, remind me again that I am “quite wrong” to become so fixated on death and darkness that I lose sight of life and light that you have promised. 

When you and I were baptized, there was a promise spoken over us. It was the promise that was present to Jacob (Israel) through the ladder at Bethel. It was present to Moses at the burning bush. It was present to Isaiah and Ezekiel when they were called to be prophets. It was the promise that was present to Mary at the annunciation and in her Magnificat. It is the promise has been present and spoken to every generation of Christians since then, for 20 centuries. It is the promise of eternal life. The promise that Jesus will not leave you in your sins or in your grave, but that he is coming to turn the world around. To bring the new heavens and the new earth and that you and everyone who shares in that promise will stand on that new earth with him in resurrected glory.

And it is a promise that will be repeated in the eucharist that we are about to share. The promise that it is not just us who are sharing it, but that Jesus is giving himself to all of his people together at the same time. We enter a space that is time outside of time. And all those who have gone before us in Jesus are alive in Jesus with us.

In my own Lutheran tradition there are two reminders of this: First is the architecture of some churches, with the communion rail in a semi-circle around the table – this is designed to remind you that the semi-circle is completed on the “other side” and that when you knell to receive Jesus, others are present (your ancestors) that you cannot see. Second, at the end of one of the prayers that is used in the Eucharist: “Join our prayers with those of your servants of every time and every place, and unite them with the ceaseless petitions of our great high priest until he comes as victorious Lord of all.”

As the worship team comes up to prepare us for sharing this last Advent meal together, I invite you to reflect in prayer. Is there something that Jesus is inviting you into this evening – from the traditions of the past, from the work of the present, or from the future hope of life together?

Advent is here. The light has come and the darkness cannot overcome it. Let's anticipate how Jesus, our Emmanuel, God with us, is bringing wonder, beauty, grace, and power during this season. Some of us sing because we believe. Some sing or listen until belief comes. Together, we step into holy imagination.

Call to Worship Psalm 22:3-5

You are enthroned as the Holy One;
You are the one Israel praises.
4 In You our ancestors put their trust;
they trusted and You delivered them.
5 To You they cried out and were saved;
in You they trusted and were not put to shame.

Joy to the World
Isaac Watts, 1719 A.D.

All of heaven and all creation sing
The wonders of His love!

Joy to the world, the Lord is come!

Let earth receive her King;

Let every heart prepare Him room,

And heaven and nature sing ... (x2)
And heaven and heaven and nature sing! (Refrain)

No more let sins and sorrows grow,

Nor thorns infest the ground;

He comes to make His blessings flow

Far as the curse is found ... (x2)
Far as, far as the curse is found! (Refrain)

He rules the world with truth and grace,

And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,

And wonders of His love ... (x2)
And wonders, wonders of His love!

A Day of Glory
Austin Stone Worship, 2012 A.D.

A day, a day of promise,
A hope to end our woe,
A day that tells of triumph
Against our vanquished foe!

In flesh His entrance humble,
The swaddling clothes His robe,
The meek displayed in power,
The Prince of Peace now known!

Let angels shout the triumph
As mortals raise their voice,
"Behold the Son of heav'n and earth,
The King of kings is born!"

A day, a day of glory,
When Jesus calls us home.
Our glorious King eternal
Returning for His own! (Chorus)

Gloria, gloria, gloria,
Our King has come! (Repeat 2x + Chorus)

What Mercy Did for Me
People & Songs, 2017 A.D.

I was hopeless, I knew I was lost.
Death and darkness were my only songs.
I needed someone to come rescue me
Then mercy heard my plea ...

Lord, You found me, You healed me,
You called me from the grave!
You gave me Your real love,
I thank You, Jesus,
You washed my sins away!
Oh, now I'm living like I'm forgiven,
You came and set me free!
That's what Your mercy did for me! 

You gave me beauty for my guilty stains
And now I'm living today by His grace.
So excuse me if I can't contain my praise
'Cause I know that I've been changed!

Every morning mercy will restore me, I will proclaim!
And even if the world should fall before me, I will proclaim!

O Come All Ye Faithful
John Francis Wade, 1751 A.D.

O come all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant!

O come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem;

Come and behold Him born the King of angels:
O come let us adore Him ... (3x)

Christ the Lord!

God of God, light of light,

Lo, He abhors not the Virgin's womb;

Very God, begotten, not created:

O come let us adore Him ... (3x)

Christ the Lord!

Sing choirs of angels, sing in exultation,
Sing all ye citizens of Heaven above!

Glory to God, glory in the highest:

O come let us adore Him ... (3x)

Christ the Lord!

The Cradle and the Cross
Austin Stone Worship, 2013 A.D.

Oh the beauty and the loss
Of the cradle and the cross,
The Son of God so humbly sent for us.
Into darkness came the light,
Faith of fathers became sight

When the Christ arrived to save the fold of God.

Humanity embraced, He left a perfect place,
The prize of God in lowly manger lay.
Angels shout with joyous song,
Saints and sinners sing along

In the highest place, "Glory, Gloria!"

Immanuel, God with us!
The Lamb of God slain for us!
Finally, our hope’s secured
By the beauty of the cradle and the cross.

The Creator of the stars,
Then in flesh received the scars

On the cross He paid the debt of sinners earned.
And even death could not Him hold,
Peace on earth we see unfold
As the risen Christ ascends in victory! (Chorus)

Stars and angels sing around You, "Gloria!"

Hearts unfold like flowers before You, "Gloria!"
Joyful, joyful, we adore You, "Gloria!" (Chorus)

Prayers of Confession and Assurance

One: Jesus, today, we join in singing Your words
to the next generation. We confess we need You to ...

Congregational Prayers: "Lord, hear our prayer."

One: And now we pray together, Jesus, as You taught us to pray ...

All: Our Father who is in heaven, hallowed be Your name.
Your Kingdom come, Your will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread
and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive
those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation, but
deliver us from evil for Thine is the
Kingdom and the power and the glory
now and forever. Amen.

Pass the Peace | In the Story of God, Jesus declared, "Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you" (John 14:26) during humanity's darkest, most tragic weekend of His death. And then after Jesus was crucified and resurrected, defeating evil and death, He said, "Peace be with you ... Receive the Holy Spirit" (John 20:21-22). Somehow, with Jesus, peace is possible even in our darkest moments. During this time, we desire to share with each other peace that passes understanding, empowered by the Spirit of Christ.

The peace of the Lord by always with you.
And also with you.

Prayers of Preparation for Eucharist
Matthew 26:26-291 Corinthians 11:23-26

Prayer Asking for Jesus' Help
Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me. I want to see. Please reveal to me who You are. Give me ears to hear You, and understanding for the Good News You are saying to me today. Amen.

Prayer for Communion with Jesus and Each Other
Jesus, by Your Spirit, fill us with Yourself, the true Bread and Vine. We turn to You now to unite us, strengthen us, and empower us to be Your Kingdom family of servants and witnesses together until You return and make all things new. Amen.

'19 Advent Prayer | We Magnify You, Jesus!

Jesus, our Immanuel, God with us, reveal You are here now. Disrupt our way of life without You. If in the darkness of Mary's womb, the holy child grew, You can grow in us. If in the darkness of the world's pain, Your blessed light came and overcame, You can overcome the darkness in us and spark Your light and love to spread through us. In our own doubting of You, and of ourselves, cause us to be born again to a living hope that begins to grow like a lump in the throat: the holy hope that You came and still come to us, that You will be born again in our midst. 
When people in the 1980s in Guatemala began to sing Mary's Magnificat song, the government outlawed this first Advent hymn. It was deemed too dangerous and revolutionary because children, women, and men began to believe that freedom and change were indeed possible, and that following the way of Jesus would interrupt the flow of civilization as they knew it. Lord Jesus, our Savior, open our mouths and our hearts to sing with them the words of Your mother, Mary, 'My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for He has looked with grace and favor on us, His humble servants! ... The Mighty One has done great things for us and holy is His name! ... ' 
Holy Spirit of God, make us believe the Magnificat's words are true, that You look on us and intend to bring the same dynamic change in us and through us. Make us good like You and beautifully dangerous, embodying the words, works, and way of Jesus that transform lives in Worcester and beyond. We pray all these things in humble, hungry, holy, and hopeful confidence because we are praying in King Jesus' almighty name. Amen.
+ Prayer adapted from "A Divine Disruption" by Christiana Rice & "Come and See" by Frederich Buechner

Our World Belongs to God Q&A 23 | 2008 A.D.

Q. Why do we magnify the Lord and rejoice 

with Mary that Jesus Christ, the Messiah, is born?

A. Remembering the promise
to reconcile the world to Himself,
God joined our humanity in Jesus Christ—
the eternal Word made flesh.
He is the long-awaited Messiah,
one with us and one with God,
fully human and fully divine,
conceived by the Holy Spirit
and born of the virgin Mary.

Benediction Based on The Magnificat

Go with our Lord Jesus Christ and and be blessed.
Magnify Him and rejoice that He is Immanuel, God with us.
Hallelujah! We are not alone! God's mercy and favor on
us is displayed in the birth of Jesus. God is revealing
peace on earth in all of us who are willing to be born again
in Christ. Be full, be lifted up. As you have freely received,
freely give for the glory of God, for the love of others, and
for the life of the world.

Next sermon audio + liturgy notes post: Benedictus | Blessed to Prepare the Way of the Lord in '20

Emmaus City Church is a local church made up of Micro City Groups.

A Micro City Group (CG) is a growing group that begins with 3+ people – children, women, and men included – who are befriending, serving, and loving a community together in Jesus' name in Worcester. Micro CGs start small enough that people can know you and value you, but seek to grow large enough (10-30 people) to make an impact in communities throughout Worcester. Each CG gets together throughout a month (i.e. dinners, times of prayer or learning from the Story of God in the Bible, acts of service, parties, etc.) to see Worcester become a city of neighbors and friends that showcase Jesus' love and compassion to all. Those who are cautious or curious to hear and see what it means to follow Jesus are just as welcome as those who believe Jesus is Lord and God and seek to follow Him in every area of life.

Current Micro City Groups: Lincoln Village | W.R.A.P. | Recovery | YMCA | Route One | Westside 

To connect with one of the City Groups above, please contact

Christ is all,

Rev. Mike "Sully" Sullivan

No comments:

Post a Comment