First United Methodist Church – Omaha
Dr. Cynthia Lindenmeyer
December 24, 2017 – Fourth Sunday of Advent
Scripture: Luke 1:28-31, 46-55
Sermon: “Magnificat Prequel 2017”
28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” 29 But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30 The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus.
46 And Mary said: “My soul MAGNIFIES the Lord 47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48 for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, 49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me— holy is his name. 50 His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. 51 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. 52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. 53 He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. 54 He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful 55 to Abraham and his descendants forever, just as he promised our ancestors.”
Our Scripture today is known as The Magnificat. If Disney bought the rights to the Bible, then I envision their first film would be “The Christmas Story According to the Gospel of Luke” because the first two chapters resemble a musical. Everyone is bursting out in song: Zechariah, angels, Simeon and in today’s Scripture Mary sings, “My soul magnifies the Lord.”
The songs we sing in Advent come with memories—and we connect our own story with the story of those in our Scriptures who also hoped for light to overcome darkness, for the rich to one day help the poor, for the rulers to use their power to help, not hurt. And it is easy for us to let go of the hopes and dreams we have as individuals and as a community when the hits keep coming—ecological tragedies, racial injustice, politics that seem to thrive on greed. We sing to find our voices!
Do we need an angel to come to us so we can break forth in song?
Every character in a story has a long and detailed past, referred to as a backstory. Most people probably know Mary as the mother of Jesus, but how did she get to that point? What is the prequel to the pure joy captured in the words and music of The Magnificat?
Driving back from Colorado a few weeks ago, running on fumes, I had to stop at one of those gas stations in the middle of nowhere. The headlines on the front page of the local newspaper led me to buy it: MIGRANTS TO BLAME FOR LOW TEST SCORES. A graph chart revealed that the nearby school district received the lowest scores on the Nebraska State Assessments.
Small towns in Nebraska, I learned, can be quite conservative. On a Tuesday night to hear the concerns of parents, the school board assembled an open informal meeting in the high school cafeteria; remnants of lunch still covered the floor. Nearly 300 people filled the room and its capacity was only 250. Many were angered when migrants took up half the school cafeteria. More shocking, their rowdy kids attended as well, even though the e-mail specifically said “adults only.” The article speculated that possibly the younger ones came to serve as translators since very few of the mothers and fathers understood English.
One family drew the most attention. They had their kids with them, to include “the girl,” the scandalous teenage daughter everyone knew about. The middle school students’ SnapChat stories led to a frenzy of tweets that went viral in the town. Yes, the locals all knew who she was—the pregnant eighth grade student who had the audacity to keep attending school. Finding out who the father was dominated the gossip not only at Lola’s beauty salon, but also at Huskers, the only sports bar in town. Teens secretly tracked her progression on Instagram, covertly taking pictures as she walked by in the school hallway. She hadn’t been to the doctor yet, but as soon as she was spotted leaving the Main Street office, no doubt Dr. Martin would succumb to the pressure of his friends to divulge some sort of information.
School was miserable for the pregnant teenager. She heard the whispers. Every day at school even the other migrant kids would taunt her wanting to know who she slept with. Rumors were flying around that the father could be the young Hispanic wood shop teacher—for why else would a migrant girl volunteer to take woodshop? Girls were supposed to take the home economics type electives.
Her own father threatened her every night to tell him; “Were you drunk? Were you raped?” he would yell in anger. She was so confused. All the sex education classes and nothing explained how she became pregnant. She didn’t drink. Or go to parties. And did not have a boyfriend. Her mother would just cry when she saw her, saying over and over, “You haven’t even had your Quinceañera yet!”
No one believed her that she had no idea how she got pregnant. Not her best friend, not even her own sister who avoided her and hadn’t spoken to her in weeks. She had no one to talk to, not even the priest since her family was no longer welcome at church. In fact, they were not welcome anywhere.
As PowerPoint slides illustrated the downward trend of scholastic scores, the temperature of the room began to rise as did the tempers of the white locals. The teachers blamed the increasing enrollment numbers, but the principle pointed towards the dark color skinned people in the room—“They can’t keep coming here and expect us to teach their kids.” A large man sitting next to the girl kept sneering at her.
The mayor of the town, wearing a “Make America Great Again” cap and red “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas” sweater, strutted to the microphone and said he had the answer—his family (he reminded everyone) knew the governor, and he could make one phone call that would fix everything. “I’ll tell the governor we need better immigration and customs enforcement. I have here a petition we can sign to enforce the Homeland Security Act and then ICE can fix our problem for us.” Cheers erupted throughout the room.
The parents of the pregnant teenager leaned over to ask her what was being said, “Que dice?” She explained and saw her mom and dad look very scared.
Reinforced by the affirmation, the mayor went on: “And I have the authority to ban all illegals from local businesses. We don’t have to allow them in our stores,” and he turned to the principal, “or our schools. From this moment on, these people are not welcome here.”
More cheers from the white townspeople. And then the cheers turned into chaos as the locals turned on the migrants. She rushed to get up and follow her family, but she stood up too fast and the dizziness caused her to lose her balance and fall down. She was getting trampled, and something sharp had caused a gash in her arm. The larger man who had sneered at her earlier raised his fist and with tremendous force brought his fist down hard on her face—she could not see out of her left eye, felt warm blood running down her cheek. She could hear screams. Where did her family go? Time seemed to stand still. She was beginning to black out when she experienced a light surrounding her, like a force field that was protecting her. Then a hand gently reached toward her. As she was lifted to her feet, an angel stood before her and with a breath from heaven spoke kindly:
“Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you!”
She saw light coming from her wound on her arm. The angel said, “The wound is the place where the light enters you, for those with scars are healers.”
And in a moment, suddenly, the girl saw a vision of the hope where the wrongs of history would be made right. She realized why she was pregnant, and that she carried the one who would disrupt the status quo and bring peace. She looked around her at the chaos and no longer feared. She could see into the future, to a time when her people would be fed, and feed others; when her people would be blessed and bless others; when her people would receive equality and bring equality to others. She was chosen by God, and no one on Earth could shame her. And for the first time in her life, as she placed her hand on her pregnant belly, she experienced pure joy and burst into song, singing “My soul magnifies the Lord!”