You Gotta Love You Too
A sermon based on Luke 1: 30-56
given at Mount Vernon, Ohio on December 10, 2017
by Rev. Scott Elliott
Every Advent I preach a sermon relating to the Magnificat. That’s the name given to the song Mary sings in the part of Luke that serves as our Advent story today. It’s good song and a good story about good people and a good God. “Magnificat” refers to the first word of the song in Latin which means magnify – as Mary sings that her soul magnifies God. The word “Advent” literally refers to the anticipation, the coming, of the birth of Christ. At the is time of year the heart and soul of the season – and our church– magnifies the Nativity stories, the before, during and immediately after parts of Jesus’ arrival. Our lesson from Luke is a good one for Advent as it magnifies the anticipation, the “advent,” of Mary getting ready and hoping for the birth of that which she and God have conceived . . . a child . . . a child who’s life shows us what God incarnate looks like.
I am going to take the discussion on Mary in Luke down a new path for many of us, me included. There’s this unexplored area about Mary – how the hope of humankind depends in the story on her own self care. There’s no Magnificat to be sung unless the singer takes care. There’s no hope unless the bearer of Christ is healthy. That’s true of us as bearers of Christ.
The last couple of weeks we’ve discussed the aim of the Reign of Christ. The goal of Christ incarnate, is peace on earth good will to all. ALL. There is, of course, a lot of hope in that. Indeed I cannot think of a religion that does not offer hope, the expectation and desire for a better way. That’s what the very idea of God offers, a caring force that draws us to our best way of being. Many of you have heard me say that religion is about relationships with God in others and creation. The hope is that it betters those relationships to get us all individually and corporately to better ways of being.
Better ways of being for individuals can be a slippery slope. It can get abused to justify greed and avarice when it creates a me-over-everyone-one-else approach to living. There are even theologies that pitch self prosperity above others as gospel. That’s not what Christian self care is supposed to mean. It is not self over and above others. Jesus instructs us to love others as we love our self. That literally means that others’ well being must be equally as important as our well being, BUT it also means our well being must be equally important as others’ well being.
Here’s a truth some of us MAY not have considered about others in church before, many of us have come to church because something is not right– not healthy in one way or another in our lives. That’s why we walked though the church doors For a lot of people harm or harmful conduct has brought us here wounded. So we come into this space with personal concern for our own well being, and often times with concerns for the well being of someone we love. We wandered in with a glimmer of hope thinking “Maybe church, maybe Christianity, maybe God might help me conceive of a better way of being, can help me and my beloved have well being.” That is a very important step toward self care.
Others of us grew up in the church, maybe not so much wandering in, as not wandering away because we’ve learned this is a place where hope, gives wings to better life. We have seen, or we know, or we are folks, who arose like a phoenix out of the ashes of dark or blue places. To put it in Easter terms, church gives hope of a resurrection from what has been to what could be. And that definitely includes self care.
We get so excited about the birth of Christ and Christmas that we pretty much overlook the lesson in Luke’s Nativity story about self care. We may not even know it is there. Before conceiving Christ for the rest of the world Mary takes care of herself. From the start we hear that she is cautious when a strange presence arrives claiming to speak for God. No doubt she feared not just the strangeness of the encounter, but the risks females and teens (such as herself) in a patriarchal culture face from religious powers. And, so, the angel’s initial words smartly address natural fright. “Do not be afraid Mary . . .” the angel says. Then adds the amazing affirmation “for you have found favor with God.”
This first set of words on behalf of God are very important. They acknowledge both that Mary had concerns and that God knew them and cared enough to assure her she needn’t worry about God harming her, a young unmarried teenaged girl. More than that, the Word of God affirms her worth to the universe . . . God favors her! What great hope there is in all of that, when a lowly to the culture person like Mary, a female youth matters to God! She is not lowly to the universe, she is favored in it.
Before coming into church many of us were afraid to. Some have made church seem unsafe and unfriendly. Like the patriarchy of Mary’s day it is risky for the oppressed to face the religious. Often times the oppressed and their allies don’t think church, its people, or its God think they matter much. This church strives hard to honestly offer to everyone the same advice that the angel gave to Mary, “Do not be afraid . . . for you have found favor with God.” . . . every Sunday here, everyone hears the truth that they are loved and matter much. We give that advice because we believe it is central to our faith and the very nature of our God – the God of Jesus (Mary’s son). The Bible tells us, Jesus tells us, God tells us – that everyone is loved and matters much. ALL have God’s favor.
It’s good thing that Mary was concerned for her self care and it was a good thing God was too. And it is not just with the initial encounter with the angel when Mary cares for herself. We are told that she hastily sets out for the hill country. See Mary’s patriarchal cultural could not abide an out-of-wedlock conception. We tend to merge the Matthew and Luke Nativity stories together and assume in the Luke story – that, as Matthew claims, Joseph is Mary’s husband at the time– but Luke does claim that before the birth, only that they are engaged. As Joseph and Mary travel to Bethlehem to register for taxes Luke asserts in Chapter 2 that Joseph “went to register with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child.” Then we are told she had the baby. In other words, Luke’s accounting can be heard to have an unwed Mary give birth to Jesus! As far as I know there is not a carol that mentions that, but Luke does.
Luke’s out-of-wedlock pregnancy is one of the reasons scholars think he tells us “Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country . . . ” Mary needed to run to the hills for her life and Jesus’ life– since the patriarchal penalty for a pregnancy that was not conceived with her betrothed could include death. So Mary, even with God’s favor and Son inside her, takes care of herself and “gets out of Dodge” (so to speak). She safely hides out at her relatives. So we have this beautiful scene that confirms she is not just hidden and safe, but as a testament to Mary’s self care we hear that Mary chose wisely where to hide – among those who cared for her. She is favored not just by God but by her host, Elizabeth, and even Jesus’ unborn cousin John the Baptist. Far from being frowned upon as a pregnant teen, Mary is upheld as a blessing and a great honor to be around. As the lesson put it:
When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. /// And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”
It is not until Mary’s self care leads her and the unborn baby Jesus to a safe and secure and honoring place that Mary articulates and sings God’s efforts and plan which her son Jesus actually plays out in his life, death and resurrection and continuing experiential presence for his followers.
John Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg note that this song, “The Magnificat,” is like a Broadway Musical Overture playing the highlights of the orchestration. The gist of how Jesus’ life plays out in the gospels. 1 Listen to the words again. Mary after taking care claims the blessing and HOPE that all who conceive Christ receive. It’s what God does and promises to do through Christ in all of us. It’s some great stuff! Mary sings
“My soul magnifies the Lord/ and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior/ for he has looked with favor/ on the lowliness of his servant/. Surely, from now on/ all generations will call me blessed; /For the Mighty One has done great things for me,/ and holy is his name./ His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. /He has shown strength with his arm/ he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts./ He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,/ and lifted up the lowly;/ he has filled the hungry with good things, /and sent the rich away empty./ He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy,/ according to the promise he made to our ancestors,/ to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”
That’s what the anticipation, the advent of the first conception of Christ, – and of Christ’s birth– portend and give HOPE to. It is what our conception of Christ and giving birth to Christ in our own lives and world is supposed to give HOPE to. Mary is the first take care and to get it, and all Christians have hoped to get it ever since! But it does not come without that self care piece. This time of year can be stressful and even blue for many, so it speaks to this season for sure, take care of your self! But on the bigger scale, it applies too. All year long, all the time, you are to take care of you.
See Christianity is not just about loving others. It’s about loving others as you love yourself. You gotta love you! And when you do, your soul will much better magnify the Lord and your spirit rejoice in God – and you will understand that you are favored by God. See you are loved and you matter much. That’s the truth of Advent, Christmas and the Gospels every moment of your life, and just as you are. God has done great things for you, for each of us, and all people. There is so much hope in that. TAKE CARE! Do not be afraid. You have found favor with God.
1. Borg, Marcus, Crossan, John Dominic, The First Christmas, p. 46-52
COPYRIGHT Scott Elliott © 2017 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED