Advent 4C, December 20, 2015

December 21, 2015

Magnificent Disruptions
Luke 1:39-55

39 In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 40 where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42 and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43 And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me?44 For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” 46 And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, 47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. 50 His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. 51 He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. 52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; 53 he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. 54 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.”

A wonderful thing happened to me about twenty years ago. That wasn’t the last time something good happened to me, but this was one of those significant milestone events. When we moved from West Helena to Little Rock in June of 1996 we purchased a small house in the Heights neighborhood. It was too small for us, but it was in a good school zone, and that was our priority. It was a tight fit for the four of us, but it was all the house we could afford in that part of town. Fortunately, soon after we bought the house interest rates dropped rather dramatically, and we were able to refinance and borrow some extra money in order to make an addition on the house.

Sharla and I came up with a design – which was about as simple as it could be, and after speaking to a couple of builders we discovered we had enough money to pay for half of what we wanted. We were a little distressed about the situation, but it turned out to be the most wonderful problem I had ever had because at some point Sharla said, Well, why don’t you just build it.

Now I had dabbled in a few projects over the years, but the thought of cutting holes in perfectly good walls was new territory for me. I was excited about the possibility, but I was also a bit intimidated by the project. So I did what I always did prior to the arrival of Google – I went to Barnes and Noble and I bought a book on housebuilding. I didn’t read the whole thing, but I read enough to believe I could do it, and I embarked upon the journey of home improvement. I didn’t get it done quickly, but I got it done, and now I can’t stop myself from doing other things. That house has been under continual construction or repair for almost twenty years.

Not having enough money to get what we wanted was the best thing that ever happened to me. It hasn’t been quite as good for Sharla. Things don’t get done in what you would call a timely fashion, but I’m so affordable. And it’s been a great source of therapy for me. When you spend your days trying to work with something as mysterious as the Holy Spirit it’s nice to spend your evenings working with boards, and pipes, and sheetrock, and shingles. The opportunity to continually work on that house has been a great gift to me. I might have stumbled in to that avocation if we had been able to afford a builder twenty years ago, but not having enough money to hire a builder has been one of the great blessings of my life.

God never works in predictable ways. God doesn’t operate through the usual channels. If that were the case, we would know a lot more about the mother of Jesus. All we know is that her first name was Mary and she had an older cousin named Elizabeth. We know her fiance’s name was Joseph, and we know he came from the house of David – along with half of the population of Israel. Mary was an unknown young woman – probably a teenager.

As Luke tells the story, God’s favor didn’t fall upon anyone in a leadership position. God’s favor fell upon a nobody. Now I know it’s hard for us to imagine the mother of Jesus being anyone other than the religious celebrity we’ve turned her in to, but before Mary was the Mother of God, she wasn’t what you would call an outstanding person. She was too young to be a mother, and she went to see her cousin – who was too old to be a mother, but it was what God chose to do. God isn’t content to let us operate according to our own plans and agendas. God graciously disrupts this world and provides us opportunities to experience actual richness and grace.

In some ways it’s very unfortunate that we’ve turned Mary in to such a revered character. She may well be the most highly regarded person in human history. Even people who don’t like Jesus would never talk bad about his mother. But I think our reverence for Mary gets in the way of the story. It’s not easy for us to hear how subversive this story really is. A couple of thousand years of church lore has turned Mary in to the most pristine character that has ever lived, but Luke wanted us to see that the mother of Jesus was in a very precarious situation. Mary’s pregnancy wasn’t the result of what we would call sound family planning. She and Joseph were in an awkward situation. This is not what the elders were expecting.

This story of Mary going to visit Elizabeth is a story of two people who were both in incredibly awkward circumstances. What do you think people were saying about Elizabeth when she turns up pregnant for the first time so late in life? That’s some fine fodder for gossip right there. Neither Elizabeth nor Mary chose to turn up pregnant at those moments in their lives. People weren’t going to understand, but Mary and Elizabeth did. They understood that they had been touched by the Holy Spirit, and they celebrated what God was doing through them for the world.

Jesus entered the world in an unconventional manner because God was going to save the world in an unconventional way. The savior of the world slipped in through the back door, and according to this song that Mary sang, he was going to tear off the front door. It’s hard for us to hear this song that Mary was moved to sing in anything other than a very piously presentable way, and it begins and ends in a way that sounds very churchy, but there in the middle it sounds a lot like something a teenager might belt out.

In fact these probably were the words of a teenager. Mary was most likely in her teens when she was touched by God in this profound way. And there might not be anything more frightening to people my age than a teenager who has been empowered by God – they don’t have all of the proper filters in place. They don’t fully understand how their supposed to act. And I’m sure that’s why God chose to use one to alter the course of history.

The truth is that God is more restless than a teenager. God didn’t like the way things were going with the adults in charge, so he found a cooperative teenager, and the world has never been the same. I may be ruining this passage of scripture that we call Mary’s magnificat, but I’m thinking this song of hers is sort of a cross between something a beautiful church choir would sing and something you might hear from a punk rock band. Mary isn’t just rejoicing over the privilege of being used by God, she’s proclaiming that this child she’s going to deliver is going to totally disrupt the way this world operates. I’ve never really understood the lyrics to a punk rock song, but I think they’re pretty enthusiastic about disruption, and so is Mary.

What God was going to deliver through the life of Jesus Christ was not going to be what the elders were expecting. It wasn’t going to be pretty, but it was going to be good.

God doesn’t disrupt our lives for the sake of disruption. God wants us to live abundant lives, and it’s our safe routines that often get in the way of our access to abundant life. I believe the message we are to get from the unorthodox way in which Jesus came in to this world is that we shouldn’t be shocked when our own lives get disrupted in glorious ways. It’s often through the breakdowns in our lives that we make new discoveries about who we are, and how we can live in relation to God. It certainly suggests that we should rethink our fortune when unfortunate things happen.

I believe it’s God’s plan for there to be opportunity for new understanding and new relationships to develop whenever our normal routines are disrupted. If you ask anyone who has willingly participated in some kind of a twelve-step program I dare say they’ll tell you a story of redemption and rebirth that out of disaster – from circumstances they never would have chosen for themselves. It doesn’t happen automatically, but a disruption of life can very well be the beginning of a new and better life.

Sometimes it’s a total breakdown that puts us on track to a new life, but we don’t always have to hit the bottom before we make vital changes. I recently heard an interview with John Grisham, and his work as a writer came about through his disenchantment with being a lawyer. He said he had imagined himself doing dramatic work in a courtroom, but he didn’t find himself defending high profile causes in front of packed courtrooms. It turned out to be pretty routine business, and it didn’t really capture his interest. He ended up running for office in the Mississippi State legislature, and he was elected, but he found that serving in the legislature wasn’t as interesting as getting elected, and he noticed that the time he enjoyed most was the time he spent writing while he was waiting for another committee meeting to take place.

John Grisham didn’t have automatic success with the publication of his first novel, but he did discover what he loved doing, and it wasn’t what he set out to do with his life. It came about as the result of not finding any satisfaction in what he thought he wanted to do, and by paying attention to what it was he was inclined to do.

I don’t believe God creates disasters for us in order to show us better ways to live. God doesn’t stop us from creating disasters for ourselves, but I do believe God provides us opportunities for new life whenever our foreseen lives are altered in some way. I also believe God stepped in to this world in a very deliberate way in the life of Jesus Christ, and I believe that act continues to be a source of disruption to the work of evil in this world.

I love the thought that God used an unknown teenage girl to do the mighty act of delivering the one who continues to disrupt the plans of powerfully godless schemers.

Our God doesn’t do what we expect God to do. Our God does what we need for God to do, and I give thanks to God for those ways in which God’s grace enters our lives when our plans get disrupted and our expectations are unmet.

Thanks be to God for magnificent disruptions! Amen.


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