Worship Start Time: 10:30am
Worship Leader: Rev. Lee Spice
Theme: Advent Three - Do Not Be Afraid
SOCKS! SOCKS! SOCKS! This Sunday is the day to bring your donation of new SOCKS to the kitchen before church. The Elda Daniels Group will be delivering them to the DI again this holiday season. Thank you for your support!
Come early for coffee at 10am, and stay after church for coffee and conversation in the Memorial Hall. You may notice markers and large banners at the back of the Sanctuary and downstairs by the Memorial Hall. You are invited to colour these banners before, during, and after the service. Christmas pageant players will meet in the Sanctuary for a full performance workshop from 11:30-3pm. Lunch will be provided!
Co-op Gift Cards will be available for purchase in denominations of $25, $50 and $100 from Mary Axworthy - cash or cheque only please.
If you haven't already, pick up an Advent Journey booklet, and log your steps toward Bethlehem as we meditate through movement this Advent. Download a copy here.
Sermon: Advent IV: My Soul Magnifies the Lord
December 24, 2017
Rev. Lee Spice
The images on Christmas cards and art and social media are very peaceful. Mary, often in a lovely blue robe, with maybe a white head covering, looks demurely down at her newborn bundle of joy. Joseph is in the background, also gazing at the child. It’s very special.
Going back in time, before this idyllic picture, the whole situation begins, in this account, with Mary getting visited by the angel, who has this awesome news that she is pregnant. Which is news to her. Oh, but don’t worry, this is the son of God.
OK, can we talk?
A couple of times in the past few years, I have intimated that I don’t buy the virgin birth. This morning, I’m coming all the way out of the theological closet, and saying that Jesus came into this world in the usual, human way.
There are a couple of things to note from the context. First, we note that many of our New Testament stories are modelled after the Old Testament – and this is no exception. Often, at this time of year, we read a piece from Isaiah that sets the tone, even though it is not necessarily meant to predict the coming of Jesus. Isaiah chapter 7:14 says, “Behold, a young woman shall conceive and bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.” Only in a few translations, including the most familiar King James, say, “behold, a virgin shall conceive.” That’s because, when the Hebrew word “almah,” meaning “young woman,” was translated into Greek, the Greek word for virgin was used. So, it may all be based on a translation understanding.
That being said, it seems pretty clear that the gospel writer Luke means for Mary to be an actual virgin – that is, someone who has never had sex. Luke wrote this account several decades after Jesus walked the earth, and Christianity was a fledgling faith. It had to compete with the pantheon of Roman and Greek gods, a few of them having the delight of impregnating humans. And this is where it is most important: the offspring of these god/human couplings were said to be half-gods, and during the time of Jesus, the one who claimed to be fathered by the god Apollo was none other than Caesar Augustus.
Not that his mother was a virgin, though. Just that he was a son of the god. Luke’s story one-ups even Caesar – Jesus was said to be born of a virgin!
And here’s the kicker - not just a virgin, but one of the common folk. Not even royalty. Not even hardly anybody.
Which is exactly the point. Augustus Caesar was called Lord, Son of God, Bringer of Peace and Saviour of the World.
And Luke writes this origin story of Jesus (one of only two in the Bible – two of the gospels don’t say anything about his birth). And this origin story is has the angel letting Mary know that she is pregnant with one who shall be named God Among Us, Son of God.
Luke is a genius.
He paints us this beautiful Christmas pageant, with angels singing that this babe is the Bringer of Peace; and the first to hear were shepherds in the fields, and it’s all because of a young couple, displaced by the government, having a teeny, tiny, baby, with not even a proper crib or a proper place to stay.
Born to be Son of God – that’s Caesar’s title!
In the narrative from the Gospel of Matthew (an entirely different tale, but, nonetheless…), the magi seek the one who is born to be King of the Jews – that’s Herod’s title!
Bam! The oppressive regime of the day takes a direct hit. In the nicest, starlit way.
The miracle in this story is not that, somehow, a young girl gets pregnant without sex. It’s that a poor young girl, with an unplanned pregnancy, is blessed by God, and the child that is born is the manifestation of God’s love, itself, right under the nose of Caesar.
The miracle is that this incarnation of The Holy One appears from the grass roots, witnessed by working people – people that probably didn’t even own the sheep that they watched, and this baby is born to a young, scared Jewish couple.
The miracle is that this birth is NOT SPECIAL. There was blood and the tearing of flesh and there was pain. Like so many other births.
But, leave it to the church to mess things up. And they have been messed up.
For hundreds of years, Mary has been venerated – not because she was a strong Mom who raised her boy right – not because she got through an unplanned pregnancy and raised a family.
For hundreds of years, in various ways, the church has held as the iconic, most pure, most highly praised woman – a woman who allegedly managed to give birth to a child without having sex. Because of this story.
What has that done for women, in these hundreds of years?
Women have been seen as dirty, and sex was seen as dirty. Attitudes about Mary have spawned misogyny and sexism. No woman could ever measure up. The patriarchy, putting women in their place. Murder, torture, witch hunts, and oppression.
The church really messed up.
I feel you being uncomfortable. I hear your inner protest which says, “We have come a long way since then!”
This past week, I got an email from someone who hasn’t been in church for a decade. He was there when we sang, “O Come, All Ye Faithful.” It was verse two that was troublesome.
“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….”
Let me quote the email:
“It clearly implies that a women’s uterus and vagina are essentially evil! -We are assured that Jesus is divine, even though he came from a human woman, because Mary was still a virgin, and therefor not yet abhorrent. *cough* *crickets* I don't believe that thought would occur to any of your younger flock, thank god, and I doubt many of the older members would care to hear it any more.”
His suggestion was to cut that verse out altogether, but it’s not that simple. Despite all of our attempts at current scholasticism…despite our resolve to be a liberal church that holds justice as being paramount, we seem to throw it all out when it comes to special occasions like Christmas, and our sentimental selves belt out the hymns of our childhood with great joy. Trouble is, our hymns and symbols are full of antiquated theology, and at times like Christmas, when the old tunes are the ones we’ve always known, this antiquated theology seems to become invisible.
What are we going to do about that?
Well, for one, we can continue to search for and use hymns that more closely reflect the faith that we have come to embrace.
For another, we can look to what the message of Mary really was about – about God’s grace appearing through the direst of circumstances, through ordinary people. Maybe even through us.
Luke attributes Mary with a most wonderful song of praise – a song that is powerful and subversive, and has nothing to do with her sex life. It’s about how God works through the humble, and how God keeps God’s promise: (from the Inclusive Bible)
My soul proclaims your greatness, O God,
And my spirit rejoices in you, my Saviour.
For you have looked with favour upon your lowly servant,
And from this day forward
All generations will call me blessed.
For you, the Almighty, have done great things for me,
And holy is your Name.
Your mercy reaches from age to age
For those who fear you.
You have shown strength with your arm,
You have scattered the proud in their conceit,
You have deposed the mighty from their thrones
And raised the lowly to high places.
You have filled the hungry with good things,
While you have sent the rich away empty.
You have come to the aid of Israel, your servant,
Mindful of your mercy –
The promise you made to our ancestors –
To Sarah and Abraham,
And their descendants, forever.
Bam! Right under the nose of the powerful Caesar, comes a message of hope, to the humble, to the persecuted, to the poor.
Let’s not miss this.
This year, we’ll read the same scriptures at Christmas that we always do. And we’ll sing the same hymns of many of our childhoods.
But, this year, let’s not let ancient hymns and ancient understandings set the tone for how we understand God, or humanity, or men or women, or babies.
This year, let’s not make Christmas about the purity of Mary.
Let’s hear the voice of the gospel writer Luke, dreaming of a day of justice and peace for all people.
Oh, it may be difficult to sing, “round yon virgin, tender and mild,” for sure. But, for the love of the woman who brought Jesus into the world, for Mary, for all women, for the poor, for the oppressed, and for all people on this suffering planet, let’s make our celebration about the song of joy and liberation that she sang.
Check out the latest news, updated every Friday: