The video above includes the full service, except for the time for sharing.
Permission to podcast/stream the music in this service obtained through One License with license A-727859
Order of Worship | December 20, 2020 |Advent 4
Call to Worship
STS 11 | No wind at the windows | Phil Hart, Abbie Miller, vocals. Alexander Martin, violin.
Offering/Dedication Prayer https://www.columbusmennonite.org/donateget-involved/donate
Hymn | Awake | Music and words by Phil Hart. Sung by many voices.
Scripture | Luke 1:26-38
Video | Come to us, Emmanuel | Noonday Films- Elisa and Matthew Leahy
Sermon | Solitude, Solidarity, Salvation Manuscript Below
Scripture Reading | Luke 1:39-45; 46-56
HWB 178 | Come thou long expected Jesus | Jacqui and Ryan Hoke, vocals
Sharing of Joys and Concerns
Extinguishing the Peace Candle
Christian Education | 11:00 am
Thanks to everyone who helped lead today’s service
Sermon: Joel Miller
Worship Leader: Jennifer Cartmel
Music coordination: Katie Graber
Children’s Time: Diane Mueller
Peace Candle: Adam Glass
Scripture Reading: Stella and Mira Bixler
Zoom Host: Sarah Werner
Watch THIS video
The world is not a friendly place for an unmarried pregnant teenage girl. Especially when you’re poor. Not in our time. Not in Mary’s time.
The Franklinton neighborhood of Columbus, Ohio, is just as good a place as any to consider this. The Leahys shot the video a number of years ago, and the imagery holds true. Furniture thrown haphazardly in a front yard – a telltale sign of eviction, an abandoned warehouse, a burned out house owned by a slumlord who ignored faulty electrical wiring, barbed wire fences: These are not marks of a hospitable environment into which to birth a child.
But there is life here. There is playfulness. And there is a strong - even unbreakable chord – that connects this story with the age old promise of Emmanuel – God with us.
One of the many things I like about this video is the way it captures the girl’s solitude, even when she’s walking through a group of rough-housing children. Minnie is her name. Minnie’s experience is her own. Her life is about to change in ways she can’t yet imagine. To see this only as a blessing while ignoring the weight and difficulty of what lies ahead would be to ignore the truth.
Minnie, in her solitude, like Mary, ponders these things in her heart.
The band sings, “Come to us, Emmanuel. We live in hope of your return. To bring new life to this old world.”
We first meet Mary at a pivotal moment, not only in her life, but, as the church has taught, a pivotal moment for humankind. Mary is visited by the angel Gabriel in her hometown, her neighborhood, Nazareth, in the Galilee region.
To Mary, engaged but not yet married, an indication that she has just recently entered child bearing age - Gabriel issues an unimaginable invitation. That she might bear, within her body, one who will inherit the throne of their ancestor David, whose kingdom will never come to an end.
In theological terms, Mary is asked if she might partner with God in birthing the new creation.
In practical terms, Mary is confronted with the physical and societal and life trajectory consequences of this labor. The world is not a friendly place for an unmarried pregnant teenage girl. Especially when you’re poor.
In this sense and many others, there is a fundamental solitude to Mary’s experience. There is no one else physically in the room at this moment. There are the ancestors that go all the way back to David and further back still, there is the messenger in whatever form a messenger with a name like Gabriel might take. But Mary’s experience is and will be singular. She alone can walk toward or away from this invitation. She alone gets to decide if she can accept these terms of partnership with God.
This is how calling works. Somewhere, in the solitude of one’s own soul, one hears an invitation, a nudge or jolt toward joining God’s creative work in this world.
Another Mary, last name Oliver, the poet, once observed: “The most regretful people on earth are those who felt the call to creative work, who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave to it neither power nor time.”
Mary of Nazareth, gave both power and time to that which was restive and uprising within her. To Gabriel, the angel of God, she responds: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”
Read Luke 1:39-45
1. Solitude, 2. Solidary
The weight of solitude, of bearing this task, this child, this life calling, does not drive Mary into separation and aloneness. Just the opposite. Wise young woman that she was, or perhaps just desperate and only able to come up with one idea for how this could work, Mary sets out “with haste” to a Judean town in the hill country. On a map, that’s down, south, toward Jerusalem. On foot, that’s up and down, with more up than down. As a runner, I like to think that the phrase “with haste,” involved at least a little bit of running.
What Mary is running toward is actually a who, a person. It’s her relative, Elizabeth, much older in years, but herself on a similar path, the bearer of promised life that will be not just for her household, but the whole community.
As anyone who’s ever been through elementary school knows, or any school, or any stage of life, the difference between one friend in whom one can confide, and zero, is incalculable. The difference between isolation and solidarity can't be measured. When the law of your people makes you eligible for the death penalty, as Mary could have been, when your whole body has become pregnant with Divine energy, when the life you carry within you has the promise of ripping off the veil that covers the eyes of humanity and issuing in a kin-dom that will have no end, you better run. You better run toward one, or two, or many who can meet you where you are, bless you in your struggle, and give you shelter in your time of danger, when the life within you starts to take on a life of its own, even as you prepare to sweat and scream it into the world.
Elizabeth does greet Mary with a blessing: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” Elizabeth does give Mary sanctuary. For three months, a holy trimester, Mary’s first, the final for Elizabeth, these two partners of God share a home, share meals, share notes.
And so Elizabeth becomes the incalculable friend in solidarity with Mary, and Mary becomes the incalculable friend in solidarity with Elizabeth. They become the presence and grace of God to one another as they ponder and plot; as the older Elizabeth, and the younger Mary find a togetherness in their solitude.
1. Solitude. 2. Solidarity. 3. Salvation
Read Luke 1:46-56
I can’t think of a better way to end the calendar year 2020, and begin the liturgical year as we do in Advent, than by reading the Magnificat - this poem, this song of Mary that she proclaims while with Elizabeth. Hearing it spoken by one of the teenage girls of our congregation gives it an extra measure of authenticity.
This passage is frequently linked to the song of Hannah, which she declares after giving birth to Samuel. There are indeed strong connections between the two. An expectant or new mother proclaims the goodness of God for blessing her with a child and lifting up her own lowly status. But Mary’s song is also related to that earlier Mary, Miriam, who sings on the other side of the Red Sea, the entire military apparatus of Egypt, the enforcement mechanism through which her people were enslaved, now washed away in the waters through which she and her people have safely passed. In Exodus chapter 15, Miriam leads the celebration of the assembly with singing and dancing.
What’s remarkable about Mary’s song, sung before she even gives birth to Jesus, is that it is sung as if she and her whole people are already on the other side of the waters. Sung in the past tense that God has scattered the proud, brought down the powerful, sent the rich away empty, all the while lifting up the lowly, and filling the hungry with good things.
Mary foresees the kind of world in which her child is exalted, in which the poor are honored, in which the ancient promises are fulfilled, and proclaims it as if it has already come to pass. Dancing on the other side of the sea.
Solitude expands into solidarity. And solidarity opens wide to salvation.
And salvation is not necessarily something that’s going to be fun for everyone. Those who hoard power lose it. Those who fill themselves but not others are emptied.
What kind of world is this? In what kind of world will Minnie’s child thrive? In what kind of world will the children of Franklinton, and the Hilltop and Colombia and Sudan and Palestine be looked on with favor? This is the world of which Mary sings. This is the world that our pandemic year has seemed to push even further out of reach. Yet it is the world that Mary proclaims, and which we proclaim every year about this time just in case we forgot.
This is what God’s solidarity with humanity looks like. It the vision Jesus incarnated. It is the world Jesus invited his companions to embody. To become, like Mary, a body through which God enters the world.