Promises Delivered

Many of you are parents. Do you remember that first moment, those first few days after you discovered you were expecting? Or that there was a baby waiting out there for you to adopt? How was your world reshaped? How was your sense of your role in the world? No longer an individual or even a couple, but a parent. And maybe you already felt protective, that this world had better shape up for your perfect baby! Such protectiveness toward this fragile little person-to-be facing a big, tough, unfair world. And if you belong to an oppressed minority, how much greater must this be a bittersweet moment: excitement mixed with trepidation and the sadness that someday your little baby will experience prejudice, poor treatment. How dare anyone do that to this precious little person! Or maybe you are awestruck at the possibilities of what your baby could become: a president? A teacher? A judge? A doctor? Someone who changes the world with their love?


In the original Greek text, Mary’s Magnificat uses the aorist tense: has done, is doing, will do, all at once—ongoing. God has done these things, is doing them now, and will do them in the future. Mary says God has already done great things, and she is already blessed. Jesus isn’t even born yet, and she’s feeling that the world has changed. We have the sense that God’s realm is already in our midst and at the same time it is not yet quite here. We see glimpses. We feel callings to head in the direction of love and justice for all. But it isn’t complete yet. That’s what Mary is talking about with such love and passion.


Mary has already been changed, and she’s only just become pregnant. She is what we call “expecting”: waiting, planning, waiting, preparing . . . and did I say waiting?


We are in a time of waiting as well. There is the usual waiting: tomorrow is the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year. We are waiting for the sun and warmth to return, the seeds to grow again.


Advent is all about waiting for the birth of Jesus—in us. We are waiting, planning, preparing, trying to open ourselves to this divine presence that will change us, that is changing us now, that has already changed us.


We have spent the better part of 2020 waiting—locked down, waiting to get sick, waiting to get well, waiting until we can take the masks off and hug each other again. We are waiting to resume life the way we used to know it. 


But, like Mary, even in this time of waiting we are already changed. We will not go back to how we were before. Post COVID-19 we will emerge from this pandemic different from the people we were when we locked down back in March.

Even as we wait, we become more aware of the racism embedded in our national DNA for centuries. So we start an antiracism book group and read books together to learn how to be more attuned to the racism within and around us. We pay attention to the protests or even participate.

Even as we wait, we continue to turn out the vote for a fair election, we continue to feed the hungry, we continue to check in on the more vulnerable in our congregation and community.

Even as we wait, we reinvent worship in a virtual space that allows people to join us from across a span of 12 time zones.

Even as we wait, we see restaurants and other service-industry businesses close, and all their employees are thrown onto unemployment.

Even as we wait, we celebrate the courage and tenacity of those on the front lines in the health care field, or running the grocery stores and other businesses essential to keeping us going.

Even as we wait, we learn to slow down, to plant gardens, to talk to the others in our households, to clean out our garages, to visit with friends in back yards with masks. Three young friends I know have continued to get together in back yards even in the colder days of autumn. They wrapped themselves in sleeping bags and sat under umbrellas in the drizzle for four hours, just talking.

Even as we wait, we become more attuned to community, because now more than ever we recognize that the wellbeing of the whole community depends on the wellbeing of every individual in it. If anyone in our community gets sick, we risk getting sick, too. The children in our community are doing school from home. Many adults in our community are working from home—or have lost their jobs. The camps in city parks have swelled, and we stand on the brink of a season of evictions.


Imagine Mary singing this Magnificat song as a lullaby to her baby Jesus. Imagine that he grows up knowing it, word for word. This song picks up on the triumphal song of Hannah in the book of Samuel—triumphal because after her heartbreak at being barren, she has a son, Samuel—a prayer answered, a promise delivered by God. True to her word, she dedicates Samuel to the temple, where he grows up to become a wise judge and leader of the people.


Mary and Jesus echo the story of Hannah and Samuel. When we think of prophets through the ages speaking God’s truth and justice to those in power, Mary follows in this long line. This message is in her lullabies. Jesus learns it sitting on her knee.


“My soul magnifies God.” It’s such a striking image. What do you think that means, to magnify God in your soul?

[Input from the congregation:

Many, waiting, are taking in God—elemental forces, life, goodness, beauty.

In giving birth, Mary is at a crossroads of God and human.

Mary becomes an instrument of God’s power and love. She brings God larger into herself.

God doesn’t need to be madnified.

Mary embraces the miracle and the mystery.

A magnifying glass is a lens. It can make things look bigger. It can also focus light like a laser and create fire.

Mary provides clarity of God’s love.

Looking for God’s presence in everything.]


It’s an interesting choice of word: magnify. Not praise. Not glorify. Magnify. Make bigger. As one of you said, can we even make God bigger? Or is it our own soul that grows bigger when we magnify God? Do we amplify God’s love and justice, God’s abundance, when we open ourselves body and soul to that Divine presence within us?


“God has brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly.

God has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty.” These verses lay out God’s priorities about how we are to be in the world.


Has done, is doing, will do: It’s the already and not yet of God’s realm in our midst. How are we already and not yet in this time of COVID-19?

We already care for each other, both the people we know and those we don’t. We wear masks, mostly to protect others in case we might be carrying germs. We stay home to keep each other healthy, especially those most vulnerable.


We dare to stand up to bullies. I am reminded of the incident in Billings, Montana, in 1993 when someone threw a rock through six-year-old Isaac’s bedroom window because of the paper menorah he had put there. Rather than backing down, Isaac’s mother called the newspaper and asked for help. The paper printed menorahs, and soon thousands of menorahs decorated Jewish and non-Jewish homes alike. Or the story of the king of Denmark in World War II: when he was told by the Nazis that all Danish Jews must wear a star, the king decided to wear a star as well and other non-Jews followed his example. Not in our town. Not in our country. We will not give in to hate.


We follow Mary’s lead in worshiping a God of love, a God who sends that Divine presence to dwell among us and within us. One friend said she wondered what that conversation was like when God told Jesus that he was to take on human form. Maybe Jesus said, “I dunno, God, those humans can be mean and make life miserable. I’m not sure I want to go.” And maybe God said, “That’s exactly why you need to be there. Show them that a path of love is possible—in fact, it’s the only way.”


And so at this time of year we live in expectation of Jesus’ birth in and among us. We live in that already/not-yet space, that place of was and is and will be. We recognize that the man called Jesus was crucified 2,000 years in the past. We experience the presence of the Divine in our midst this very day. And we wait and prepare for a birth within us, a magnified presence that makes us bold and loving enough to care deeply for each other,

whether we are Christians or Jews or some other religion or no religion;

whether we are White or Black or Brown;

whether we are wealthy or poor or somewhere in the middle;

whether we fall in love with people of the opposite sex or the same sex, or identify as male or female or something nonbinary;

whether we are well-educated or have not received a great education;

whether this, whether that, whether this, whether that.


Our God delivers on promises. Mary magnifies God as one who has already delivered on a promise to her, even though she has not yet delivered this promised baby. God continues to deliver that baby to us, if we will but make room for the Christ in our souls. This is a season of waiting, of gestating. God delivers on God’s promise to be Emmanuel, God with us. Let our souls magnify our God in celebration of what God has done, what God is doing, and what God will do, especially when we deliver that Christ child in our midst. Amen.

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