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Scripture – Isaiah 35:1-10; Psalm 146:5-10; James 5:7-10; Matthew 11:2-11; Luke 1:46b-55
We have this wonderful song of Mary which we call “The Magnificat.” Our blessed Mary, chosen to be the mother of God come to earth – Jesus. A magnificent part of God’s plan. Surely, Mary’s song is a happy song – at least the beginning. We sing these words from Luke 1:46-55 in various musical settings. We have this variation of words by Ruth Duck, set to a Swedish folk melody.*
“My heart sings out with joyful praise to God who raises me,
Who came to me when I was low and changed my destiny.
The Holy One, the Living God, is always full of grace
To those who seek their Maker’s will in every time and place.”
Joyous indeed! But, in addition to having the holy privilege of being the mother of God, Mary was designed by God to be a prophet. Mary fits with Isaiah 35:10, Psalm 146, and Matthew 11. Isaiah was preaching his beautiful passage about the eyes of the blind being opened, the ears of the dumb unstopped, the lame leaping like a deer, the tongue of the speechless singing for joy.
The Psalmist in Psalm 146 is saying, “The Lord opens the eyes of the blind; the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down. This Psalmist starts with “Happy are they who have the God of Jacob for their help. Whose hope is in the Lord their God…”
Mary, in Luke 1, starts “My heart sings out with joyful praise …” and her praise is not about herself. It is not all about Mary! In Mary’s role as a prophet, Mary knows that this son of herself – not only son of herself but Son of God – has been sent to earth to the lowly people and to promote lowly ideals – not kingly ideas.
These ideas lift lowly people to a lofty, holy place in God’s kingdom on earth and in God’s ultimate kingdom when it is time. Mary is a significant link in the chain from Isaiah through the Psalmist of Psalm 146, and on through John the Baptist. Our passage today from Matthew 11:2-11, tells how John the Baptist, serving time in prison, which is another story, sends word to Jesus to make certain that this Healer, Teacher Jesus is really the one whom John proclaimed at the Baptism scene in the River Jordan.
From prison, John the Baptist, sends a messenger to ask Jesus if he is really the One. Jesus responds to the messenger, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.” Then, Jesus quotes Isaiah to the messengers to affirm John the Baptist’s call to be the messenger to the world to alert all peoples to the great person who was presently in the neighborhood. Then Jesus quotes a prophet named Malachi thus, “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.” The “you” here refers to Jesus. Jesus continues, “Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”
Did you get that? In the same breath, Jesus is saying for history and from the kingdom, “John the Baptist is truly great – a special prophet – but even so, the lowest person on earth is even greater.” This Jesus is leading the parade of helpless people from Isaiah, through the Psalmist, through Mary’s Magnificat, through John the Baptist, past his own baptism, to the other side, to today! Jesus saved enough of these helpless people for us so that we could follow the command to feed the hungry, lift the low in spirit, clothe the ones without clothes, befriend the imprisoned, welcome visitors.
Which one of these goals is your downfall? Where are we not holding up the kingdom? How big are the cracks we are producing in the floor of life for each and every lowly person? Maybe you are one of the lowly, truly needing our help. Do not stay silent! You may have been led here among us to test us. I know there are those of you listening to these words who have already passed the test. I hear of great works you are doing but not for acclamation; instead because these are your brothers and sisters. Some of you prepare helping structure so that we can take our place in the structure; we don’t need to recreate a system.
Isaiah, Psalmist, Mary, John the Baptist, Jesus, us! All of us! Those of us living in comfortable homes, with cars, with money for gas for the cars, with heat, with food may say we are blessed. Indeed, I say that about myself. However, God is not pleased if we close our ears, close our eyes, sit in a comfortable chair, keep our tongues locked. No, God wants us to proclaim as did Mary. “My heart sings out with joyful praise!” But don’t we, who claim this blessedness, have doubts? Don’t we sometimes become depressed because we seem to be on a treadmill? Do I mean a treadmill of schedule, of paying bills, of being good parents or good students or accomplished in our life work? Sometimes, the treadmill is the hopelessness of the never-ending needs of the lowly, the meek, the people who mourn various losses.
If we become depressed, imagine the depression level of the lame, the blind, the hungry, the deaf, people who cannot speak! Yet, did you ever hear praise coming from one or these persons? Yes, my heart sings out with joyful praise! I have heard such praise from people who live on the street. How can this be? God, in his mercy, designed us with joy genes. Sometimes these joy genes get squashed or covered or starved. But, the substance remains in us somewhere, somehow. In our most desperate moments, God brings these joy genes to life as a survival technique. Oh, that we let God do that. Oh, that we would not resist this blooming of joy.
Yes, even those of us who are living in comfort often lose our joy for one reason or another. Shame on us really! When a person, whose body shows the wear and tear of a homeless or poor-housing existence, can sing with joy, where does that leave us? Our homes should be virtually bouncing with joy. Our houses should be dancing. Is your house dancing? Are your evening meals quietly blessed with good feelings and good words and happiness just to be together around food? How can we develop dancing houses? My heart sings out with joyful praise!
In my mind, Mary seems to supercede John the Baptist in that she seems to have the joy gene while John the Baptist’s joy genes seem to be overwhelmed with earnestness and determination.
Mary had the joy gene. Isaiah seems to have a bunch of joy also in some of his prophecies, especially the passage in Isaiah 35:1-10. This passage concludes, “… but the redeemed shall walk there. And the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness; and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.”
But finding joy in John the Baptist is a bit of an oxymoron. It does not compute. Please don’t take my word for this analysis. Be an investigator. Find these passages. Read before the passage. Read after the passage. If your Bible has information at the beginning of each book, read it. Absorb it, analyze it, ask if there is joy hiding in the cracks. Then ask, “What does this passage have to do with me?” Where are your joy genes? Where are mine?
We may wonder why the short passage of James 5:7-10 is included in the lectionary today. Does it seem that James, this brother of Jesus, has joy genes? Listen. “Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. Beloved, do not grumble against one another, so that you may not be judged. See, the Judge is standing at the doors! As an example of suffering and patience, beloved, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.”
“Beloved, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.” Yes, take the prophets in today’s chain: Isaiah, the Psalmist of Psalm 146, Mary mother of Jesus, John the Baptist, Jesus. Why am I including Jesus as a prophet? Did Jesus not prophesy about his own life on earth, about his own second coming? Jesus was prophet, as one of many roles such as: baby, authority at the age of twelve, healer, teacher, shepherd, king, savior, counselor.
James also reminds us of the waiting that is part of life, including the life of a follower of God. We shall wait patiently. “Wait patiently for God.” From Psalm 37.7: (NRSV) “Be still before the Lord, and wait patiently for him; do not fret over those who prosper in their way, over those who carry out evil devices.” From the Apostle John in John 1:29, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” Yes, this Lamb of God, Jesus, died so that the sins of the world to enable the sin of the world to be forgiven. However, evil is still among us. We are still waiting for the time that sin is no more. Waiting!
How much did Mary know of waiting? Mary was very young. Well, Mary embodies all of humanity; humanity from Adam and Eve through the time of Isaiah, through the age of the Psalmists, through Zechariah and Elizabeth who were the elderly parents of John the Baptist. Here is Mary confronted by Gabriel the Angel. Will she accept this honor of the fulfillment of the One who is to come?
Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in **The Mystery of Holy Night, “Mary, grasped and seized by the Spirit, speaks of God’s coming into the world, of the advent of Jesus Christ. For she knows better than anyone what it means to wait for Christ.
“She waits for Him in a way unlike anyone else. She awaits Him as His mother. She knows about the mystery of His coming, about the Spirit that is at play here, about the almighty God who works His wonders.
“She experiences in her own body that God’s ways with humans are wonderful, that He isn’t bound by human standards, that He doesn’t follow the path that humans like to lay out for Him – that His way is beyond all understanding, beyond all proof, free, and with a mind of its own.”
Do you know that this Dietrich Bonhoeffer laid down his own life in the work to free the modern world of tyranny? Dietrich reminds us of this lowliness part of the prophecies when he writes in the same writing, “Who among us will celebrate Christmas right? Those who finally lay down all their power, honor, and prestige, all their vanity, pride, and self-will at the manger, those who stand by the lowly and let God alone be exalted, those who see in the child in the manger the glory of God precisely in this lowliness.” Amen
* Copyright © 1952 by G. I. A. Publications, Inc.
** Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Mystery of Holy Night, New York: Crossroad Publishing, 1997.