Advent 4 – Peace

Luke 1:39-55

For some reason this has been one of my most difficult sermons to write. But why?

The story seems fairly cut and dry right?

Just before our scripture today starts Mary has been told of her pregnancy with the Christ child, and now she is off to visit her relative Elizabeth who has also been promised a child by God. The two women talk, a blessing is given by Elizabeth, and a song is offered by Mary. We often don’t even give this verse a second thought when it comes to our advent season. We often want to move straight from the angel and Mary to Jesus’ birth. That is what the other Gospel’s do anyways.

So then why does Luke latch on to this moment between Mary and Elizabeth?

I think it is because Luke recognizes the importance that Mary truly plays, not just in the birth of, but in the life, ministry, and even salvation of Jesus Christ. We view John the Baptist as a messenger with a message that leads us to Christ. However, Mary, in living her life, has a covert message for us. A message that is not shouted from the mountaintops. Rather it is a message recorded in a song and in a conversation between two pregnant women.

Mary’s message in Luke is one of turned-tables. It is a message that to view the world in the same way it exists presently is going to only lead to things getting worse. The reason that Luke latches on to Mary is because Mary has a social message, and for Luke’s listeners this social message is what they seek to grab on to and live out in their faith.

We have talked about hope, love, and joy this advent season and how each tie into preparing ourselves for Christmas, but each of those lead us to this one idea that Luke calls us to in his lifting up of Mary in this passage. As we read the passage we recognize the peace that is instilled through Elizabeth’s blessing and through Mary’s song.

Mary’s message is about a new peace. It is a peace that has not been felt before. It is not a peace that war conquerers believed in, but a peace that was in Jesus Christ. This peace was not your everyday peace, because it was a true peace. It was not only a ceasing of violence but a ceasing of anger and hate as well. It was a table-turning peace that brought everybody into equality no matter you were.

This is a tough message even for us here today, because peace seems like such a far off and unachievable concept. At the root of the opposition to peace is fear, and we often allow our fear to get the best of us and take over our thinking.

Mary sings of and also teaches us what true peace looks like, and the lesson we can take from her is that we should be seeking peace and not seeking to continue the fear and hate that runs rampant in our society.

One of my favorite Christmas songs is Mary Did You Know. I love the imagery you get from the song as singers and listeners ponder on the question of whether Mary, as a young pregnant woman, actually knew the impact her child would have when he got older.  Did she understand the message that he would share? Did she understand the life that he would live? The love he would proclaim?

It is a song that calls into question Mary’s peace of mind, and when I read verses like the ones read today I think the answer to that is yes. Not only did Mary know, but Mary was ready. When I think of the song in terms of Mary knowing the questions then they become less of questions and more of statements about Mary. That Mary was a strong and peace-filled woman, and we will see that Elizabeth and her blessing plays a large role in that as well.

Mary had so many reasons to be afraid and the fact is that her society was not there to help her. They fed into her fears, but as we read her words in the Magnificat we see that she is not so easily dissuaded by the fear-mongers around her, but trusts that what God is doing through her is something great and wonderful.

The peace that Mary has presents itself in her song. Mary begins singing, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.” (Luke 1:46b-48) Mary was not of high class or status…Mary was not even close. Mary was an unwed virgin who was pregnant. That is enough to get a woman stoned in ancient Israel, but Mary does not let fear dissuade her from doing God’s work and bringing about this new peace.

Mary’s response is out of that of gratitude for what God is doing through her. God is using Mary to turn the tables on society, and when we recognize that work and the word Luke is trying to get through with his use of this story we see that the birth of Jesus means peace. That is where our preparation for Christ continues.

Mary offers to us a wonderful insight into what it means to carry peace. To rely on what God has planned and to not try and allow our own fear and anger to take control. In Mary I see our peace recognized. Mary has all of the right reasons to be afraid and angry, but instead of acting on her fear and anger she chooses to praise God. To praise God for the work that God does. For looking on a lowly person with favor. For turning the tables that society has built and giving a young virgin woman a status in the Kingdom of Heaven.

Truly this season brings about ideas of peace, but when it comes to our action of peace we often have failed. However, when we look at Mary we see an exemplar of the peace we are called to carry. The opposite of peace as we see it is fear and as we think about our lives we can look back and examine how our fear has gotten in the way of peace. Fear does terrible things, but most of it makes us view the world through an angry and hateful lens.

Mary had so many reasons to be afraid and the fact is that her society was not there to help her. They fed into her fears, but as we read her words in the Magnificat we see that she is not so easily dissuaded by the fear-mongers around her, but trusts that what God is doing through her is something great and wonderful, but Mary has peace because she knows that God is gonna change the world through this peace.

What is this peace for us today?

Peace for many of us is something that we always wish for. You hear the contestants for Miss America always saying that they hope for World Peace, and even in shooting star wishes peace comes up more often than you would think.

Peace is something that everybody seems to wish for, but nobody is holding there breath waiting for it. We all want to see peace, but as soon as something happens we abandon ideas of peace for ideas of war, violence, and conflict.

When I turn on the news and I see religious leaders advocating for people to carry guns so they can be the first to act against another religion that is not peace. When our nation responds to threats with arsenals of weapons and soldiers. That is not peace. We live in a society where I don’t think peace is something we actually want, rather it is an ideal that is nice to think of.

In the Old Testament the word shalom is the Hebrew word for peace, and it reflected the “ideal of God’s good creation and describes a state of well-being.” (NIB p. 423) In the New Testament Greek the word is eirēnē, and it “connotes ideas of wholeness and well-being, through restored relationships with God.” (NIB 422) These two words embody the life God calls us to in our lives as Christians. However, we have lost what it means to truly embody these words.

It is during this season that peace becomes a reflection, but when we reflect on it we never truly turn it into an action of our lives. We return right to the fear-mongering of the world, and we feed the fear by extending the violence and hate, or even just allowing it to happen.

As we examine the story of Mary we examine the peace which is supposed to be a part of each of our lives not only during this time of year, but should accompany our whole lives. And when we turn our backs on that peace we allow fear to continue to rear its ugly head in our lives. Fear is what leads to the anger and hate.

In Star Wars episode I Yoda says,

“Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” (http://www.yodaquotes.net/fear-is-the-path-to-the-dark-side-fear-leads-to-anger-anger-leads-to-hate-hate-leads-to-suffering/)

The first time I heard this it hit home cause I knew it was true. While this was about the only thing gleaned from that Star Wars movie it is an important thought to keep in mind. We get so caught up in what all of these people are saying. These statements that seek to instill fear in our hearts, and then they play off that fear to get us to make terrible decisions.

No this is wrong. This is not the life that Mary brought into the world. Mary’s song represents the peace God wanted to share with the world.

How often have we been in a tough spot and have responded out of fear rather than peace?

Let us not be susceptible to fear, but allow peace to conquer all of the fear, hate, anger, and suffering all around the world.

AMEN!!!

1.) All scripture used is from New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

2) New Interpreters Bible Dictionary (NIB)

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