“Lifted Up” (Sermon on Luke 1:46b-55) #pittsfield #berkshires

When I read the Song of Mary from the Gospel of Luke, I can’t help but think about Malala Yousafzai. Many of you already know her story, but at some point, after the taliban took over Afghanistan, the taliban began dismantling the rights of women and girls. One way they did this was to forbid women and girls from being educated, and this approach included blowing up schools that educated girls. Imagine this here; A few blocks away, guards standing outside Conte Elementary, Pittsfield Highschool, or Berkshire Community College and preventing female teachers and students from walking through the doors and being sent home. Imagine the buildings on the campus of Miss Hall’s School on Holmes being destroyed by construction equipment and artillery to prevent them from reopening. This kind of violence and worse was happening to women and girls throughout Afghanistan when Malala Yousafzai decided to speak up. Her first public speech was at a press club in Peshwar, Pakistan, when she was 11 years old titled, “How Dare the Taliban Take Away My Right to Education?” She wrote a blog under a pen name – read throughout the world –  that described the conditions she and other girls were facing. For her efforts, she was targeted by the taliban and survived an assassination attempt when she was 15. But, also for her efforts, she was recognized by the world and awarded the Nobel Peace Prize when she was 17. When I read the Song of Mary from the Gospel of Luke, I can’t help but think about Malala Yousafzai.

When I read the Song of Mary from the Gospel of Luke, I can’t help but think about Greta Thunberg. Again, many of you already know her story, but her activism began with her parents. As she began to recognize the dire consequences of environmental abuse and neglect and, in particular, how her generation would bear the brunt of these consequences, she confronted her parents and demanded that they change their behaviors. However, at some point, she recognized this wasn’t enough. When she was 15, she began to stand outside the Swedish Parliament with a handwritten sign that “School Strike for Climate.” It wasn’t that she didn’t value education as much as she recognized that she was being educated for a future that was unlikely to exist. As her action began to be recognized by students worldwide, and as her fiery, direct, and damning speeches were shared over social media, over a million students worldwide joined her. She continues to be a voice forthrightly condemning her elders for their intergenerational selfishness and oppression and rallying those of her generation and still emerging generations towards climate-saving revolution. If you haven’t seen her “blah, blah, blah” speech, look it up. I will never forget watching it with our son for the first time and watching him burst with power and pride. When I read the Song of Mary from the Gospel of Luke, I can’t help but think about Greta Thunberg.

Mary was around 14 years old or younger when she sang the song we read and sang today. She grew up in a small town called Nazareth when their lands had been colonized by foreign leaders and oppressed by more local ones. They were heavily taxed by both powers and could lose homes, food, and even their life if they didn’t comply. We don’t know a lot about her early life, but at the point we join her in Luke, Mary, and Elizabeth, the soon-to-be mother of John the Baptist, have gathered to talk. This was a conversation across generations because, as the story goes, Mary was a teenager, and Elizabeth was elderly. I imagine they talked about pregnancy, but I also can’t help but imagine they talked about the realities of their lives, too. I can’t help but imagine that they talked about their hopes and dreams. I can’t help but imagine that they talked about their hopes and dreams for the children in their bellies.

Many of the songs we sing about Mary, even the songs we sing today, are beautiful and soft, but I can’t help but imagine that if this song were to be sung now, it would sound quite a bit different. Imagine today was the first time you heard this song. This song, sung by an oppressed Jewish teenage girl with beautiful brown skin and a face and body already shaped by the oppression of her nationality, gender, age, class, and faith, would have burst out of her with hip-hop power and a strong backbeat. Imagine her posture changing as she sang the words:

“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for God has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is God’s name.”

Imagine the conversation about the difficulties with their elders bursting forth as her voice raised and she sang:

“God’s mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.”

Imagine her standing tall with one hand raised in a fist and the other holding the baby in her belly as she sang and rapped:

“God has shown strength with their arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. She has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; they have filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.”

Imagine Mary beginning to sit back down with a smile on her face and holy confidence and holy power as she finished with:

“God has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of God’s mercy, according to the promise God made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

Imagine hearing this song for the first time, unmuffled by centuries of dogma, spoken at this moment and this time. This song… Sung by an oppressed Jewish teenage girl with beautiful brown skin and a face and body already shaped by the oppression of her nationality, gender, age, class, and faith. This song… Bursting out of Mary with mighty hip-hop power with a strong backbeat. This song… Calling her elders to account and pointing to the child in her belly whose life was already dedicated to every other person yet to be born, including you, me, and everyone else you know or know of. If we don’t hear this voice from Mary without many times the courage of Malala or many times the cutting power of Greta, we don’t hear it at all. This song, sung by an oppressed Jewish teenage girl with beautiful brown skin and a face and body already shaped by the oppression of her nationality, gender, age, class, and faith, was for us and to us. This song was a prayer yelled out so loudly that generations yet to come heard it.

So, when we talk about feeding people and changing systems so that no one else is hungry, we make a faith statement. Sure, such statements may affect political conversations, but talking about and acting on such things is a statement of and about our faith. We’re making a faith statement when we talk about housing people and challenging systems that cause people to be unhoused. When we call for honoring all people’s love for each other, we make a faith statement. When we protest for peace, we’re acting faithfully. We act out of our faith when we recognize and follow the children and young adults calling for generational and environmental justice.

That last point is no small thing. As I mentioned, Luke says that Mary was young and Elizabeth was elderly. Elizabeth’s task was not to raise a child that would lead but a child that would help make way for the child of her much younger relative. When we look back at the Gospel stories, the age of Mary is one to keep in mind. Again, she was probably a teenager when Jesus was born. Of the disciples that Jesus called, the youngest was probably around 14, and the oldest was probably in their early 20s. Most of Jesus’ public ministry in the gospels was in his early 30s. Our faith is at its best when we take our guidance for action from those in their teens, 20s, and 30s and recognize the faithfulness of Elizabeth to make way for their wisdom.

I love the beauty and wonder of Advent and the Christmas season. I love seeing the lights and hearing the Christmas music and all the decorations. It is all magical.

Underneath all of that, however, is something different. There is this song, sung by an oppressed Jewish teenage girl with beautiful brown skin and a face and body already shaped by the oppression of her nationality, gender, age, class, and faith that would have burst out of her with hip-hop power with a strong backbeat Hear it:

“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for God has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is God’s name.”

There is this song about the difficulties with elders bursting forth as Mary’s voice is raised and she sings:

“God’s mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.”

There is this oppressed Jewish teenage girl with beautiful brown skin and a face and body already shaped by the oppression of her nationality, gender, age, class, and faith, with one hand raised in a fist and the other holding the baby in her belly as she sings and raps:

“God has shown strength with their arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. She 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.”

And there is Mary, beginning to sit back down with a smile on her face and holy confidence and holy power as she finishes with:

“God has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of God’s mercy, according to the promise God made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

May we hear her. May we join her. May we follow the one that, in her belly, danced to the song she sang. 

Amen.

The Rev. Mike Denton is the designated pastor of South Congregational Church (UCC) in Pittsfield, MA. Join us for worship at 10 am on Sundays! Click here if you’d like to donate to the church and its ministries!

One thought on ““Lifted Up” (Sermon on Luke 1:46b-55) #pittsfield #berkshires

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.