Summary: Joy, gratitude, and mercy, are a part of our calling as Christians. We often do more this time of year, but our calling extends beyond the Christmas holiday, our calling is a part of our lives every day. I can’t help but think that Mary didn’t just sing
At the turn of the 18th century, Christmas could be a very dangerous time for ordinary common folk like us. Back in those days, it was customary for bands of young men to go door-to-door, demanding food and drink and in exchange provide a song for the household’s entertainment. If nothing was given, the gang was as likely as not to break in and ransack and trash the house, as well as stealing whatever they found that they might want. The Christmas holiday was often just another excuse for thugs to run rampant on society.
In 1828, New York City established its first professional police force. The city government felt that it was necessary that they respond to a Christmas riot.
What a far cry from what we celebrate today. Even for those who only celebrate a secular holiday it is still a time of food and family, of gifts and decorations, of music and celebration. Yes, there are those who still live closer to the turn of the 18th century Christmas or 1828 New York City, pre-police Christmas. But, for most folks in our society it is a great day of celebration.
For we in the Church, the secular celebrations are also a part of our celebrations, but Christmas is much more. Christmas is a time for singing because it is a celebration of a birthday. Whenever a person has a birthday, friends and family join in singing, “Happy Birthday to You.” We have our Christmas anthems, solos and carols. Radio and television keep the Christmas music and songs in our ears from before Thanksgiving to Christmas day. In our lesson this morning we have a young woman’s song about being a mother. Suppose we had to compose our personal song of Christmas. What would we sing? Let’s take a look at Mary’s beautiful Magnificat.
Today’s lesson is more than Scripture. It is a song, it’s Mary’s song. It is Mary’s song of praise, a song of thanksgiving to God for God’s calling her to be the mother of our Lord. The lesson is a song of joy. It is a song of gratitude. It is a song of mercy. And, it is a clearly song that is about social change.
I Mary begins to sing. “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. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed.” Those are the words of a joyful heart. Those are the words of a woman who is joyful because she is living her life as God’s servant. Mary’s song is a song of joy.
The great classical cellist Pablo Casals, in his life story entitled Joys and Sorrows, tells readers his first memory of attending worship on Christmas Eve when he was five-years-old. He walked to the church in a small village in Spain, hand-in-hand with his father, who was the church’s organist.
He said that as he walked, he shivered. The shivering was not, however, so much because the night was cold, though it was quite cold. Pablo was shivering because the atmosphere that evening was so electric and so mysterious.
“I felt,” Pablo said, “that something wonderful was about to happen. High overhead, the heavens were full of stars, and as we walked in silence I held tightly to my father’s hand… In the dark, narrow streets, there were moving figures, shadowy and spectral and silent, too, moving into the church, quickly and silently… My father played the organ, and when I sang, it was really my heart that was singing, and I poured out everything that was in me.”
“It was really my heart that was singing.” I think Mary could identify with that. When we sing praises to God we sing from our hearts. We sing with joy. Yes, Pablo Casals was only a small child. Yes, Mary was still a young girl. But, it seems to me that they have something to teach us about singing from our hearts and singing with joy. When we become adults, all too often, we tend to lose our joy. We don’t sing with joyful hearts. We need to relearn. We need to sing a song of joy.
II Mary continues, “for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.” She is singing a song of gratitude, a song of thanksgiving to God. Here is a young girl, who isn’t married, and pregnant with God’s baby. Who would believe her? Here is a young girl, in a life-threatening situation.
Moss heart spent his life as a Broadway playwright and director. In his autobiography Act One, An Autobiography, Hart describes on particular Christmas Eve at the turn of the century when he was ten and the family was living in New York City. Because of their poverty Moss was surprised one special night a few days before Christmas when his father said, “Let’s go downtown and set out on a walk down to 149th Street, a part of town where push carts full of toys were lined up for shoppers.