Songs of the Season: Mary’s Song *

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This recording is intended for distribution to members and friends of the Kirk of Kildaire, Presbyterian Church family.  While effort is made to give credit for work done by others, the notes may use material for which appropriate credit is not given.

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Luke 1:46-56

This Advent… two facebook entries have spoken to me in powerful ways… they come from good friends Florida.

One of my friends quoted a beautiful Christmas hymn:
And ye, beneath life’s crushing load, Whose forms are bending low, Who toil along the climbing way With painful steps and slow…

Another friend put on her profile:
It so hard sometimes, this which I do….. tonight was so hard…………………………………………………………………….

This friends is a surgeon… the most caring surgeon I’ve ever met… who, from Florida– has been helping us through Anna’s cancer journey… who cares for her patients with the love of Jesus… who feels the pain of those she cares for… who through her vocation… has touched lives not only with patients in her private practice… but in Haiti… and Uganda… Other people’s pain is her pain… as she seeks to help people bear life’s crushing load.

I’ve been reading about women in Africa this week in the newspaper. Living in poverty and desperation. One with 15 children? Another trying to get a basic education… choosing between school and marriage because it is the only way out… talk about a crushing load!

I am thinking you know something about life’s crushing load don’t you? Especially these days… some of you are bearing a burden of unemployment… others have known what it is like to receive an eviction notice from a mortgage company in the mail…

Some of you have felt crushed by illness that has brought you in touch with your mortality in painfully real ways… you have come face to face with the fact that you, as all of us, will die one day. That is a crushing thought…

Some of you have lost someone you love this year and the holidays feel like a burden to bear… I think of losing our friend, our dear friend Ken this year to cancer… and the burden his wife and children are feeling.

You know something about life’s crushing load, don’t you?

I think of those you have helped with family ties. I asked Frankie and Melinda to tell me how many we had helped and some of their stories. Do you know that you have helped 305 families whose names were given to us by Loaves and Fishes, Social Services and by some of you? Think about it. 305 families who live under a crushing load of debt or poverty… or illness.

Their stories? Let me share just a few of those stories:

“Falon and Fred have three beautiful daughters-all of whom were born prematurely and have related developmental and health issues. Their middle daughter has a form of dwarfism. Despite struggles with unemployment, the family just moved into their own apartment. They have little in the way of furnishings or toys. Dad hopes to go to night school so that he can have more skills to help him land a job that will support his wife and daughters.”

“These young parents have two small children with special needs. Both children are completely blind. Father has been out of work for five weeks…they live in a very low income neighborhood in downtown Raleigh. Family fears for their safety. They struggle to make ends meet.”

And ye, beneath life’s crushing load, Whose forms are bending low, Who toil along the climbing way With painful steps and slow…

It so hard sometimes, this which I do….. tonight was so hard……………………………………………………………………. [life is so hard]
I’m here to tell you that Mary of all people would understand. I wonder if we realize how hard… how brutally hard life was for Mary. A young woman… pregnant before she was married … in a culture when that meant not sympathy but ostracism.

Mary… who was crushed by a life of poverty… more like the women of Guatemala… or Haiti… or Iraq or Afghanistan or Mexico… than women who live in Cary or Apex or Fuquay-Varina. She lives in a time of political tension… where no one was safe… where a mother might wonder, “is this the kind of world for anyone to have a child?” A time filled with popular unrest, suppression and protest against the Roman occupiers. Where Israel looked like the lost tribe of God on the world stage.

A generation before Jesus was born, things got so bad, a town called Magdala was destroyed (52 BC) and tens of thousands of its people were taken as slaves. Scholars believe that Mary Magdalene(another Mary) was likely from this town (hence her name). Her ancestors may have even been killed, raped or enslaved during that horror. This is the world, Mary, the Mother of Jesus, knows very, very well.

And ye, beneath life’s crushing load, Whose forms are bending low, Who toil along the climbing way With painful steps and slow…

It so hard sometimes, this which I do….. tonight was so hard……………………………………………………………………. [life is so hard]

Into this world, Mary sings. She sings a song she learned from reading her Bible and a life of growing in the faith… she sings a version of Hannah’s song from the story of Samuel… from another hard time and dark place for God’s people.

But her song is not one of lament… (as you might expect) it is one of praise and thanksgiving. For Mary knows something maybe others don’t know. It is into this world, into these painful circumstances- God comes.

Into the nitty gritty world of poverty and injustice… into a world where life is hardly fair- where the chasm between her and her people-and the rich and powerful is about as far as it gets… into this world… God comes… is coming…

“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… his mercy is on those who fear him… he has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel in remembrance of his mercy.”

The birth of her child, for Mary, and for many of us, is the signal that in this world where people are crushed by life… God came… and still comes… to seek and to save. God came and comes to set right the wrongs of life and history.

People of faith have seen this… even in my short lifetime. One example. Martin Luther King Jr- another person of faith whose life and message was shaped by the Bible-MLK knew that God would not forget the people who were crushed by racism and prejudice. The Civil rights movement was propelled by the hope and faith that God was a God of justice… that the proud and the arrogant would one day be brought down. And they were and they are. King once said, , “the moral arch of the universe is long, but it bends towards justice”.

Mary believed that… she sang about it.

I think more recently about people like Madoff, up in Butner prison. Living in lavish luxury based on a scheme that sent many to poverty… not caring who got hurt in the way… one might say that the rich have been sent away.

Mary’s song is a powerful song a song of hope for most… but not for all…I love the way one friend of mine described it: Mary’s song has dynamite in it! This song is explosive… radioactive… because if you listen to it, it will upset many people.

In fact, this song is so explosive, I learned in the Christian Century magazine that the government of Guatemala banned this song years ago. Unlike other Christmas songs, like “Away in a Manger”, this song was apparently considered too subversive, politically dangerous. Authorities worried that it might incite the oppressed people (like our Mayan friends in Pala) to riot.

Well, you can try to ban this song… but Mary and many others will go on singing. We will go on singing that for those who have been crushed by life’s load… for those who have days when their lament is that life is so hard… so very hard…We will sing, as a statement of faith– that God has come and is coming to set things right… that in and through God’s son and those who are his followers… God has come and is coming … when life is hard, so very hard… to bear the burden and share the load… to seek and to save…

Which is why Christmas came early for me this year. This year, maybe more attuned to the pain of people than most years because of the recession… this year… Christ came early.

When those 305 families were helped by you… Christ came… and I rejoiced and gave thanks. When one family in our congregation was in dire need and so many of you responded… Christ came… and I rejoiced and gave thanks. When you gathered packed over 100,000 meals to save about 600,000 people from hunger… Christ came… and like Mary, I found myself rejoicing and giving thanks…

When I kept reading from my surgeon friends website… I rejoiced and gave thanks when I read the comments… reminding my friend how of how Christ had come to them through her.

Comments like:
I don’t have any idea what has happened, but this is a voice from the past (22 years ago), because of you skilled hands I am alive today to take care of my husband who has Parkinson’s and dementia. 22 years ago I was afraid and didn’t know what my future would to be, but your kindness and caring comforted me, and lifted a cloud over me. You will never know how much it meant to me. God bless you at this time and know you have touched many lives.

…you give so much of yourself to your patients. I’ll never forget the day I walked into your office, and you had tears in your eyes. I’ve never known a doctor as kind, caring and compassionate as you are. That day was 25 years ago, and I’m still here, thanks to you. I also thank you for the support you gave me when Michael died.

I read those comments… and I rejoice and give thanks to God… because into this world… God continues to come… to seek… to save…

That’s what Mary is singing about today… and I’m thinking, Mary would enjoy the song we’re about to sing… because it too leads us to the one who will bear our burdens and lead the way to a better day:

And ye, beneath life’s crushing load, Whose forms are bending low, Who toil along the climbing way With painful steps and slow, Look now! for glad and golden hours come swiftly on the wing. O rest beside the weary road, And hear the angels sing!

Praise be to God. Amen.

 

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