Ancient VinylThe Magnificat — Luke 1:46-55

The tragic news out of San Bernardino this week is enough to break our hearts in two and send us all to our knees in prayer. San Bernardino is my birthplace and the city of my childhood. It holds a special place in my heavy heart this week. It’s home to many friends and family members. It’s where Lori and I met and began dating at the age of sixteen, where both of our mothers still live, and where many of my colleagues pastor churches in these days of grief and uncertainty.

San Bernardino would seem an unlikely place for the horrors that took place on Wednesday; it’s not an iconic symbol of American freedom or Middle Eastern ideological conflict. A holiday party of community health workers would seem an unlikely target for massacre. But as we gather for worship today, 1,000 miles away, we share a growing sense that San Bernardino is everywhere, and the victims of Wednesday’s massacre are everybody.

On Friday, after the tragedy, the New York Times ran an article under the headline, “Fear in the Air,” suggesting that, with the growing number and frequency of mass shootings occurring in places we never before imagined, Americans are now looking over their shoulders at all times. More than 5,000 Americans responded to a recent Times survey, and the responses suggest that we’re a nation engulfed in a collective fear—a fear tinged with confusion and exasperation and a broad mix of emotions. It’s the common fear of the ordinary: going to work, eating at a restaurant, sending children to school, going to see a movie.

“A complicated tangle of emotions has taken hold. For some, the shock of repeated slaughters is leaving them inured and resigned. With others, there is recurrent bewilderment. And anger. Why doesn’t the government and law enforcement do more? Why must I feel so helpless? What world must my children live in? Why won’t it stop already?”[1]

These aren’t the only questions we’re asking this morning. Sitting here in church, we’d also like to know where God is in all of this, and what God would have us do. The provocative cover on New York’s Daily Post on Thursday stirred controversy with the unsettling headline, “God Isn’t Fixing This,” implying that it’s not enough to simply offer prayers and empty platitudes for victims while the epidemic of mass shootings continues to claim innocent lives on a daily basis.

So if it’s not simply our prayers, and certainly not our empty platitudes that will change the world, what is it?

I want to tell you about an unknown, illiterate, uneducated peasant teenager from a backwater Judean village called Nazareth. Her name is Mary, and she sings a song this morning that pierces the darkness and violence of her world, and ours.

Her song is called the “Magnificat,” but that almost sounds too tame. What she sings is a hopeful song of protest and resistance against the darkest and most violent force of her day. Her people have been living and dying under the oppressive heel of the Roman Empire for forty years. In the face of daily fear, brutality, hungry babies, and abject poverty, they live their lives between helplessness and hopelessness, between hardened hearts and resignation. They’re asking the hard questions: How can anyone believe in a God who would allow injustice like this? How can anyone ever do anything meaningful to combat such injustice when it’s ingrained in the very structures in which we live?

After forty years of waiting and wondering if their dark world would ever change, a small flame flickers in the hill country of Judea, in a tumbleweed village so far off the map that no one has ever heard of it. Out of the distant darkness we hear a song, the voice of a pregnant peasant teenager, an unlikely prophet, the soon-to-be-mother of God.

I’m bursting with God-news;

   I’m dancing the song of my Savior God…

His mercy flows in wave after wave

   on those who are in awe before him.

He bared his arm and showed his strength,

   scattered the bluffing braggarts.

He knocked tyrants off their high horses,

   pulled victims out of the mud.

The starving poor sat down to a banquet;

   the callous rich were left out in the cold.

He embraced his chosen child, Israel;

   he remembered and piled on the mercies…

It’s exactly what he promised,

   beginning with Abraham and right up to now (The Message).

Mary can see what no one else but God can see, and so she knows what no one else but God knows: that there is a hidden Kingdom behind the kingdoms of this world; there is a world behind the known and visible world, where God is at work. And that world is breaking through. It’s on its way. And it’s growing in her not only as hope grows in the human heart, but it’s growing as a child in her very womb.

She says, “I’m dancing the song of my Savior God.” In all the cold darkness of her violent world, where injustice and death have their way, no one else can hear that song, and so no one else is dancing. How could they dance, knowing what they know, seeing what they see?

A few years ago I stumbled across a curious little quote that seemed to me so wise and novel that I Googled it to see who’d written it. I learned that, over the years, it has been attributed to several authors, including Friedrich Nietzsche, Sufi mystic Rumi, and the poet Angela Monet. For what it’s worth, I also discovered that the actress Megan Fox liked the quote so much that she had it tattooed on a particular part of her body where poetry is not exactly intended to be read.

But whether it was Nietzsche, Rumi or Monet who said it first, it describes what Mary is singing about in her Magnificat:

“Those who danced were thought to be quite insane by those who could not hear the music.”

Mary could hear something that no one else could hear. “I’m dancing the song of my Savior God.”

Before we moved here to Colorado from San Diego, Lori worked as an interventionist with special needs preschoolers who’d been diagnosed with spectrum disorders—most notably, autism. Her students were non-verbal, and her work involved teaching them to how to communicate, to express themselves in non-verbal ways. One of her students would have daily meltdowns; she’d retreat into her own world and refuse to engage for long stretches of her day. One afternoon, Lori overheard this little girl humming a song in the bathroom, unaware that Lori could hear her. Lori was almost certain that the girl was humming a Kelly Clarkson song, so she immediately took out her IPhone and downloaded the song. Later that day, when the little girl had her daily meltdown and refused to engage, Lori took out her phone, pressed play and, almost as if on cue, this little girl jumped to her feet and started dancing like Shakira, spinning and bouncing and twirling with her arms in the air. Later that night, Lori downloaded every one of Kelly Clarkson’s songs, and every day thereafter, whenever she needed this little girl to perform a specific command, she finally had the key. Lori said it was the most breathtaking part of her day, that moment when she’d push play and watch this beautiful little girl suddenly come to life and dance a jig.

“Those who danced were thought to be quite insane by those who could not hear the music.”

Out in the hill country of Judea, Mary could hear what no one else could hear. She could hear the everlasting song that has been playing since the foundation of the world, a chorus that declares that the God who first created this world out of darkness and void will not leave it to the darkness and void of evil and violence. Mary could hear that song. It was a song of protest for the seemingly hopeless places like first century Judea. And two-thousand years later, it’s a song of hope and healing for the brokenhearted and bewildered in places like San Bernardino and Colorado Springs, Aurora and Sandy Hook, South Carolina, Oregon and Virginia. And today, it must be our song, too—a song of resistance, a song of common sense and moral courage, in a country that witnesses, on average, one mass shooting every day. Is lighting candles and praying for dead after every massacre all we can do? Not according to Mary’s song. The God who first created this world out of darkness and void will not leave it to the darkness and void of violence and our growing resignation to it, and neither should we. That’s her song.

And according to Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation, it’s a song that has been sung since the beginning of time. Scripture says that you can hear it everywhere. The birds sing it, the thunderclap shouts it, the trumpet on Sinai declares it. You can hear it everywhere: in the choirs of angels in Bethlehem; in the chorus of seraphim in Isaiah’s vision, in the roar of the waterfalls of justice and the streams of righteousness in the Book of Amos. One everlasting song, sung by every generation and all creation. After the Jews freed themselves from slavery Egypt, Miriam sang it from the shores of the Red Sea; while the Apostle Paul sat in a prison cell in Rome, he sang it to the Philippians in the form of a tender hymn; while Elijah hid in a cave on Mt. Horeb, he heard it what Scripture describes as the “sound of sheer silence.” It’s an everlasting song, played everywhere, and the writer of the Psalms says that it’s such a hit that even the trees cannot keep from clapping their hands.

One song, heard everywhere, played since the very beginning of time. And today, Mary sings it, and she invites us to sing it with her.

I’m bursting with God-news;

             I’m dancing the song of my Savior God…

To hear that song—in the darkness of your own personal struggles, or in dark void of our world today—to hear that song you have to possess the holy, daring imagination of Mary, who believes not simply that the world will be different someday, but that the world is different already, if only we had eyes to see it and hearts that know it.

Did you notice that her song sings of a future that has already happened? “God has brought down the mighty from their thrones and lifted up the lowly, he has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty.” To the mighty who still oppress the weak, it sounds like a pipe dream; to the rich who have everything they need, Mary’s song sounds absurd. But Mary dares to believe as if the things she sings about are already true. Now that she sees the world the way God sees it, the mighty have already lost their power over her; the rich have nothing she wants or needs. The world would call her quite insane, but she can hear the music.

Can you hear that song? Can you see that new world behind the known and visible world that desperately needs a savior to redeem it?

Several years ago a newspaper ran a human interest story about an aging African American woman from the bayous of Louisiana who, with very little money and almost no education, had adopted more than a dozen children who had suffered parental neglect and abuse. She raised them the best she knew how. Each of the children made it through school, went off to college, and eventually went on to successful careers with families of their own. It was one of those local hero stories that newspapers like to feature during the Christmas Season. So in an attempt to come up with some formula that other people could follow, the interviewer asked her why she did it, and how she did it, considering how difficult it must have been. Her response was surprisingly simple, yet deeply profound. “I did it,” she said, “because I saw a new world a-comin’.”

Into the darkness and void of her world, Mary could see a new world coming. It’s already here, she sings, and all Lord requires of you is to live in such a way that you make it visible.

What can you do today, in these bewildering and troubling times, to live in such a way that you make that world visible? What faithful, courageous deed can you do today to add your voice to that everlasting song, the ancient chorus that declares that the God who first created this world out of darkness and void will not leave it to the darkness and void of violence and resignation?

I’m bursting with God-news;

              I’m dancing the song of my Savior God…

It’s exactly what he promised,

   beginning with Abraham and right up to now.