Saturday, December 22, 2012

He Sent the Rich Away Empty

Evensong and Eucharist

Seventy years ago we were a very small and poor country church. Our priest was a fellow by the name of Thomas Smythe and he had responsibility for three congregations; at Birdsboro, Morgantown and here in Douglassville. Once a month he came here for Communion for the morning service. On the other Sundays we had Evensong at 7:30pm. 

Ruth Weidner played the organ and remembers singing “The Magnificat” time and time again. On Tuesdays we hold our weekly Bible Study at the Villa. We read the scriptures appointed for the upcoming Sunday. Everyone is welcome to attend and, I must say, we do enjoy lively conversation. This week, Ruth found herself reading the Magnificat, or what we call now the “Song of Mary” and she saw something that she had never noticed before. She listened very closely to what the words said;
“He has brought down the powerful from their thrones
He has lifted up the lowly
He has filled the hungry with good things
And sent the rich away empty.” ~St Luke 1:52,53
Esther Shelley, Ruth Weidner and I shared a good chuckle when Louise Temple said; “It sounds like politics”. The Biblical narrative often speaks up for the poor. No doubt you’ll remember that Jesus announced his ministry in the Synagogue with the words from the prophet Isaiah; “I have come to bring good news to the poor”. (Luke 4:18) That sounds clear to me. We see both Mary and Jesus in the homes, the streets and villages of ancient Galilee where they made these ancient pronouncements. Around them huddle the poor and the sick and the outcast. He brought them good news, a healing touch, and a place to call home in the heart of God.

We read from the prophet Micah who says; Bethlehem of Ephratha, you are just one of the smaller clans of Judah, and of little account and yet from such an obscure place there would come a mighty savior. (Micah 5) He spoke autobiographically, in part; since he too, compared to the other prophets like Isaiah, was of little account. It was, let me remind you, a time of terrible distress. The people would live in captivity yet again, this time taken away into the jaws of oppression by a foreign power. It seems that the history of God’s people is one that often finds itself in periods of distress. Still the prophet says that there will be a woman in labor and she shall bring forth a child and he will be great. He will be mighty. The people will live again in security. his reign will extend to the ends of the earth and he shall be the one who will bring peace. 

This is the great biblical hope which we all treasure in our hearts.

It is worth listening to the prophet and to Mary and it is worth embracing their words. For the fact is, that as jarringly out of place as the gospel may seem to be when confronted with present historic reality, it is nonetheless true. And as urgent as it was to read the prophet’s words then at a time of calamity, so too now in the midst of this world’s darkness these words and these hopes need once again to shine into our hearts.

I will not capitulate or give in to the darkness. Neither will you! God knows it is getting dark, and I’m not referring to the turning of the winter solstice. I am referring to the darkest corners of the human personality. I am referring to our interior illnesses. Disorders of the spirit fill us in some cases to despondency and in extremes to violence. That’s the darkness to which I refer. We’ve seen all too many examples of violence in recent days. Many of us hang on it as if the power of darkness can draw us in and keep us there. Yet I refuse to give in to it. I don’t care how dark it gets.

Clearly Mary was scared out of her wits when the Archangel Gabriel came to her to tell her about her child. “How shall this be, since I am without a husband?” Even with the reassurances of her God-sent visitor, Joseph considered having her quietly sent away until the scandal was over, as Matthew’s Gospel tell us. (Matthew 1:19)

In today’s Gospel we are told that she went to visit her kinswoman Elizabeth, and when she did the child within Elizabeth leapt for joy. All the while the scripture says, “Mary pondered these things in her heart.”

The darkness and the joy are very close together. It just depends on which way you turn to look. It is a matter of orientation, if I may use the word in its root sense. In the ancient church, when a candidate was brought to the font for Baptism, she or he first would face to the west where the darkened sky lurked not just “out there” but “in here”.

The catechumen declared; “I renounce you”, as if there were a reality to the dimension of evil; as if the evil one actually had a living force within. The candidate, however young or old, renounced the darkness three times.

Then he or she would turn to the east, to the brilliant light of the rising sun, and then accept Jesus as the way and the truth and the life. For to these Christians, Jesus was the Light of the world, just as he said he was. (John 8:12) Yes, this is the way to live. In the light of forgiveness and eternal life, in the light of Christ’s reconciling love. 

I know it is dark all around us and deep within as well. We don’t have to look far to see sin. The media are filled with the only doctrine we can proove. Sin. I can prove that doctrine of the church for you easily. Watch the news and read the papers. All the other Church doctrine must be taken on faith. However, the more I’m drawn into that darkness the more I give in to its power, the more likely I will become its child.

In my mind’s eye I see Mary and Joseph and the donkey making their way to Bethlehem. It is dark. They were filled with Advent expectation. He is coming, but what will that mean? Only time will tell. The darkness into which they travelled was however, brightened we’re told, by a star. You and I watch them as they travel along, and how we want to reassure them that he will be the Wonderful Counsellor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, and the Prince of Peace. It will be OK. 

But for now they must merely travel on trusting that the star they follow will indeed lead the way toward God. They had no way of knowing that. But we do. As dark as the world seemed to that frightened and vulnerable family, you and I know with the benefit of hindsight how mightily God would act on their behalf. 

Now you and I must walk in that same dark world and we too will follow the star that shines over our cities, towns and lives that seem of little account. I will not capitulate to the darkness. Neither will you. I will follow the star. And the star of my life is Jesus.

In my baptism, I renounce that way of life that leads to darkness and insist on turning to that light which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Jesus said; ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.’ ~John 8:12
There you are, the Light of the world makes it all so clear. Walk in the Light of Jesus! 

I want to walk as a child of the light;
I want to follow Jesus.
God set the stars to give light to the world;
The star of my life is Jesus.
In him there is no darkness at all;
The night and the day are both alike.
The Lamb is the light of the city of God;
Shine in my heart, Lord Jesus.
Walking in the light when so much of the world walks in darkness is risky business. But when we build communities of faith and build them strong, and when we join hands with others to strengthen the common bonds of humanity through which that light may shine, we can vanquish the darkness, or at least banish it to its isolated corners where it belongs.

This is why we study our scriptures. Every week. This is why we read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them. It is to keep our eyes fixed on the Light of Christ, so that no matter what darkness we must confront, we know that God is with us. 

We have come a long way from Evensong to Eucharist. Now, every Sunday, we may come to the Holy Table and receive the Savior’s Light and Life. Thus may the light of Jesus shine in and through us this day and forevermore. 

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit

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