Grace and peace be with you all, in the name of our coming Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
My subject for the morning is: the will of God. In this sermon we shall explore the extent to which God’s will is discernable, and thusly determine to what extent we can be held accountable for acting upon it.
That sounds like a kind of boring sermon, I’m not sure I want to preach that. Besides, it’s the last Sunday of Advent, and anyone who’s been here for the first three Sundays in the season knows that I’m preaching the four directions of the Advent Conspiracy: worship fully, spend less, give more and, finally, today… love all.
So, my subject for the morning is: love all. In this sermon we shall explore the extent to which we can discern what it means to “love all,” and thusly determine to what extent we can be held accountable for carrying out this direction.
I’m sorry I’m being a bit cheeky. It’s a couple of things – it’s the fact that it’s the last Sunday in Advent, and I know many of us are getting ready to leave for the holidays. Most of us won’t see each other until after Christmas, maybe after New Year’s, so this is kind of it. This is our Christmas. It’s also that the main text for this morning is just so ridiculously wonderful that it’s hard to say much more than, “did you hear that?” I’m talking about the Magnificat, the song of Mary that the choir sang. It’s so direct, so confident, that it barely needs preaching – just hearing. We just need to hear it
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; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. 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, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendents forever.
Yeah, we just need to hear that more often. And I say that all starry-eyed and full of romance, as though I don’t know that when Mary’s vision of the world comes to pass, we will most likely be among those who are scattered, brought down from our thrones and sent away empty. But I do, I do know that when we look at the conditions that most human beings on this planet live under, we are fabulously wealthy. According to the World Bank’s development indicators from 2008, 80% of the world, over five billion people, are living on $10 a day or less. Half that number, 40% of the world or two-and-a-half billion people are living on $2 a day or less. Literally half the world lives on less each day than what Starbucks charges for a cup of coffee and a muffin. That means that I, and most of us in this room, are on the underside of Mary’s vision for the world.
And still I love it. Still my heart thrills to read it, to sing it. I am so tired of the world as it is. I yearn, I ache for a day when there will be no line for food in Haberland Hall. Can you imagine that? Can you imagine a day when we can shut the doors of Elijah’s Pantry because the hungry have been filled up with good things? If you can begin to imagine that, then can you imagine it on a global scale? Can you imagine nations saddled with servicing the debt on their foreign aid being free from that, being able to engage with the world on equal footing, not coming to the World Bank the way folks show up at our doors after the pantry has closed, hoping there will still be a little left to give away.
Yes, I want that. Even if I don’t fully understand what it would mean for me on a personal level. Even if I kind of sense, but don’t quite fully realize, that it would mean adjusting not only my way of living – but my hopes and dreams for my way of living – I still want that. Because I suspect – no, I think I know – that life in that world, in the upside down world of Mary’s song, would mean a new level of trust, of friendship, of love for whole groups of people that I d0n’t know how to relate to very well yet.
Do you feel that way at all? Do you ever feel like the terms and conditions, the privilege, that comes with being born into whatever identities you were born into (black/white, male/female, middle class/working class, rich/poor, straight/gay, American/undocumented, etc.) keep you from having deeper relationships with others? How much would you be willing to give up for that to go away? How many fewer square feet in the living room, or horsepower in the engine, or choices in the supermarket would you trade for the knowledge that every human being on this planet has the same options that you do, and that we could all be closer, more trusting, less afraid, less naggingly, nascently guilty?
I’m talking about utopia. I’m talking about a return to Eden. I know that. I’m not totally deranged. But I want it, especially at this time of year when I actually catch myself thinking, “is that enough presents, or will she feel disappointed?” Seriously, after preaching for an entire season about buying one less present and donating that money to world hunger or clean water, I still look at the growing pile of presents in my dining room waiting to be wrapped, and I ask myself, “is that enough?”
No one generally preaches the Hebrews text on the fourth Sunday of Advent, not when you have this delicious Magnificat to feast upon, but there are some words I find comforting in that letter.
Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body you have prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure… (Heb. 10:5-6)
Burnt offerings and sin offerings, I know the original context for those categories were animal sacrifices in the temple, but what a great way to think about conspicuous consumption – during Christmas or any other time of the year. Those things you buy that give you a little momentary pleasure, but are used up and forgotten before the bill is paid off, burnt offerings. Those things you buy to make up for missed dinners, missed recitals, missed conversations, missed opportunities – sin offerings. Don’t be fooled, we still have a system of temple sacrifice, it’s just that the temples look like shopping malls and the animals are made of plastic.
Then he added, “See, I have come to do your will.” He abolishes the first in order to establish the second. (Heb.10:9)
The author of Hebrews imagines Christ in holy negotiations with God, renegotiating the terms of the covenant between God and humanity. No more burnt offerings, no more sin offerings. Instead, Jesus has arrived in time
and space to do God’s will. To be the living example of a life lived by the terms of Mary’s song, she who responded to the news of her unlikely pregnancy with the words, “here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38)
So, my subject for the morning is: the will of God and my subject for the morning is: love all, which is of course the will of God, who enters into a life like ours from the lowliest, most degraded, most powerless point of view available to God at the time to make it clear that the glory of God is not going to be found in those places to which the world assigns glory. Or, to use the language of our culture’s prevailing religion (economics), the glory of God is not a commodity whose price will be determined by controlling supply. There isn’t just enough love for the 20% of us living on more than $10 a day. There is enough love for all of us.
So it falls to those of us who have known God in and by the means of grace, through our baptisms and our participation in the Lord’s Supper, those deep rituals we use for telling the truth about God’s creation, that all are welcome and that there is already always enough, to take those sacraments out of the sanctuary and into the streets. Our faith needs to grow wings, or find a tune like Mary’s, so that the deepest truths about life that we practice when we gather here to worship fully, might come to even fuller expression as we spend less and give more, because here we have learned and we continue to learn that our ability to love all doesn’t come from us, but as a response to the God who comes to us this Christmas time, as at every other time of year, to save us from ourselves, to make our lives more holy, to free us from the useless offerings we try to make so that we can receive the offering God is giving us – our whole lives. A gift, this is all a gift.