Jason C. Stanley

ponderings of a dad walking humbly & seeking justice

Tag: Elizabeth

Guest Post: Catch What’s Going On

Rev. Lindsey Baynham is the Associate Pastor at Fairfax United Methodist Church. Lindsey blogs at Words of My Mouth.

Slide3Read Luke 1:46-55.

There are certain times in the year where I audibly cry out, “Already?!?” And one that perhaps bothers me more than others is in November. Right before Thanksgiving, there is a shift in stores—it seems that overnight all remnants of pumpkins and turkeys are replaced with snowmen and stockings. The shelves are filled with potential presents for loved ones and the deals are posted in every window. Even the music changes! You find yourself humming familiar tunes as you pace the aisles, get your car worked on or wait in line at the DMV. There is a visible change and I would argue a change within when the turkey and stuffing are behind us that is contagious as we look to Christmas.

But I believe that the change is too sudden. We too often skip over a time of waiting and anticipation to look to the presents or what I would call the hoopla of Christmas. We miss out on an opportunity to slow down and wait. Wait with expectant hearts for the Christ that comes in the most unexpected way; as a baby. We wait with excited spirits for a young virgin girl to give birth in a society that would shame her for not being married yet. And we wait alongside others—hoping in Emmanuel, who is God with us.

Just before our passage, Mary has encountered an angel, telling her that she will bear the Son of God. She responds as I think many would, “ How will this happen?” (Luke 1:34 CEB). How will this young girl take on the responsibility that has been given to her? How will she overcome the pressures of being unmarried in her ancient society? And what has she done to deserve this honor? So many questions it seems are left to be answered and the angel replies with confidence and concludes by saying, “Nothing is impossible with God” (Luke 1:37 NRSV). And so the angel leaves her and the young woman must wait…but she will not sit with this news alone, she goes to visit her cousin Elizabeth who we learn in this chapter is also pregnant.

Elizabeth’s very being is altered and changed at Mary’s greeting! The Holy Spirit moves within Elizabeth and she recognizes that her cousin has been blessed to carry the Son of God. And Elizabeth’s words of praise and thanksgiving are contagious—giving joy to Mary.

And in verses 46-55 we hear Mary’s words of joy, of excitement, of remembrance and of promise. Mary trusts that God will take what seems impossible and make it into something incredible. She revisits the covenants made with her forefathers and knows that a new covenant has been made with the child that rests in her womb.

Our being during the time of Advent is one that is gradual, moving ever so slightly from person to person, home to home, church to church. In this season we wait to catch what is going around—the joy of Christ coming to earth, a joy that is peaked by waiting for the baby Messiah. We look to Christ’s birth with wonder and thankfulness for the time to prepare. And we look to Christmas with a joy that is contagious, spreading from heart to heart.

Led by the Spirit

Read Luke 1:39-45.

Here we have two women. One young, the other old. Both pregnant. Both marginalized by society. Mary because she is unwed and pregnant. Elizabeth has been disgraced by her community because she is old and barren. Both of their lives are changing. One bears the messenger, and the other bears the Message.

During this visit, Elizabeth is the first to declare Jesus “Lord.” Luke does not tell us what Mary does, if anything, between the angel’s visit and Mary’s visit with Elizabeth. What prompted this visit? What was the motivating force behind her actions?

The short answer is the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit that calls to us to act, to move, or to change. It is the force that gives us our power to do good. It is the motivator that causes us to seek out wisdom guides or mentors along our journey. Elizabeth is such a person for Mary. A mentor, a wisdom guide, a prayer partner.

Who has the Holy Spirit led you to as a faith mentor? Who is your wisdom guide? Who is your prayer partner?

Guest Post: Songs of the Heart; A Sermon

A sermon preached by Rev. Lindsay Baynham, Fairfax United Methodist Church, on Sunday, December 16, 2012. The words in bold were sung.

If you’re anything like me when it comes to music, you have different music for different occasions. Your daily routine dictates what music you listen to. You have the playlist for when you’re not having the best day. Songs that you put on when you need to get work done. Specific Pandora stations are for specific times like travelling, cleaning the house or just background noise at a gathering. And if you’re thinking “ Pastor Lindsey I don’t listen to that much music by a long shot” – think of it this way. There is certain music that marks different moments of your lifetime. What you listened to in college, the popular music of the time or even now Christmas music can be heard everywhere you go.

We remember moments in our lives by the songs of the season so to speak. But the various types of songs will change, will be more frequent during parts of your life. Or you will evolve from different types of songs to a new form of music.

Our passage from Luke this morning is commonly referred to as the Magnificat or Mary’s Song. She is responding in praise and thanksgiving for this terrifying life that God has called her to. For this moment in her life, these are the words placed in her mouth to share during her visit with her cousin, Elizabeth. These words encompass types of songs that we too experience in our lives of faith.

“Praise God from whom all blessings flow, Praise him all creatures here below. Praise him above ye heavenly hosts, Praise Father, son, and holy ghost. Amen.”

The first kind of song I want to talk about are songs of rejoicing. The doxology is one that we sing every week in the 9:30 service but lends itself to be a song of rejoicing no matter where you are. Mary’s opening lines of her song is a statement of rejoicing- “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… the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name”. This a song of speaking out, of joy, of praising God for what God is doing and will continue to do in the midst of the darkness.

While I was in seminary I served churches during the summers as a part of my field education. My first field education was in Houston, Texas. We were sitting in the office one afternoon when our Youth intern walked in saying that one of the students and his family believed that their house had been cursed by another family. The church was in an area where many people had beliefs from their countries of origin that included the belief in evil spirits. And that was what we were faced with this particular afternoon.

Having recently finished my first year of seminary, I immediately turned to my mentor of what to do. What do Methodists believe about this, how do we approach this? And Justin, very calmly grabbed anointing oil and a candle as we headed to the home. Once there, we read a liturgy about blessing a home and at the end of the service, we sang the Doxology three times. And it was this song of rejoicing that was one of comfort to a family who felt pressed down by the darkness. God’s light is proclaimed in the doxology and God’s goodness is shared through Christ and the Holy Spirit.

“Create in me a clean heart, and purify me, purify me. Create in me a clean heart so I may worship thee. Cast me not away from your presence. Please don’t take your Spirit me. And restore the joy of salvation. So that I may worship thee. “

This is a gospel song based on Psalm 51, David’s Psalm for cleansing after the incident with Bathsheba. This is a song of grief, lament, of longing for the one true God in the midst of trials., of worry about our relationship with God in jeopardy. But an important theme from this psalm is one of a want to please God, to obey God despite the ways of the world.

We have all felt this way- conflicted by the pressures of the world to be worldly, not to be set apart. Just prior to Mary’s song, we read about her encounter with the angel. Her initial response is worry of what society will say, “How can this be when I am a virgin?” You see Mary knew the laws of the day, she knew that her own life was in danger if she was to become pregnant. She knew that the reputation of her betrothed and his family would be fair game for public scrutiny as well. And Joseph had the option of refusing to have Mary as his wife. There were factors that were cause for worry and I imagine Mary seeking for personal clarity from God, so that she could be faithful to what God was asking of her. And so we hear her responding “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word”.

This response calls for a revering of Mary because she boldly steps out in faith amidst the worries of that the world creates. Mary seeks to glorify God, to be created anew so that she may ultimately worship. This is about faith, and trusting in what God has done and will do.

“Come thou long-expected Jesus, born to set thy people free. From our fears and sins release us, let us find our rest in thee. Israel’s strength and consolation hope of all the earth thou art. Dear desire of every nation, joy of every wandering heart”

And then there are the songs of hope, songs that point us not only to the future, but also to the reality of the here and now. The songs that make our present time bearable because of what we know of Jesus Christ, Emmanuel God who is with us and promises that to us.

“His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength in 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 descendants forever.”

Mary is recalling the covenant that God has made with Israel, and that God will continue to keep this covenant. But in the midst of her pregnancy, Mary acknowledges not only the past and future but that God is currently keeping the covenant made for God’s people. She has hope in the midst of this social taboo that is her pregnancy of the Messiah.

Mary is a different sort of prophet this week as we listen to the powerful words of her song. She embraces all aspects of time, pointing our hearts towards the timeless hope that is God in Jesus Christ. Unlike John the Baptist’s or Isaiah’s words, Mary will embody the light overcoming the darkness in the world through the incarnation.

In the recent events of this country, the untimely death of children and adults in Connecticut, we wonder how this could happen. Our hearts go out to those families, teachers, public service men and women who are dealing with a devastated community. And amongst the deep pain and darkness, there is hope, there is a light who we as the church await with expectant hearts.

In Christ we believe in resurrection, we believe that God is making all things new, and that in Christ we may have resurrection too. Even amidst time of sadness in this nation, we hold on to this truth, that God will come and has come as a child in order to alter the injustice of this world. God is engaged in the struggle for justice, never removed from the present agony when justice is denied.

Mary believed in God’s engagement in the world and so she stepped out in faith to bear the son of God, the Messiah. Mary believed in the hope of resurrection before even seeing the cross. Mary believed and trusted that God who was making all things new in Christ would continue to do so. And as things are continuing to become new in Christ, we also hold on to this hope. The light has come into the world and the darkness has not overcome it.

As we continue to wait for the light, the Christ child, may our prayer be one that rejoices in God in Christ our Lord, grieves the injustice in this world, but continues to hope in Emmanuel, God with us who is making all things new by his resurrection. Come thou long-expected Jesus.

 Amen.

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