Sunday, December 12, 2010

Upside Down & In Reverse

(A sermon for the Third Sunday of Advent based on Isaiah 35:1-10 and Luke 1:46b-55)

Please exercise your God-given imagination with me for a little while…

You are young Luke Skywalker, living on a backwater planet on the edge of nowhere with your aunt and uncle, working at what amounts to an intergalactic junk business, when some old guy shows up talking about “The Force” and destiny and eventually, although it takes many years and three long movies, you find out that you have more going for you than all the Emperors and Darth Vaders of the universe ever imagined they did.

You are Rocky Balboa, a Philadelphia club fighter with a punch-drunk accent and a debt collector for a local loan shark, when some fancy guys show up talking about giving you a chance to fight the flamboyant heavyweight champion of the world in a Bicentennial spectacle and eventually, after it dawns on you just how overmatched you are, you find out that you have more going for you than all the Apollo Creeds of the world ever imagined they did.

You are George Bailey, an intelligent and ambitious young man going nowhere fast surrounded by people who are going nowhere fast in a town that is going nowhere fast until one night when, just when it looks like you are going to lose everything that does matter to you, you have a vision that teaches you that you really do have a wonderful life and that you have more going for you than all the Mr. Potters in the world ever imagined they did.

You are Harry Potter, an orphan living in a cupboard under the stairs of the home of your verbally and emotionally abusive uncle and aunt and your spoiled cousin, treated by them and pretty much everybody else like you’re nothing, until one day a great big guy named Hagrid comes to tell you that those strange letters that those strange owls have been delivering to you say that it’s time for you to enter Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and eventually, while it takes many years and seven books, you find out that you have more going for you than all the proud and powerful folks you encounter ever imagined they did.

You are geriatric Sarah and you have been living with the best faith you could muster for all those decades since your impulsive husband sensed the good Lord promising that you’d be the mother of a great nation and for decades now you’ve been following the old fool all over the place and you’ve frankly given up everything even resembling hope when some strange men show up at the tent one day and you overhear one of them telling Abraham that now, just past your 90th birthday, it’s time to paint the nursery and buy the baby bed and, even as you laugh, you find out that you have more going for you than all the kings with all their wives and concubines and all their little princesses and princes ever imagined they did.

You are the boy David, the runt of the litter who, when the prophet of the Lord shows up and asks your father to please let him meet his sons, is given the task of watching the sheep while your more substantial siblings are paraded before the preacher until finally, when the prophet inquires if there isn’t maybe just one more, you are brought in and the strange man pours oil on your head and mutters something about you being the one and eventually, after many trials and tribulations and through many personal successes and failures, you find out that you have more going for you than all the big brothers and all the giants and all the kings in the area.

You are an exile from Judah in Babylon who has lived in that land for decades, ever since you were as a youth ripped away from your homeland following that horrible war that killed so many of your family members and friends, and you’ve long ago given up any hope of ever going home or of not living under the thumb of foreigners, when along comes a prophet preaching a message in which he claims that the God you worship is perfectly capable of bringing health out of sickness and hope out of despair and water out of a desert and a road out of a wilderness and life out of death and eventually, you find out that you and your people have more going for you than all the empires and all the armies in the world.

You are a poor peasant girl named Mary who has next to nothing except a strong, simple faith and a decent man for a fiancĂ© when, out of the blue or out of the heavens or out of the depths of your heart appears a messenger telling you that you’re going to give birth to the One that is going to make all the difference for all people and for all of creation and you say “Let it be done to me as you say” and the next thing you know you’re singing about how God’s going to turn everything on its head one day and how the powerful will be put down and the weak will be raised up, and, given what’s happening to you, you can believe it, because you can sense that eventually you’re going to find out that you have more going for you in your simple faith and in your anonymity and in your remarkably awkward predicament than all the respectably married and theologically sophisticated and well-heeled and well-known people in your town or any other town.

You see, the realities of salvation, the realities of the kingdom of God that has come and is coming, the realities of Advent and Christmas and for that matter the realities of Easter and the Second Coming, all boil down to this one reality: God is about the business of turning everything on its head, of reversing fortunes, of changing everything.

It kind of makes you think differently about success and failure, about pride and humility, about wealth and poverty, about repute and disrepute, and about suffering and ease, doesn’t it—doesn’t it?

It kind of makes you think that if, when all is said and done and Jesus comes the second time, God is going to bring about the great reversal and if God has been about the business of getting that reversal going ever since Jesus came the first time, then we who follow and serve Jesus might as well get with the program now—doesn’t it?

You are, of course, not really Luke Skywalker or Rocky Balboa or George Bailey or Harry Potter or Sarah the wife of Abraham or King David or a Jewish exile in Babylon or Mary the Mother of Jesus.

Bu you are you…

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