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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Luke 1:47-55 Dreams (Part 2): How the World Should Be
James McTyre
Lake Hills Presbyterian Church (USA)
Sunday, December 16, 2007

If you're under the age of, say, 16, or if you have kids, particularly if you have daughters in that demographic, you're familiar with these words...

Living in my own world
Didn't understand
That anything can happen
When you take a chance
I never believed in
What I couldn't see
I never opened my heart
To all the possibilities

(Can anyone tell me the next line? And the name of the song is? "Start of Something New." And who sings it? Troy and Gabriella. And the song is from? "High School Musical (1)").

If you haven't seen the Disney Channel's original movie, "High School Musical," or if you haven't seen all the posters advertising it and its creatively titled sequel, "High School Musical 2," you are just so yesterday. Any of you remember the musical, "Grease"? Any of you remember the movies with Andy Rooney (I mean), Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland where they were always putting on shows? High School Musical is the latest update. Disney thought they were making a cute, clean, family-oriented little movie, and it turned into a media juggernaut, spawning lunch boxes, T-shirts, posters and real-life high school musicals about "High School Musical." It's good to know something cute, clean, and family-oriented can still be popular.

For about as long as there have been stage productions, there have been musicals. The characters talk for a while, but when something really important is going to be said, they burst into song. It's not the most realistic way of getting the point across. I rarely break into song in the normal course of a working day, and I imagine it's the same for you. ("May I have FRIES with that... please?" This could be considered abnormal behavior.) So, with musicals, there's this touch of other-worldliness, a sense of whimsy, a built-in yearning for a different reality.

Which brings us to musical language of scripture today. Linda read the song of Mary - I suppose I could have asked her to sing it - she read the song of Mary, accompanied to music, for a reason. It IS music. It's the music of a woman, the music of an expectant mother. If you look in your Bible, you'll see that the scripture really is a song, plunked down in the middle of the story of Mary and Elizabeth and their expectations for their yet-to-be born children, John the Baptist and Jesus. The dialog builds and builds until Mary speaks, and when she does speak her very first words about her baby, when she speaks her first words about Jesus, she doesn't just talk, she sings. Think about what's happening here. There OUGHT to be music playing behind her. There ought to be a heavenly orchestra coming down from heaven, music swelling with emotion as she hits the high notes, the highest notes of her dream for this baby. What Mary sings are THE highest notes of God's dream for the Son of God Almighty. Mary sings God's highest notes for how the world should be. So, in this high point of a moment when heaven reaches forth to touch the earth, when God's plan pours forth from Mary's lips, it's done through music, through a song. And with this song, Mary sings in harmony with God about the start of something new.

Mary sings, "My soul magnifies the Lord." Right there is a signal that something new is starting. Because when you think about the arrangement, it would seem more logical to expect God to do the magnifying. God - should magnify Mary's spirit, not the other way around. God - should take that little spark of divinity deep within her humanity, and make it shine. Isn't that the way we think about the deal? We find faith in God and God makes us better people. God's creativity in this song, though, is that Mary's soul magnifies God. She says, "for He has been mindful of the humble state of his servant." God doesn't change Mary's state. Instead, Mary, in her lowliness, expands our concept of God. God doesn't favor the blessed. God doesn't reward the saintly. If good stuff happens to you, it's not because God loves you more. No, Mary is living proof that God is magnified, God is bigger, than our puny human conceptions of cause and effect, action and reward. Mary, lowly little Mary shows that God can - and God does - work through anyone, even and especially the least of these. This is not how the world should be; this is how God is. How the world should be is cognizant of what it regards as throwaway people. God is bigger, much, much bigger, than the good people who go to church on Sunday and put money in the Salvation Army pot. God is magnified by the people who receive the pennies from the bottom of the pot, Mary being exhibit number one. Mary is how the world should be. This IS the start of something new.

She sings, "He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; (what mighty deeds?) he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones.... he has sent the rich away empty."

Again, if this is how the world should be, this is the start of something new. Mary may not have had time to watch the news, but this is NOT the way the world worked back in her time, and it's not the way the world works now. Fortune favors the powerful. Her song hits a sour note, at least in the ears of those living - or wanting to live - the lifestyles of the rich and famous. Champagne wishes and caviar dreams? No, ma'am. Not in God's song. The way God's song goes, if you're proud, God will confuse your inmost thoughts. There's some creative justice. If you're arrogant and mean, God won't smite you; God will confuse you. If you're rich and powerful, God won't destroy you; God will scoot that throne right out from under you. If you're obnoxiously fat and happy, God will help you understand emptiness, first-hand. Again, this song is something new.

Mary sings, "But he has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things." You might wonder, is Mary singing about herself? In her lowly estate, is she the one lifted up? In her hunger for dignity and worth, is she the one now filled with good things even as her womb is filled with this unborn child? Maybe Mary is singing because she's living proof that God will fulfill the promise to lift up the humble and fill the hungry.

Especially at Christmas, we get reminded that there are a lot of humble, hungry people out there. The Salvation Army, places like the Volunteer Ministry Center, and groups like our own Missions Committee are singing Mary's song when they remind us that so many hungry people still need our help. In today's world, Mary's song sounds like the bells ringing on the street corner, like a check being ripped from its book, and like the percussive thump of a food basket on the floor. You hear these sounds all the time this time of year, but rarely do we connect the notes to the music. When the proud are brought down an octave, and when the lowly are pitched higher, we hear Mary, singing, singing still, magnifying God, starting something new.

If life really was a musical, how would it sound? A couple of weeks ago, on one of the warm days, I had the windows to my office open. There was a guy jogging around the path. He had his iPod on his arm, his headphones in his ears. Most everyone who goes around the path does so with their own, private music collection providing a soundtrack for their sweat. But unlike the other joggers and walkers, this guy was singing along, singing LOUDLY beneath his earphones. I'd be sitting at my desk and I could hear him coming, around by the basketball goal. By the time he got to my window, it was like a winded Michael Bolton was squeezing out the lyrics. And then by the miracle of the Doppler Effect, he would fade around the front of the building. Until the next lap. And the song would rise again. I don't think he realized what he was doing. Maybe he did. If he had ever listened to someone else jog and sing at the same time, I doubt he would consciously choose to try it himself. But even though he was a bit - OK, very - off-key, even though he might not have known what he was doing, the guy was having a great time. He was singing like he was the only person in the world. He was singing as if his life was a musical, running in circles, around a church.

Singing, out loud, is a bold act. It takes guts to sing in public, especially if you're the only one singing. If you burst into song at Wal-Mart, they'll probably call Security. Singing, when the rest of the world is mute, is either a little crazy, or a little defiant. But, like that singing-jogging guy, if all you hear is the sound of a song that lifts your soul, a song that magnifies the Lord, if the song of Christ is what's filling your heart and mind, if this musical dream of how the world OUGHT to be has taken hold, you'd be crazy not to sing. It really doesn't matter if you can't carry a tune in a bucket. What matters is that you let the song take over. What matters is that you sing along.

But be careful. Mary's song isn't from a high school musical. God's song isn't about falling in love and having happy endings. God's song is about being loved, and about just endings, fair endings. If you find yourself singing Mary's song, you might find yourself feeling as lowly and humble as she did. You might feel as if you're out of tune with the rest of the world. And you may well be. The good news is Mary was out of tune, too. And the Spirit of the Lord dwelt within her.