The Gospel of the Lord
Praise to you O Christ.
Brothers and sisters will you please pray with me?
God of song and mystery, like Mary, let your word spring forth from our lips with joy and wonder. Open our hearts and lives to your gift of abundant life. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
The power of music to bless us and transform the world
What do you do if you want to remember something? Maybe you write it down… on a calendar, in your phone… or maybe you put sticky notes where you will see them or hang it on your refrigerator. Unless you are one of the few with an amazing memory… you probably have developed a method or two for remembering things.
It turns out that music is one of the best ways to remember something. There is something that sparks our memory if we hear a tune or just a line of a song we know well or learned in our childhood. As writer Jodi Picoult once said, “Music is the language of memory.” It’s true. I’ll bet most of you could sing the next line if I started singing “Hark the Herald angels sing..,”Glory to the new born king”
This marvelous music memory that we all have was an important key to helping me recover many years ago when I received an internal head injury after being hit by a car. One of the things that I responded to, while I was in a coma, was my family singing Christmas carols – and the liturgy. Those words and music connected with me deep inside my soul.
That is the power of music. Songs reach into our hearts and minds and lives and help us express ideas and emotions that simply cannot be expressed by words alone. What do we do when we celebrate? We play music!
In the opening hymn we sang: “Sing out your joy, for soon he is born…” We rejoice, we celebrate, we sing the promise of God that has come to life… in the birth of Jesus.
But music is not just for celebrations. Music can also reach deep into our hearts at those times that we lament. Sometimes it can seem as if the power of darkness and sorrow is winning. Sometimes our hearts are broken. It is at those times that we turn to songs or Psalms of lament. Most of the lament psalms – for the Psalms were first written as songs to be sung or chanted – begin by acknowledging the hurt and the pain of life but then work their way to praise and thanksgiving. Music can also help us to work through our trials and bring us out on the other side.
Songs are powerful. I was reminded of the fall of the Berlin Wall almost 30 years ago. It started with people gathering around candlelight in St. Nikolai church – the church where Bach wrote much of his music. They gathered to singing and praying for the fall of that wall. The Stazi police thought that nothing could happen as a result of songs and prayers – so they did not bother them. It began as a small group. But over time their numbers grew until they filled the sanctuary and then overflowed into the street until finally they marched with more than three hundred thousand, more than half of the citizens of the city, singing songs of hope and protest. Their song shook the powers of the nation and the wall came down.
Likewise, it wasn’t only the strong words of Martin Luther King Jr that spurred on the justice movement of his day but Gospel songs, like “We shall overcome” made people not only hope for voting rights … but inspire them to believe that it could happen.
Songs are powerful. They help us express joy. They move us and give us the courage to stand up to oppression and to over come evil with good.
For our Gospel today, I wanted you to sing rather than just listen to Mary’s song, the Magnificat. These words have been set to many tunes but the message that they convey is timeless. These words, this song, reminds us that God meets ordinary people in ordinary places and cares for those who the world sees as “nobodies”.
There is every reason in the world that Mary should be afraid. She finds herself unmarried and pregnant – a condition that, in her day, could be punishable by stoning. But instead… she runs – possibly for protection - to her cousin Elizabeth – who has also been surprised by God with a baby even though everyone in her world thought her barren. And together they are amazed at the surprising ways that God has acted in them – ordinary, poor and seemingly powerless women.
And Mary sings. She accepts God’s choice and humbly and yet with not just a little courage, sings with joy and wonder that God would chooses to work through her, an ordinary girl to bear the Savior of the World. She rejoices, singing that her soul “magnifies” the Lord.
But then she sings – not only of her own condition – but of the condition of the world. She proclaims that God is at work in the world, turning the world’s expectations upside down. Her verbs are past tense – not because God is done – but because Mary remembers God’s on-going work with the people of God. God worked with Moses to free the Hebrew people from Pharaoh’s hand. God worked with the prophets of old caring for the weak and turning expectations upside down. And now…Mary realizes… God is working in a new way… through her.
Mary sang and rejoiced to become a part of God’s unfinished business… and do we.
Today, as we baptize Lilah, welcoming her into God’s family, we are reminded of God’s on-going work – and that God prefers to work through ordinary people like you and me.
She will be receiving a few gifts as reminders for her and you of her new life in Christ. First, her baptismal towel with a dove on it is a reminder that the Holy Spirit will always be with her. The candle that is lit today can be lit on the anniversary of her baptism, reminding her of Christ’s light shining in and through her and reminder her to “let her light shine before others so that they will see her good works” – not to praise her – but so that they will give thanks and glory to God. She will receive a prayer shawl – and a prayer partner, reminding her that she will be in this congregation’s thoughts and prayers.
These are the gifts that we give all of the baptized. But I am adding one today: the gift of music. The children’s choir of the congregation in which I was grew up recorded some songs – songs of the church, songs found in the hymnal. I want you to play these songs for her as she is growing up so that the music proclaiming the love of God can be the song of her heart – and the song that pulses through her bones, teaching her the love of God and the promises of God are given for her and for you.
May the power of music bless you so that your song, like Mary’s, can be one of joy and wonder and reflect the mysterious goodness and grace of God. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
Pastor Pam Stalheim Lane
Faith-Lilac Way Lutheran church
December 23, 2018