Luke 1:39-55, Third Sunday of Advent
A six-year-old boy named Franklin captured the hearts of an entire church community because he listened to his mother. The story goes like this. Franklin, Franky to his mother and friends, had moved to a new town and began to attend the local UCC congregation. And as a member of the Sunday School Franky was invited to participate in the annual Christmas Program. He was given the part of the Innkeeper. Now, previous to moving to this town and joining this church, Franky had not been a part of any congregation, so the story of the nativity was new to him. Well, the big day arrived, and Franky and the other children were all dressed in their costumes and seated on the floor behind the pulpit awaiting their turn. But when Franky got up to say his one and only line, he paused. “there’s no room in the inn” came an adult voice from off-stage. But still, Franky was silent. “there’s no room in the inn” this time a little louder. But still nothing from Franky. Now, becoming frantic and growing with frustration, the voice sounded out again, this time very loudly “THERE’S-NO-ROOM-IN-THE-INN” Seconds, which seemed like minutes, passed and still nothing. But just as the director had decide to move on, Franky spoke. A broad smile had suddenly adorned Franky’s face and in his loudest six-year-old voice he proudly said, “Come on in, there’s always room for one more!” Of course, a roar of laughter came from the congregation and things really went off the rails when Mary and Joseph actually went into the inn, along with the innkeeper and the sheep and the angels and the wise men. Apparently, Christ was born in a warm bed that year. After the program was over however, the director asked Franky why he changed his line. “Because,” was the answer, “Because my mother taught me to share.”
I wonder if Jesus listened to his mother? I wonder if she taught him to share. I ask these questions because there’s a striking similarity between Mary’s song and Jesus’ inaugural sermon in Nazareth. In Luke 4:18-19, Jesus begins his ministry with these words:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me.
He has sent me to preach good news to the poor,
to proclaim release to the prisoners
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to liberate the oppressed,
and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
Now, it seems to me, like Jesus’ understanding of the purpose for his entire ministry is a restatement his mother’s understanding of God’s work in her life. The very essence of his ministry seems to come from Mary. I mean, think about it. Jesus isn’t just making stuff up. He’s giving voice to how he grew up. He’s articulating what he’d been taught; what he’d known this from the beginning. It’s what his mother preached and what she taught him to be. It’s how his mother interpreted Scripture and taught Jesus to interpret Scripture.[I] And this is important. It’s important because this theme of Good News for the poor, of release, recovery, and liberation to those on the outside looking in, serves as a hallmark of this Gospel. Above all else, Luke is concerned about social justice.
But while Mary’s song is a song of justice and liberation, there’s just no way to avoid the fact that there’s a barb in this good news for us here in this room today. And the barb is this. Most of us fall into the category of the “full” and the “rich” who will be sent away hungry and empty-handed, don’t we?[ii] We’re comfortable, well fed, we have a warm bed in the inn. But Luke presents Mary’s song as a joyful one for those who are lowly, humble and humiliated, the least and the last. And yet, even here there’s good news; the future Mary looked forward to is a vision of the restoration of the whole human family. She saw in the birth of her son the establishment of the justice that makes it possible for all people to thrive, to reach their God-given potential, to experience the joy and the vibrancy that God intends for us all.
But take heart. Don’t be discouraged and give away all your stuff just yet. Because what this text means for those of us who are “full” and “rich” is this… the only way for us to sing Mary’s song with the same kind of joy, the joy of the “lowly” being lifted up, is if we actually engage in God’s work of restoration.[iii] The only way for us to sing Mary’s song with joy and hope is for us to work at lifting up the lowly, filling the hungry, and restoring those who are disenfranchised.[iv] That’s what Jesus came to do; to begin God’s work of making all things new, of setting right the wrongs and lifting the burdens we carry.
That’s why we celebrate Advent and Christmas. It’s a time for us to focus our attention on God’s work in this broken world. It’s time for us to listen to our mothers and share the blessing we have been given. It’s a time for us to celebrate the work of restoration and healing and salvation that God is carrying out, right now, in the human family; the whole human family. And it’s a time for us to live-into our faith by joining that work.[v]
My friends, it’s this joyful faith, this Advent faith, that gives us the energy to sustain our love as we join in God’s work of transforming all of creation by making a difference in our corner of the world.[vi] And it’s a faith, that calls us to open our hearts, and our minds, and perhaps even our homes, and say, to those who have little, “Come on in, there’s always room for one more.”
May it be so.
Amen & Amen.
[ii] Cf. Foster, “Mary’s Hymn,” 458: “even though Mary has been often ‘regarded as the comforter of the disturbed, she [or at least her song] is far more accurately the disturber of the comfortable’” (quoting Doris Donnelly).
[iii] Cf. Stephen Shoemaker, God Stories, 217-18: “There are only two ways you can enter the kingdom and experience its joy. One is to be among the poor, oppressed, bruised, blind, and brokenhearted; those to whom God comes as healing, comfort, justice, and freedom. The other way is to be among God’s people who are going to the poor, oppressed, bruised, blind, and brokenhearted and bringing God’s healing, comfort, justice, and freedom.”
[iv] Cf. Letty M. Russell, “God’s Great Reversal,” The Christian Century (Nov. 20, 1991): 1089. She says, “God’s great reversal may come too close to home as we hear that Christmas is about lifting up the ‘lowly,’ filling ‘the hungry with good things’ and ‘sending the rich away empty.’ Yet it is by joining in their desire and work for deliverance that we find out the meaning of the good news of great joy.”
[vi] Jürgen Moltmann, Theology of Hope, 338: “Faith can expend itself in the pain of love, …, because it is upheld by the assurance of hope in the resurrection of the dead.