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Signs (4): Leaping

. 5 min read

2015/12/20 Christ Church,
Mountain Top
Call to Worship, Magnificat, Luke
1.46f
Advent Wreath, Micah 5.2-5a
Message, Luke 1.39-45
Benediction, Hebrews 10.5-10
Sign, sheep, baby ultrasound pics
Philippe Halsman was a famous
portrait photographer of the last century. He is credited with more covers of LIFE magazine than anyone else – over
100. His list of VIPs included Marilyn Monroe, Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis,
Rogers & Hammerstein, Nixon, Grace Kelly, Salvador Dali. At some point in
his career, he began asking every subject who sat for a portrait to also jump
for the camera. He believed that it revealed something about a person that
normally was not captured in portraiture. Routinely, we sit and smile, no matter
our personal feelings. We wear a mask and are quite practiced at putting it on
in front of the camera – as well as in daily life. When we jump, we forget
about the mask and something else slips out, a truer and more intimate self.
Nixon looked stressed and uptight, no joy at all. Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis
looked a bit nuts, “wild and crazy”.
Favorite 2015 Christmas card pic
– couple jumping into a lake … backwards

Hail Mary, full of grace, the
Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou among women
And blessed is the fruit of thy
womb, Jesus.
The opening of the “Hail Mary”
prayer, which comes directly from the text of Luke 1. The traditional prayer
goes on to name Mary as “Mother of God” and ask her to “pray for us sinners”.
In the Orthodox tradition, the title of Mary is “Theotokos”, “God-bearer”.
      Four
times in this passage, the word “blessed” is used, and three of those times it
is of Mary herself:
·       Blessed are you among women.
·       From now on all generations will
call me blessed.
·       Blessed is she who believed that
there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.
Notice that the text says she is
blessed not because she is Jesus’ mother but because she is a woman of faith.
      My
favorite poem of the season is a quatrain by Madeleine L’Engle:
      This
is the irrational season
      When
love blooms bright and wild
      If
Mary had been filled with reason
      There’d
have been no room for the child.
Mary was a woman of faith, a
woman who “believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her
by the Lord”.
Her empty womb was filled.
Elizabeth’s empty womb was filled. And Mary sings,
      He
has filled the hungry with good things,
      And
sent the rich away empty.
“Hungry” is the opposite of
“rich”. This is not simply poverty, but also the very concrete experience of
hunger. When you visit the Mountain Top Food Bank on distribution days, you
meet people who are hungry. When you realize that 487 young people in the Crestwood
School District are in the free or reduced lunch program, you discover that we
are surrounded by hungry persons.
            http://datacenter.kidscount.org/
      The
hungry are filled, the rich are emptied. Interestingly, there is no direct
connection between the two actions. There is no Robin Hood, taking from the
rich and giving to the poor. There is no active socialism, no redistribution of
wealth, per se. That’s good news to
rich Americans who are allergic to socialism in any form. However, this is no
capitalist haven either. The rich are simply emptied. Whether it is old money
or hard-earned cash, their pockets, their bank accounts, their lives are emptied.
For all of us who have joined in on the refrain of that song from Fiddler on the Roof, “If I were a rich
man”, this song of Mary dashes all hope. Because, “if I were a rich man”, Jesus
would empty me.
      Henri
Nouwen, in his reflection on wealth and generosity, writes that “the phrase
‘personal worth’ can mean both the extent of our financial assets and our value
as a human being” (29, A Spirituality of
Fundraising,
2010). He goes on to point out that “money has something to do
with that intimate place in our heart where we need security, and we do not
want to reveal our need or give away our security to someone” (31). When Jesus
says that you cannot serve both God and money, one of the things he declares is
that we have to choose the source of our security (32-33). Nouwen writes,
“Loneliness [is rooted] in the suspicion that there is no one who cares and
offers love without conditions, and no place where we can be vulnerable without
being used” (37, citing his work in Reaching
Out
).
      Perhaps,
then, being emptied is actually good news because it forces us to be
vulnerable before God and one another. Mary could not be filled without first
being empty. In the same way, you and I cannot be filled by God without first
being empty. How empty are you willing to become? That’s the wrong question,
though it is the first one that comes to my mind. The right question is “How
much do you desire to be filled by God?”
      One
more thing on emptiness … Jesus models emptiness for us. The same Greek root
for “empty” is used in an ancient hymn of the church, quoted by the apostle
Paul in Philippians 2.6-11:
Though he was in the form of God,
[Christ Jesus] did not regard equality with God as something to be
exploited,  7 but emptied
himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being
found in human form,  8 he
humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death– even death on a
cross.  9 Therefore God also
highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name,  10 so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,  11 and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Emptied, filled. Emptied of all
his riches, all the wealth and power of godliness, in order to fill us with
himself.
      Mary’s
empty womb was filled. Elizabeth’s empty womb was filled – with a baby that
leaps to greet the Lord Jesus and Mary Theotokos, Mother of our Lord, full of
grace. “If Mary had been filled with reason” – or anything else, for that
matter – “there’d have been no room for child”.
Among other things, the fact that
God comes to us as a child, in the weakness of a child, indicates that bodies
are incredibly important. What we do with our bodies, what we allow to fill our
bodies, those with whom our bodies are united, those to whom our bodies
respond. “When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb”
(Luke 1.41). Those to whom our bodies respond.
      When
I was eight, I would throw myself into my dad’s arms in the swimming pool. It
was a terrifying leap for me – I always scanned for sharks first – but my
father’s arms were a better place than the safety of the pool side. As Philippe
Halsman discovered with his camera, something that theologians and disciples
had long known, the leap of faith cuts through all our masks, gives up all our
false securities, and lays us bare and intimate in the embrace of God.

      It
can be scary, especially when we discern our wealth, and the false security it
offers, and we hear Mary sing, “He sends the rich empty away”. But on the other
side of that leap we discover that even that terrifying word is good news. It
is good news for which you, and your body, have been prepared to leap.