Luke 1: 46-56
On this third Sunday of Advent, we hear again powerful metaphors of hope and transformation. Isaiah 35:1-10 gave the Israelites living in the Babylonian exile something to rejoice about. A people who had been defeated and taken to Babylon, are offered the hope of returning home. – and what a homecoming it will be! But hundreds of miles of barren desert stretched between them and home. And history tells us some of the people were not happy about returning to Israel. They had come to feel at home in the Babylonian Empire and no longer had a thirst for the land their ancestors had left behind. One can get acclimatized even to exile it seems. One can forget where home is…..
A feminist theologian Nelle Morton has written a book called â€œ The journey is homeâ€. She says that she spent much of her adult life searching for home, until she finally realized that the journey itself was home….not the arrival at a specific place.
Isaiah is lavish in its imagery of invitation home. In this homecoming creation itself will rejoice with joy and in singing. Creation is not the backdrop to human history but an active participant in Godâ€™s promise of salvation which means healing wholeness. What was not fruitful (that which would not grow crops) – the wilderness, the dry land and the desert- shall bloom and blossom like the fertile agricultural lands of Lebanon, Carmel and Sharon. The creation will be restored and shall see the power and the glory of God.
Then the imagery changes from the wider creation to the plight of those who are disabled or enfeebled. God will make the weak strong and the feeble firm! God will come to save! God will right wrongs and restore life to its rightful order. God will govern with justice.
And when God comes, both human life and the creation will be made whole again. Those on the margins of society unable to live fruitful lives because of infirmities will be healed and they will find their rightful place in human society. The wilderness, dry land and desert will be restored by the presence of life-giving water. Both creation and human will be restored to right relationship with God and with each other. The imagery is a move to be made through the very hearing of the poem, from the old failed world of exile – a world of drought and disability- to the new world of Godâ€™s governance, a world of rich fertility and of healed humanity. This is a sacred vision of wholeness.
Compare that to the promise of western culture that with hard work we can create the kind of society we wish. It is our self-generated vision that will produce the results that give us the quality of life we have. But at what cost to the environment and to other non-western human communities? Two very different visions of the good life.
I have a friend in San Francisco who spends a lot of time in the desert. She and her husband lead retreats there. She spoke of being in the desert when cooler temperatures created conditions for rainfall and dew in early mornings. One morning she went out of her room and delicate flowers of incredible beauty bloomed in the midst of the desert sand. She had never seen flowers blooming in the desert before and did not think it was possible.
She said she finally heard Isaiah in a new way. The flowers that bloomed in the harsh desert came from seeds already there; seeds that had been lying there in wait, dormant, simply needing the appropriate conditions to spring forth. The desert had the possibility of fruitfulness. It simply needed the right conditions to bloom with life. The seeds of potential were; hardy; used to surviving in harsh conditions, and so they waited till the time was right
I wonder what seeds there might be in the dry places of our lives; of our society; or of our world; that if given even just a little encouragement, a little nurture, might bring forth life? Life in the midst of the empty, barren places, when the time is right. What would make the time right?
A quote from a guy named Douglas Coupland in a book called Life After God. â€œI thought of this: I thought of how every day each of us experiences a few little moments that have just a bit more resonance than other moments–we hear a word that sticks in our mind–or maybe we have a small experience that pulls us out of ourselves, if only briefly- we share a hotel elevator with a bride in her veils say, or a stranger gives us a piece of bread to feed to the mallard ducks in the lagoon; a small child starts a conversation with us in a Dairy Queen…
And if we were to collect these small moments in a notebook and save them over a period of months we would see certain trends emerge from our collection–certain voices would emerge that have been trying to speak through us. We would realize that we have been having another life altogether, one we didnâ€™t even know was going on inside us. And maybe this other life is more important than the one we think of as being real- this clunky day-to-day world of furniture and noise and metal. So just maybe it is these small silent moments which are the true story-making events of our lives.â€
Flowers in the desert…. Perhaps this is where we would notice the invitation to come home to the home in our souls.
In aboriginal cultures, home is connected with recognizing oneâ€™s place in creation. Relationship with creation gives identity. In some aboriginal cultures home is connected with the sacred songs of the community.
A story from A Path With Heart by Jack Kornfield:
“There is a tribe in east Africa in which the art of true intimacy is fostered even before birth. In this tribe, the birth date of a child is not counted from the day of its physical birth nor even the day of conception, as in other village cultures. For this tribe the birth date comes from the first time the child is a thought in its mother’s mind. Aware of her intention to conceive a child with a particular father, the mother then goes off to sit alone under a tree. There she sits and listens until she can hear the song of the child that she hopes to conceive. Once she has heard it, she returns to her village and teaches it to the father so that they can sing it together as they make love, inviting the child to join them. After the child is conceived, she sings it to the baby in her womb. Then she teaches it to the old woman and midwives of the village, so that throughout the labor and at the miraculous moment of birth itself, the child is greeted with its song. After the birth all the villagers learn the song of their new member and sing it to the child when it falls or hurts itself . . . .This song becomes a part of the marriage ceremony when the child is grown, and at the end of life, his or her loved ones will gather around the deathbed and sing this song for the last time.”
The song that forms the identity of the child, from birth to death.
Today we heard the song Mary sang into Jesusâ€™ heart before his birth. Maryâ€™s song we call the Magnificat: She must have remembered the song of Hannah, another woman pregnant in unusual circumstances. Maryâ€™s song celebrates the God who breaks into the deserts of the worst oppression and hopelessness with new life symbolized by holy birth; with transforming justice. Mary proclaims the greatness of God who has chosen a simple peasant girl. With Elizabethâ€™s support, rather than just being a frightened, confused young woman, she is able to claim her blessedness of God. She says that God will scatter the arrogant, and all their plans. God will bring down mighty rulers and lift up the poor. God will fill the hungry with good things, and send the rich away with empty hands. God will keep covenant.
What a powerful song Mary sang! Mary, woman of strength, transferred God’s song of liberation to her son. She sang it into his heart and soul. The Magnificat Song continued to grow in the boy Jesus, until as an adult beginning his ministry, he named the spirit of this song as his own fulfillment. It was the homecoming song for Jesus a song that formed his sense of identity and ministry. What a powerful song Jesus lived. It is a song that is still changing the world, calling us home out of the empire to our true home in the Kingdom of God movement for justice and love, and healing wholeness.