Monday, December 12, 2005

Imagine - Advent 3/4

The following was preached Advent 3, December 11. "The Magnificat" was an alternate text for the day instead of Psalm 126. "The Annunciation" is the text for Advent 4. However, my choir is singing the Advent 4 service, and this would be my last shot at preaching until Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

Over my years, I have come to develop a subtle Mariology that convinces me that Protestants need to embrace her differently. Truth is, most Protestants don't embrace her at all - she is little more than the conduit through whom their Savior is born.

Luke 1.26-36, 46-55

Luke 1.26-38
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, ‘Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.’ But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.’ Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I am a virgin?’ The angel said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.’ Then Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’ Then the angel departed from her.

Luke 1.46-55
And Mary said, ‘My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.

This reading from Luke 1 contains two different episodes, each of which has a particular name that would be familiar to you during this time of year.

The story of the visitation of the angel Gabriel to Mary to deliver the news of what is to happen to her is called, in church-speak, “The Annunciation.”

After that, and during her visit with Elizabeth, and Mary breaks forth in song – that passage is called “the Magnificat.”

It hearkens words of proclamation, exclamation – magnifying the One who is making possible all this is about to take place.

In a word, “The Magnificat” is magnificent.

And interestingly enough, within “The Magnificat” you find the bedrock of what would be Jesus’ theology in his own preaching.

We know of Jesus as God’s child, to be sure, but a lot of his theology, by God through her, came from mama.

Listen –

‘My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;. . .
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.

Can’t you hear Jesus saying words like this when offering some of the most confrontational language you can imagine toward the religious and political elite of his time?

Yes, Mary has a role to play in the story of Jesus beyond his birth. She lays the groundwork in him for all that will come thereafter.

What’s most interesting to me about Luke 1 and 2 is that these words, in too much of Church tradition, have become a litmus test as to whether or not we really believe that Jesus is who the Bible says he is.

I actually know of one United Methodist Church who will interview its potential clergy (something they’re not supposed to do) and ask them if they believe in the virgin birth (in the way they think you're supposed to believe in it) before you’re even allowed to be considered among the clergy "good enough" to serve that congregation.

Needless to say, I ain't a'goin.'

It’s interesting what’s happened to the Church over the years, how we’ve locked into “you’ve got to believe this” in order to have your faith validated, and not just believe it happened, believe it happened exactly the way the Scriptures indicate it happened (at least from a literal perspective).

This week, as I’ve lived with these texts, and read, prayed, studied, thought a bit, ...what I’m determining about these readings, perhaps about the whole of the Scripture, is that too much of the church suffers from a lack of imagination.

We are so “fact” based, and we like it that way.

We want to know what happened –

How it happened –

And we associate belief or opinion about someone or something based upon what the facts seem to indicate.

We are so enlightened, and the way we approach the Scriptures and the way we approach virtually everything in life is based no longer on imagination, but on that old saying -

That says it - That seals it - I believe it - That’s it.

Friends, this book, the Bible, is a book of imagination.

But that does not mean it’s not true.

It’s book of remarkable story. Look at the stories that are found in the Scripture.

Holy Imagination.

God inspired imaginations of the people telling something of God’s character, of God’s persistent love for God’s people, of God’s deepest desire to be in Communion with us.

And yet, we want to reduce it to “you’ve got believe it because it says it.”

What happens when we introduce other translations into the mix? And the words are not exactly the same?

I guess that’s when we fall back to the “authorized” version of the Bible. How arrogant of those to mandate a version of the Bible based upon the desires of a political figure in 1600’s England.

Wasn’t the first time politics manipulated religion. It’s fairly clear in our day that it won’t be the last.

But let’s not get other translations involved, it makes the whole case a little fuzzy.

Use your imagination people.

Because where there is no imagination, there is no faith.

And make no mistake about it, this whole "intelligent design" business that's going on in schools these days is a joke.

"Intelligent design" is based on fear and not on facts, and certainly not on faith.

Fear of imagination.

This season is about imagination. God gifted imagination.

In fact, if Advent can do anything else, maybe it can rekindle the imaginations that we have for too long shunned as beneath us, incapable of sustaining us, whatever it is we do that allows our imaginations to die,

Perhaps the fires that burn around the Advent wreath . . .

Perhaps the fires that burn as we stand and sing “Silent Night, Holy Night” on Christmas Eve might inspire the imaginations of our hearts to see God doing far more than we ever thought God could—

With us.

With the Church.

With the world.

Could it be, if we’d just imagine, that the stories that we find the Scripture don’t need critique as to their historic veracity in order to "believe" them, we see the truth that lives in them as they tell us the remarkable story of the God who comes to us, among us, as Tex Sample is fond of saying, the God who “pitches tent” to dwell right where we are.

And God chooses, in this imagining time, of all people, a poor girl. Whatever her sexual history is in this story, it can’t be as miraculous as the reality that God chooses to reveal God’s self, “Emmanuel” through a peasant girl.

Among the most powerless of people, even she magnifies the Lord. Even she, at the visitation, asks, “how can this be?” In the words of the angel she finds her answer, “for nothing will be impossible with God.”

And upon her hearing that, she responds with confidence, “let it be with me according to your word.”

Yea, we really are fixated on detail, upon fact. We are children of the computer age, are we not.

How is it that the word “data” is common in our vocabulary, but words of imagination are far too scarce? What’s wrong with us?

The sum total of our life these days, our communication, our entertainment, our correspondence, our financial information, is basically nothing but varying sequences of 0’s and 1’s. That’s all that it is. Yet we are completely beholden to it.

It’s just so technical.

But there’s nothing technical about the coming of the Christ.


Imagine God loving you enough to desire to be in communion with you.

Imagine God loving you enough to show you how to bridge those gaps in your heart, life and relationships that you’ve thought were too wide to cross.

Imagine God articulating a world in which those whose voices have been squashed, are the ones through whom God’s truth are first revealed.

Imagine God, through a peasant girl, telling us, not that God will do these things, but is doing these things.

And if you approach the world with some imagination, I believe we’ve have far fewer problems.

If we approached the world with more imagination, we wouldn’t have denominations threatening to beat each other up or split over issues that we just don’t understand or that scare us.

If we just had more imagination, maybe we’d find ways to resolve conflict other than the way we always seem to go back to when seeking to settle our geo-political disputes.

Maybe, if we’d imagine.

25 years ago, this past week, those of us of a particular generation know what anniversary occurred. And as I was living into this text this week, I picked up the guitar and played wondering if I should do it here and now, and the answer is, yes.

from "Imagine" by
John Lennon
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world...
You may say I’m a dreamer,
but I’m not the only one,
I hope some day you'll join us,
And the world will live as one.
God is coming.



1 comment:

Chris said...

Yes, having that imagination is wonderful and can open so many doors to us. What I have a problem with is, especially in the Bible, what to have imagination about and what not to. The 10 Commandments – pretty cut a dried, right? Moses’ directions from God – pretty straightforward, yeah? But then, when we get to other issues, we can read into them and interpret them? It is very confusing and this is exactly where I get tripped up – usually without fail.

It’s all semantics, right? So why the big fuss? There are doctor’s who have used hog heart valves to replace damaged human heart valves. Talk about screwed… The thing that makes you “unclean” saves your life? How do you repent and become clean? Can you? You made a “conscious choice” to have dead pig put in your body and there is nothing you can do to make it right – short of getting them out and killing yourself. Hermeneutics… What does “abomination” really mean? Is it “sin” or is it really something that is not in accordance with God’s character and He just doesn’t like? He didn’t like a lot of things that man did – still doesn’t. (He did give Noah a head’s up, though. That was cool…)

I think it is absolutely up to us to have and impose, if you will, our imagination on what we read from the Bible. And, I don’t think our imagination should have to be limited to the Bible. Imagination helps us see things that are on the other side of the rules. Personally, I think rules stink. They are necessary and give us a good jumping off point, but should be abandoned as quickly as possible and rewritten on a regular basis. If the same rule is written down every time and in the same way and it works, no need to change it. But it should be tossed out and examined very regularly. Maybe our bishops in Nashville will think about revisiting our Book of Discipline with some imagination more than once every four years… Wesleyan theology is known as “progressive evangelism.” To me, progressive carries a little more urgency with it than “once every four years.”