Gospel: Luke 1:39-56
1st Reading: Isaiah 61:1-4
1st Reading: Isaiah 61:1-4
2nd Reading: 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
The readings this Sunday are all about the Spirit. In Isaiah, he says the spirit of the LORD God is upon him to bring good news to the oppressed. God will give a mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. In 1 Thessalonians, Paul is encouraging the Christians there. He says, “Do not quench the spirit.” And prays for them, that their “spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” And finally in the Gospel, Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit at Mary’s appearance and greeting as the two of them met, both pregnant. And as Mary sings, she says that her “spirit rejoices in God.”
The word “spirit” shows up in many forms in our language. The word “spirit” comes from the word meaning ”breath” or “to breathe.” For instance, the word “inspire” means to breathe into. To expire is for the breath to leave someone permanently. And to conspire, means to breathe with.
Certainly this time of year we could use some inspiration. The nights are long and dark. The cold winds are keeping us cooped up indoors. We feel inundated by the tasks we must complete. We feel pressure to make this a special holiday for our family and friends. We feel overwhelmed by the troubles in our world. This would be a good time for a little inspiration—a little breathing in, more energy, more liveliness. How amazing to think of God coming among us as a little child, reading about the joy of these two women anticipating the impending births of both their unexpected little ones, being filled with hope at the twinkling lights and the wonder expressed by children, looking forward to some time of rest and togetherness between Christmas and New Years Day.
Then we come to the word “conspire.” When we hear the word “conspiracy” we might think of someone who is paranoid, or an ISIS sleeper cell, or a favorite crime novel. Conspire means to breathe with.
Consider Mary, young, but fully aware of the plight of her people. The Romans had worked to crush the spirit of the Jewish people, to control them, demand cooperation from them, make them forget who they were or where they had come from. Into this mess, comes a messenger from God, an angel, to tell Mary that everything is about to change, and she is going to be part of the change. Mary and the angel of the LORD conspire to bring down this Empire with all its life-taking values, by the birth of God’s son.
Consider the Christ Child, from his first breath, the forces of Empire sensing the threat, making a move to destroy him before he can begin to conspire to cast light on their true nature.
Consider Mary and Elizabeth, two women at opposite ends of life, being swept up on God’s conspiracy to break into this dark and oppressive world with justice and peace. Mary’s song hearkens back to Moses’ sister, Miriam’s song after the crossing of the Red Sea. Her brother Moses sings a lengthy song and then she sings a short verse, however scholars believe it was likely Miriam who sang the whole thing. You know how little brothers can be, stealing all the limelight!
The song of Miriam is one of conspiracy to take out a Pharaoh that had oppressed God’s people and set those people free. Both Miriam and Mary (their names are even the same) sing God’s praises and give credit to God for saving the people. They both sing of God’s strength, of God’s triumph over the strong rulers, of God’s saving action throughout history, and about God’s power on behalf of the weak and poor.
I don’t want to dwell in all the bad news going on around us. We get so much bad news on the internet, the radio, the television. I worry that it causes a sense of helplessness. Why remind us of all the bad news when we don’t even know what we can do about it. Mass shootings happen almost every day in our country! Families are living in their cars. Miles and miles of this earth is burning. The oceans are killing the fish that live in them. And now into this misery, comes new laws to give more to the rich and take away health care from people who are sick, to take away Medicare from seniors, to make it more expensive to be a college student. Yes, my taxes will probably go up, next year, but I am a home owner. I’ll probably be ok. So many people I love who are already suffering are going to suffer more. People are going to die. These policies make people expendable.
I saw the new Star Wars movie on Friday, so you’ll have to forgive me. I won’t give anything away, but this is a story of Biblical proportions. The Empire acts out of fear and greed to consolidate power and control, feeds off the suffering disposable people and planet. The Resistance acts out of selflessness to empower freedom and hope and balance. There is a battle going on within us between fear and hope, good and evil. We are simultaneously saint and sinner. We have to decide whether we will live according to the values we say we profess: love and freedom. So often we find we are operating out of fear, greed, and materialism. Which of these values is really living?
We go out and spend money and who really benefits? Will our children and grandchildren be happier in the long run? How quickly do they forget the things we buy them? We give them momentary happiness and sacrifice their futures. All this plastic we give them, all this fuel we burn running around like maniacs, all the workers in 3rd world countries dying to make toys for our children. When will we learn to live by our values of simplicity? When will we stop gorging ourselves? When will we stop sitting around while our world falls apart and our children's futures are sold to line the pockets of the very rich? We have to find a way to join the resistance that Jesus and his followers choose. Otherwise we stand as oppressors and the oppressors win in our lives and in our world. We have to stand up and meet each other in our confusion and our joy and our pain and sing a song of resistance, like Mary sang, like Miriam sang. We have to face the depths of our pain, the pain from being exploited and the pain from being one who exploits. We have to face the truth of who we've become and be willing to let that light of resistance shine through us. We have to be willing to be mocked for it. We have to be willing to let people down who have swallowed the line of the Empire about what is important. We have to decide if we are just going to watch movies about resistance, or whether we are going to join the resistance.
The Spirit is moving. Spirit isn’t still. Spirit moves around in unexpected directions. And when we tell the truth about this terrible, harmful society we not only live in but are part of and these systems that crush people, that crucify them with asthma and debt and isolation and deportation, maybe we’ll get mad enough to do something about it, inspired enough to conspire with God and each other about how to subvert the forces of death that are killing people we love.
So into this truth about the darkness and helplessness, we sing. We sing a song of God’s power and faithfulness and hope. We remember that God is stronger than any force of evil and destruction. We remember how God’s strength endures across the ages and how God lifts up unexpected people and situations to change us and our world. This is a song our hearts long to sing, it is an earworm that continues to call us, whisper to us, conspire with us to resist.
This is supposed to be Joy Sunday in Advent. And maybe that’s part of the conspiracy, that although we’re almost at our darkest point, our most hopeless and cold, we have joy. We don’t have joy in our frantic, death-dealing, mass-extinction world. We have joy because we have a greater hope in the promises of God to show us a new way and to make a new people out of us. We have joy because, although we have deserved it many times over, God has not abandoned us. We have joy because God is not far away, but is near, in the poor, in those who are imprisoned, in those who are sick, in the drug addict and the refugee, in the weak and lowly, and in a little baby.
This is one heck of a subversive conspiracy, to sneak in a little baby to open our hearts. When we found out he wanted to change us, we tried to kill him, but he is life and we will not find life any other way. There is no life in materialism or violence, hoarding or fearing. There is no life in the values we live. The life we can find is the freedom of letting go, of sharing, of standing up to power, of admitting our own weakness, of letting God set the course. We will conspire to be inspired. We will whisper to one another of the good things God has done and the vision God has for our world, and then we will shout it from the hilltops and defiantly live it.