Sermon for Mary, Mother of Our Lord
Based on Isa. 61:7-11
By Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
The ancient Israelites had endured considerable suffering while living in Babylonian exile. They had lost their homes, land, livelihood, their dignity, freedom, peace, prosperity and security. The temple was destroyed and along with that, came deep and serious questions, doubts, scepticism, despair as to where God was in all of this. What was God doing ~ if anything! ~ by allowing his Chosen People to be ruled by the Babylonians? Would their captivity, their sufferings ever come to an end? Where they still God's Chosen People? Was the covenant that God had made with them still valid? These and similar questions, doubts, scepticism and despair were likely common among the exilic Israelites.
Then, maybe when the Israelites had reached "the end of their rope" with their sorrow and suffering ~ God sends them a prophet with a wonderful, surprising message of joy and restoration. When they had virtually given up on any brighter, better future ~ precisely then God's prophet speaks a message of a future with everlasting joy. A future that would be so wonderful that all other nations would see how the Lord had blessed Israel.
In response to this divine message of "everlasting joy;" a message full-to-overflowing with God's love and grace, God's rich promises; the Israelites, in heartfelt and soul-filled joy express their deepest gratitude by bursting into song. The Israelites knew, not only with their heads, but also with their hearts and souls, that music is the universal language. Often music has that capacity to express and communicate what we are unable to express or communicate in any other way.
Martin Luther once said it very well: "Music is a fair and lovely gift of God which has often wakened and moved me to the joy of preaching. Next after theology I give to music the highest honor. Experience proves that next to the Word of God only music deserves to be extolled as the mistress and governess of the feelings of the human heart."
Luther's love of music led him to compose many wonderful hymns for the Church. Indeed, his focus on the importance of music in the Sunday liturgy, meant that Lutheran Christians became more widely known as "the singing Church." Moreover, those of us who love the quintessential Lutheran composer, J.S. Bach's music are blessed with what is known as "the Fifth Evangelist's" message, which compliments and makes even more joyous the Good News of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
Yet ~ lest I get too carried away ~ we Lutherans are not the only ones who enjoy, appreciate or give music a prominent place in worship and life. Music is indeed "the" universal language, known by peoples of every nation, denomination and religion.
For instance, according to Bishop Theophils Annobil, of Ghana: "There is a proverb which says "take the song from the heart of anyone and that person dies." The Bishop goes on to explain that: "The human heart is full of song when the feeling is good. And in African communities if an elder or chief of the tribe does something that will benefit the community, someone in the community composes a song in her or his honor."
Music is the universal language because, in it's long history, it is perhaps able to capture the height and depths, the breadth and width of our life with one another and with God better than any other means of communication. Music, in its astounding beauty and colourful diversity, takes us to levels of our being which we seem incapable of reaching otherwise. It has ways of expressing our deepest longings in life. Music has that capacity to transform the ordinary everyday stuff of life into something beautiful, tender, precious, breath taking and extraordinary.
In the life of the Church, music has, from the beginning, played a key role. The musicians of the early Church, borrowed much from Jewish synagogue worship and followed that tradition of setting words of Scripture to music in the Sunday liturgy. Moreover, music plays a significant role in marking important events in our lives, such as at baptisms, weddings, funerals, ordinations and so on. Music is also able to chronicle the events of history in profoundly prophetic ways by giving voice to the voiceless, which may lead to changes or reforms in society. When we stop and think about it, how mind-boggling it becomes to realize that all God's people of every tongue and nation are singing the same liturgy every Sunday!
We, like the ancient Israelites have much to sing about. We, like them, may have undergone some sort of exile in life. Maybe we still feel that we're living in exile; that our sufferings, our hurt and pains, our sense of lostness and abandonment are too much for us. Maybe we've lost our livelihood, our land, a family member or friend. Maybe we're struggling with the tough questions of: Where is God in all of this? Does God really care for me, for us? Do I have any future at all?
If and when we do suffer from our various versions of exile, then we too need to hear and respond to God's prophetic message of everlasting joy and restoration. A message full of God's loving grace and promises addressed to us. Once we've heard this message, then we too are able to be filled with joy and join in singing our hymn of praise and thanks to our God.
The prophet reassures us that this everlasting joy of God with which we're filled is going to be like One Marvellous Celebration. God, the prophet says, will remove our old, worn-out exilic clothing and dress us in brand new garments of salvation and righteousness. This will remind us that we do belong to God and are God's family, therefore we can celebrate like we do at a wedding, decked out with all of our best finery. This beauty is but a small reflection of the greater beauty of God's own self and what God has done for us. Then the prophet goes on to show us that our everlasting joy will be like the earth coming alive in spring after a long cold winter ~ everything around us will spring up and grow abundantly. This garden of abundance will be one of righteousness and praise, says the prophet, it will include people of all the nations of the earth.
Now centuries later, we as Christians who have inherited this song of the prophet are also here today to sing another song. This song, first sung by a poor peasant girl named Mary, is ours to sing, as we celebrate how Jesus fills our lives too with "everlasting joy." It's a song for all people, of all ages, of all nations. Will you sing it out with me and share it with the world, so that all God's people can sing of God's loving, saving grace?!
This page has been visited times.