ADVENT & CHRISTMAS GREETINGS FROM BISHOP STEVE TALMAGE

In early December I was invited to preach at the Retired Pastors, Spouses, and Widows retreat held annually at Spirit in the Desert Lutheran Retreat Center in Carefree, AZ.The focus of the retreat was Mary's Song following the announcement by her cousin Elizabeth of who the baby is in her womb. As a way of transitioning from Advent into Christmas I share with you some of my words from that occasion:

"Luke includes Mary's song in Chapter 1 probably because of God's habit of turning things upside down and inside out in order to help bring the listeners back to God's reality in the face of our reality. Listen to the most disruptive part of Mary's song:

51He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. 52He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted u p the lowly; 53he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. (Luke 1:51-53)

In the mystery of her pregnancy, Mary knows that God is up to something big. She knows the child forming in her womb will be playing a role, and that role will involve reshaping the human community into the image God intended from the beginning. But I have to believe that just because Mary was a young peasant girl from Galilee, that as she sang her verse and recalled the history of God's people, she knew in her heart and mind that the reversals in her lyrics would come at a price, a great price, because our sinful nature resists, and resists powerfully, when we perceive the great reversal sung about involves us losing while others are gaining.

I cannot help but feel a pinch of conviction when I listen to Mary's song as I participate in a culture driven by consumption, fear and insecurity, which our prophets today tell us can be removed with more money or more of something else. I cannot help but think about humanity's history filled with all the violent power-struggles in order to possess and control resources and people. I cannot help but acknowledge when I hear Mary's words that I know all about power, position, and privilege. I have never known a day when I went to bed hungry or didn't have enough money to meet my daily living expenses. If the truth of her song becomes a reality what does that mean for me? What does that mean for all of us?

Thankfully, this song does not just leave me feeling convicted; it draws me to the ultimate fulfillment of her lyric, which is the cross that will hold that child forming in her womb. The cross of Jesus is the ultimate reversal of world views. The cross opens the door to a different reality and different future rooted in the power of forgiveness and reconciliation that can draw the haves and the have-nots, the powerful and the powerless, the proud and the humiliated, and re-shape human community into the reflection of God's image and even God's will being done on earth as it is in heaven.

I don't think Luke recorded Mary's song so that when we listen to it we bring to mindimages of the sweet by and by. I think Luke positions this song as a foretaste of the life and witness of Jesus, as well as, the redemptive work Jesus accomplishes through the cross, and then invites the listeners to become participants in that work here and now.

In Mary's song God has promised to change the world, and in singing the promises of this song, we don't escape from this world, we enter into the world being agents of that change through our commitment to practice justice and to seek reconciliation until that day when Jesus comes."

As we continue our waiting, watching, and preparing leading into the carols of Christmas and the singing the chorus of angels on Christmas, may we find comfort and courage in the assurance that God came in Jesus to be with us, and that Jesus continues to live and move among us as we fight the injustice, resist the greed, reveal the prejudice, and reclaim what it means to be blessed to be a blessing to others.

Bishop Steve Talmage