“Come, Lord Jesus”
a message by Dr. Bruce Havens
Arlington Congregational Church, U.C.C.
December 9, 2018
39In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country,
40where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.
41When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit
42and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.
43And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me?
44For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy.
45And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”
46And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord,
47and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.
50His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.
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 up the lowly;
53he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.
54He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy,
55according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”
56And Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home.
Most of the time I would love to preach more sentimental, tear-jerking sermons than I do. A lot of times I hate getting up and preaching what God puts on my heart because it feels too “revolutionary.” It feels like all I am doing is criticizing the status quo. Especially at Christmas I would like to be much more warm and fuzzy. I would like to be rescued from this problem so I am tempted to say, “Come, Lord Jesus.” In other words, come and rescue me Jesus and let me preach a “Reader’s Digest” sermon like the good old preachers did.
Then I read the Scriptures. And the reality is despite how sentimental and warm and fuzzy we make Christmas, this passage, and in reality the whole story of Jesus Christ, is not a warm, fuzzy, sentimental story. It has been sentimentalized and spiritualized to the point where it won’t offend most of us, but that doesn’t make it faithful to the actual story. And despite my longing for more sentimental sermons, if I read the Scriptures and take them seriously it doesn’t lend itself to warm and fuzzy. Come, Lord Jesus, deliver me from this revolutionary stuff!
It’s the same with Christmas music. I like the sentimental songs from the 1940’s when so many American men were away from home at war in Europe or in the Pacific. “The Christmas Song,” you know, “chestnuts roasting on an open fire?” “Winter Wonderland,” where “sleigh bells ring, are you listening?” And of course, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas, if only in my dreams.” So this morning we have another Christmas song. One of the original ones. There is the one from the angels singing to the shepherds, but this one was before that – this was Mary’s song, what Christians called “The Magnificat,” which was never about felines, but it is the Latin word we have translated as “My soul magnifies the Lord.” Now that sounds like a great, sentimental, song. But then if you get past the poetry and the melody of it, it is not about sentimental harmony. It is about revolution. And revolutions are rarely sentimental, at least at the time. So even though I love sentimental songs, this isn’t one. Come, Lord Jesus, rescue me from this.
The phrase, “come, Lord Jesus,” has been part of the Christian liturgy, language, and faith from the earliest days. Among other places it is expressed in the next to the last verse of our Bible, Revelation 22:20. But what does it really mean to say, “Come, Lord Jesus?” Like most things we might say it is almost as variable as the people who say it. To some it is a hope for a radical change in reality, that Christ will come and change the way things are. For others it might be a desire to have Jesus come and take them away from the way things are, from reality. They are, in essence, a call for revolution, for change.
Now someone helped me connect this by reminding me that the start of every revolution is based in hope – hope for change, hope for things to be different. In a sense then, the two most common ways this phrase is used are an expression of hope. And hope is certainly part of our Advent preparations, part of our Christmas drama, part of our Christian faith. But that too raises the question, what are we hoping for when we say, Come, Lord Jesus?
This morning’s Scripture expresses Mary’s hope and to the degree we believe that this is God’s word for us, then maybe we ought to consider how her words should shape our hopes. There is so much startling news here: Mary has learned she is pregnant with the Messiah from an angel… but we go ho-hum, heard that before… really? Also startling is the realization that in a world where only men’s voices were heard, only men’s thoughts counted – the only voices heard in this passage are women’s. And Elizabeth speaks as the prophet and the word of blessing! That is certainly revolutionary for its time!
It is also revolutionary in this sense: these are two “shameful” women. Elizabeth has endured shame and scorn for her inability to bear a child – until her “old age.” She is much like Sarah in the Hebrew Scriptures who laughs when God says she will have a child when she was 90! That’s pretty revolutionary! Mary is an “unwed mother,” and we have names – nasty names for such children – and in most families at that time [ and maybe even now ] Mary would have been shunned, not welcomed, as Elizabeth welcomes her. In fact, it is likely that Mary went to Elizabeth’s to escape and avoid the comments of her neighbors and family at home. It wasn’t too long ago that here in 20th Century America young girls who were facing teen pregnancies were often shipped off to aunts or uncles or other relatives to avoid the shame of their “condition.” Come, Lord Jesus.
Rev. Edward Markquart, “The Magnificat and Gods’ Revolution,” sermonsfrom seattle.com, shares some words from some of the great scholars about this passage: “E. Stanley Jones, a famous preacher of two generations ago, said that the Magnificat is “the most revolutionary document in the world.” Murrow, another theologian, talks about the “revolutionary germ” found in the Magnificat. Barclay, an English theologian, says that the Magificat is “a bombshell.” Barclay goes on to say that people have read it so often that they have forgotten its “revolutionary terror.” It takes “the standards of the world and turns them upside down.” Barclay teaches that in the Magnificat, there are three revolutions: “an economic revolution; a political revolution; and a moral revolution.”
Markquart goes on to say, “This past week I have been thinking about the word, revolution. I have been asking the question: what does the word, “revolution,” mean? I thought: revolution means “total change.” I will give you some examples. Computers revolutionized the information industry. Computers totally changed it; that is, they revolutionized our information age. You now push a button and you have millions of pieces of information available. The information industry was totally changed by the computer. What does the word, “revolution,” mean? A total change. Another example: the industrial revolution in the 1760s totally changed the cotton industry because of a new machine called the cotton gin. The cotton industry was revolutionized.” Some scholars suggest that the Magna Carta was the basis of the American Revolution over Britain. It changed the way we viewed the social order. Markquart says that the Magnificat is in essence God’s “Magna Carta.” It is the basis of the way God intends the social order to be. So in essence, when we say, “Come, Lord Jesus,” we are calling for a revolution.
Now all this is scary stuff, especially for those of us who have benefitted at least somewhat from the status quo. Even if we are at the bottom of “the quo” it can be scary to think about what Mary sings about. Rev. Dr. Casey Baggott, Learning to Focus,” day1.org, 12/23/12. Words may help us hear this song without becoming completely alarmed. She says she once heard these words as “a kind of judgment, as if to say: ’All imbalances will be redressed by God, the final arbiter of right and wrong. And woe be to you if you’ve been wrong!’ But I don’t hear it like that anymore. Now I hear in Mary’s words only God’s extraordinary love for us, as worthy people. This is a love too powerful to sit by and allow us to be lost to heights of … self-centeredness. A love too powerful to sit by and allow us to be lost to depths of poverty or depression or despair. The high will be made low and the low will be raised up.” She goes on to say, “Mary’s Magnificat poetry is not a threat of judgment, and it’s not even primarily about us. It’s mostly about God.” She adds that, for God, “We’re too valuable and too beloved to risk losing. And Mary’s speech helps us see that. She leaves us this vision of ourselves and our worth in God’s eyes.
This slave girl, this unwed mother, this pregnant teenager, who most of us would dismiss as a sinner, as a person of little worth, sings a song that revolutionizes the worth of every person in God’s eyes. It is an invitation to revolutionize our sense of our value and the value of others. We are too valuable to base our worth on our bank accounts, whether they are big or small or nonexistent. We are too valuable to base our value on the words of politicians or the assessments of judgmental religious Pharisees. We are so valuable – each and every one of us – the child born to an unwed mother, Warren Buffett and Bill Gates, the black teenager walking down the street with his pants down in the back, the middle class alcoholic mother who goes to work every day and hates every minute of her life, the President of Mexico and the President of the United States, are worth more than what our society says their worth is based on. Yet when we look around, what has changed? Come, Lord Jesus!
Robert Williamson, “The Politics of ‘the War on Christmas’,” politicaltheology.com, 12/14/15, suggests that Mary’s song is sung as “past tense,” as already a reality. The revolution has already taken place. But the rich are still rich and the poor are still poor, right? He says, “As long as God is understood to be separate from us and ruling over us, it seems only natural that we, too, should find ways to separate ourselves from one another and rule over one another. In this way, the division of society into classes of ruling and ruled, wealthy and poor, dominant and dominated, and so on, comes to be seen as entirely natural and even as warranted by God.” But when God comes to us in human form that transforms this. It revolutionizes that reality. God is no longer above, separate, apart from us. God is with us – Emmanuel is the Biblical word for that, and so we sing, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel,” which in truth is us, we are captive Israel. The shorter version of this is to say, “Come, Lord Jesus.”
As we prepare for Christmas let our sentimentality turn to hope. Let our hope turn our hearts toward Christ. Let Christ revolutionize your sense of worth – yours and the person we see as worth nothing and the person we see as worth more than us. Let us see how much God loves us. Then, let us hope that Christ will come again. Come, Lord Jesus. AMEN.