Fourth Sunday of Advent: Luke 1:26-55 – “Singing in the Dark”

Mark Wheeler
Advent 4, December 21, 2014
Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church
Luke 1:26-55
“Singing in the Dark”

We so deeply need the love of our heavenly Father, dear God. Fill us with faith and faithfulness. Conquer our fears and hurts. Comfort us with Your Holy Spirit, that we might recognize Your light in our darkness. Amen.

Today is the 4th Sunday of Advent. Our theme for this season, as followers of Jesus Christ, is recognizing that in the Christmas event we celebrate that Jesus was born, God was made incarnate, for us and for our salvation!
Last week our beautiful choir sang the Festival of Carols, and we were truly brought into the season of Christmas. Let’s show our appreciation, one more time, for our choir’s hard work and amazing presentation of the Gospel in Christmas!! You all were awesome! And your songs sang of the truth that Jesus was, indeed, born for us and for our salvation.

Listen to this description I read earlier this week – and see if you can’t relate to the life-condition:
“Sing a little louder Isabell, I can see you know the words.” This encouragement came from “Cowboy Bob” the volunteer Sunday afternoon entertainer at the memory unit in which my ninety-four-year-old mother-in-law resides.
“You are my sunshine, my only sunshine,” Isabell sang out (a little louder) with a shy smile on her face. “You make me happy when skies are gray….” Next to me in the resident’s circle sat Isabell’s daughter with an astonished look on her face; because for most of the day, Isabell, like my mother-in-law, lives in a kind of darkness.
Not quite sure where she is, or the name or relationship of the people who speak familiarly to her, Isabell is like my mother-in-law and the other residents struggling with senile dementia.
They often worry about the details of their lives. Uncertain which room is theirs or what they had for breakfast, they spend hours looking at old photos trying to remember their husband’s name, or where they went to college. They often don’t know the appropriate responses to simple questions and fear saying the wrong thing. But for 90 minutes, while “Cowboy Bob” leads the singing, their minds become their friend again and they belt out the words with relish, “You’ll never know dear, how much I love you, please don’t take my sunshine away.”
As I left the memory unit that day, it occurred to me that in many ways, we on the “outside” of the facility also live in the midst of a great deal of darkness. We often don’t know who we are or what we should be doing. We become confused about what we believe and we wonder what God is up to in this world and in our souls. “Darkness shows us the unresolvability of things, opens up the possibility of being permanently at loose ends.”

Did you see the news about yesterday’s police officer shooting in NYC? Two cops shot in their patrol car, just sitting there. And the racial tensions in this nation. Fear. Confusion. Unresolvable nonsense. Darkness.
Have you ever encountered darkness like this? A loved one, a moment of doubt, a pressing fear – darkness. What was/is God up to?

We experience great light in the truth that God did, and does, show up. Jesus did come. For us and for our salvation. This truth changes everything.

Hear the Word of God from the New Testament Gospel according to Luke, 1:26-55 …. —-
26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”
29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”
34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”
35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called[a] the Son of God. 36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. 37 For no word from God will ever fail.”
38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.
39 At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, 40 where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear!” 43 But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!” 46 And Mary said: (SANG?)
“My soul glorifies the Lord 47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed,
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me–holy is his name.
50 His mercy extends to those who fear him, from age to age.
51 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.
53 He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful
55 to Abraham and his descendants forever, just as he promised our ancestors.”
May God bless the reading, the hearing, the receiving of His Word which never fails.

Can you imagine the confusion and darkness Mary must have felt when the angel told her she was going to have a baby? “How will this be…since I am a virgin?” Is this really “good news.”
Yet in Mary’s darkness, as in all darkness, God offers an invitation. The angel replies, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; so the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.” What will you do, Mary? How will you respond? Out of the darkness emerges a call, and Mary yields to God, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.”

On Thursday night, those who went to the Josh Snodgrass Christmas Concert heard Sarah share her story of darkness – she said how she grew up in a Christian family and cannot remember a time when she did not love Jesus. She was one of several children, and always felt a little short sheeted in the giftedness-department – all her siblings were smarter, more athletic, more artistic – and all she had was her ability to sing – so she sang all the time. She and Josh got married and thought they were headed toward a career in some kind of music-ministry. “Singing,” she said, “is who I am – that’s what I do. But in 2011 I completely lost my singing voice!” The docs told her she would never sing again!
That would be like a writer losing her imagination, or a carpenter losing his hands, or almost like a parent losing her children. Can you imagine the pain, the emptiness, the darkness?
Why would God allow this? – I know that some of you, maybe every single one of us in this room, can identify, on some level, with Sarah’s total loss of purpose, loss of identity.
I feel like I know Josh and Sarah – they’ve stayed at our house; we’ve prayed with them, made pizzas with their boys, roasted marshmallows in our fireplace; I know the end of her story (or at least the end of her story, so far) – but she had me in tears on Thursday night!
But how she finished her testimony was reminding us that in the time she was “silent” she learned that God loved her even when she couldn’t sing praise-songs; God loved her even when she was not telling Jesus how much she loved Him through her sweet soprano voice. She did not have to do anything to earn His love – except receive it! And God has miraculously brought her voice back – and she sings, even in, especially in, the darkness!

When we walk in the darkness of our soul, our way seems beyond comprehension. The impossible thing being asked of us (the sacrificial love, the unearned forgiveness, the waiting when we crave action, etc.) is the very thing we must do. “Mary, you are going to have a baby. You won’t be married, and you will need to tell your family you saw an angel…and….” Mary yielded to God, “I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me (which never fails) be fulfilled.”

Yielding is the starting point for trust and faith. Trust and faith are our companions in darkness. “Yielding is putting aside our self-importance, our cares, our undertakings, in order, very simply, to be with God. It is the yielding up of everything that keeps us from the Lord, letting go of anxiety and restlessness. It is the gift to him of time, the only coin we have to spend: the gift of ourselves.”

What part of your life feels dark and confused right now? As you sit with Mary’s story, what might be God’s invitation to you in the midst of your current situation?

Yielding to God in the midst of our darkness is the pathway to surrendering our life and will into God’s care. It’s easy to talk about, but very hard to do. Yet, when we accept our current circumstances and situation for what they are and yield to God’s invitation for transformation within it, we experience a glorious relief. The bondage of our desire-to-control-outcomes is relinquished. Following closely in the footsteps of yielding and surrender is the song of praise. Mary sings:
“My soul glorifies the Lord 47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed,
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me–holy is his name.
50 His mercy extends to those who fear him, from age to age.
51 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.
53 He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful
55 to Abraham and his descendants forever, just as he promised our ancestors.”

“Isabell,” said Cowboy Bob looking her right in the eyes. “You are beautiful when you sing.”
Can you hear the words of our Lord’s encouragement to you? When you yield to God’s call and surrender your daily life into God’s care, no matter how thick the darkness appears to you, the Lord looks you right in the eye and says, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

Can you remember a time when the Lord gave you the ability to “sing in the dark”? What was going on in your life? How did your “song” sound?

As we enter into this final week of Advent and wait upon the Lord, let us listen for Mary’s song. We are not alone in the darkness. We are singing in the light with the chorus of saints, echoing the ancient night song of the Church: “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” Amen.

Resources:
Bettridge, Becce; “Singing in the Dark”; For Us and For Our Salvation: An Advent, Christmas and Epiphany Experience; Fellowship Community; 2014.

Griffin, Emilie; Clinging: The Experience of Prayer; Eight Day Books; Wichita, Kansas; 2003; Pp. 12, 22.

Snodgrass, Sarah; this is simply my recollection of her testimony; Sarah has not “approved” this re-telling, so there could be errors; if there are, they are all on me. Mark Wheeler

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