Advent 4: "Let All Within Us Praise Christ's Holy Name"

The Weary World Rejoices  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  19:59
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Revised Common Lectionary 12-20-2020: Fourth Sunday of Advent


Luke 1:26–38

26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” 29 But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30 The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” 34 Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” 35 The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. 36 And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

“Love has come, for the world to know. As the wise men knew, such a long time ago. And I believe that angels sang, that hope had begun, when the God of glory who was full of mercy, sent his son!”
My memories of the Advent and Christmas seasons echo with lyrics like this, sung by Amy Grant on her classic Tennessee Christmas album. That record continues to get repeat play in our house, but it also reminds me of long ago, the wintery drives over Highway 2 to Leavenworth or sitting beside the Christmas tree in my childhood home.
It’s amazing how song lyrics, or poetry, can pack such an emotional and memory punch in just a few lines. Or how deep theological insights can be distilled down into a phrase or two and sung with full voice!
My concept of God and God’s love was, in part, built by these lyrics. “Love has come, for the world to know...” “The God of glory, who was full of mercy, sent his son.”
Or think of another beloved song, “Then peeled the bells more loud and deep, God is not dead nor doth he sleep.” “The wrong shall fail, the right prevail, with peace on earth, good will to men.”
We are shaped by these and so many other songs, carols, poems, movies, books, stories which we let enter our lives and help us to make meaning of our times. This season, perhaps more than most others through the year.
And so it is with the story of Mary. The profound message from the angel Gabriel, the message of the Christ child being born to Mary. These words shape Mary’s whole life, our lives as well, as they speak of the beloved of God becoming one with us through birth and life. The words of “do not be afraid Mary, for you have found favor with God.” The child will be “called the Son of the Most High”, “the power of the Most High will overshadow you.” And Mary’s reply — “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”
We have to let these words ring out loud and deep. Mary encounters a messenger from the Most High God and is “perplexed” and humbled into service.
Studying this passage, I was struck with verse 29 in a new way. It says, “but she was perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.” I love Luke’s honesty here — Mary thinks, hey, what? This is an odd message…what exactly is going on here?
And this is how we approach this final week of Advent. We have heard the message from the angel, countless times, and yet we stand a bit perplexed once more at what this all means for our weary world. What does it mean that Love comes down at Christmas? What does it mean that the God of Glory who was full of mercy sent his Son? What does it mean for us to let all within us praise Christ’s holy name this year?
As we tend to the perplexing messages of the announcement of the Christ child, it’s helpful to have a north star, a star of Bethlehem (if you will), that will help guide us into the meaning of this blessed day.
Today, I want to suggest, that Love is the star, love is the guide, love is the key to understanding what all is going on here.
We can go in all kinds of directions with how we look for God in this season, but at the core, at the center of it all, we come back to love. Love is our star, our guidepost, the point of it all. The lyrics of these songs call it out. Love is what this is all about.
Let’s explore what God’s love looks like a bit this morning and why it is the core, why it matters.

Love of God

I’m going to drop some Trinitarian theology on you all this morning. God in three persons, the trinity, Creator, Christ, and Spirit — this is central to the mystery of our faith. And, for me, how we understand the working of the Trinity is key to how I understand what Love actually is.
Theologians posit that God in the Trinity is an interdependent, love-giving relationship. The Creator loves the Christ, the Christ loves the Spirit, the Spirit loves the Creator, you get the idea. This love is given and received by each member of the Trinity in such abundance that it pours out, back and forth between the persons of the Trinity, but then, out of the abundance of that love, the love is poured out and given to all creation — to us. Because love begets love, the Love at the center of the Trinity is always pouring out more and more love. And that love is given to us, filling us, calling us, building us up because…we are the beloved of God.
If I’ve lost you with my theological philosophical ramblings, let me give you a clearer example, fitting with the annunciation of Mary. Think of the love between two parents. Two people who love each other so much. For many families, the outpouring of that love takes shape in the love they share with a child. And by loving that child, that child loves them back and the love grows and deepens over time.
Now, I know not all families are like that. I know some parent/child dynamics can be the exact opposite of loving. But for the sake of our understanding, it’s helpful to envision the purity of love that can exist and the way it builds up and expands.
Think of another example — the mutual love we share with one another as the body of Christ. When love is the guiding star of a church community, that love builds and expands and invites others in. There is plenty of love to go around and that love echoes out into the community through acts of service, evangelism, and care. I’m sure you’ve seen it before! And that’s what we’re called to be as a church — a place where love is shared in abundance!
Love is a blossoming thing, a growing thing. It expands.
You could say that the universe, all creation, stands upon the foundation of love’s out pouring. Think about the expanding universe, growing out from the most incredible explosion of matter at the dawn of time. This is where I love the connection between the Trinity and our cosmological understandings — What if all things are built upon the outpouring, hyperabundance of God’s love? What if that love is so immense that it explodes out into all of creation and creates new worlds, new life, our lives? What if everything is built upon a foundation of love? Do you see the connections here to our understanding of the universe?
God’s love is at the center and pouring out to the very edges of all things.
I’m going to keep on with the science angle here for a moment.
Another way of thinking about the love we see poured out and blessing Mary is with the concept of resonance. Reading back through our gospel text, we can look for signs of resonance in Mary’s hearing of Gabriel’s message. Her body, perhaps, quaked with the fear and immensity of what she was being told.
We know that our bodies resonate with energy and at a quantum level, our atoms are bouncing around, moving and shifting and resonating all the time. What I’m getting at here is that at the foundation of all things, love is a resonating force, the power of God at the ground of all things, moving and activating us and pulsing within us out of the hyperabundance of the love that is at the center of God’s Triune relationship.
Ok, where is this all going?
Love is resonating. Love is pouring out. Love is at the ground of it all.
The love we are talking about is not some abstract thing outside of us or bound up in some cold way of understanding facts and scientific figures. No. Love is moving, generative, flowing.
This is where I want to link back up with our song lyrics and, in particular, look once more at “O Holy Night”, our guiding carol this Advent season.
Today’s lyrics are “Let all within us praise Christ’s Holy Name!”
So much going on in that simple phrase. And here, I want to pull a few things together.
First, “let all within us.”
If we are resonating beings, filled with atoms that vibrate and move. And if the universe is expanding and filled with those sample particles which are resonating with that same expansive love of God that is at the ground of it all…if this, then when we say “let all within us...” we’re talking about participating with our whole bodies in the resonating dance of God’s love in the world. Do you hear that? To be like Mary and say “let it be according to your word” is to yield and be taken into the loving embrace of the God of the Universe who is filled with love.
This is what Mary is doing. And this is what we are invited to.
Then, the lyrics continue...”let all within us…praise Christ’s Holy Name!”
When you’re swept up into love, when your whole being is resonating with lovingly-charged atoms, the natural next step is to act, to speak, to praise!
I got a note in the mail this week that was filled with some incredible, stunning, joyous news. I stood there, reading and rereading it. Enclosed was an act of love. And you know what I had to do? I had to praise God. I had to say “thank you”. My body was filled with excitement and I had to do something with it. I called a friend. I called the sender of the note. I said a prayer of thanks.
When we encounter love, which, my friends, is exactly what this whole thing about Christmas and following Jesus and living as the light in the world, what this is all about, when we encounter this…we have to share it. We have to “go tell it on the mountain.” All within us must, must, must praise Christ’s Holy Name!”
This is what the story is pointing to — Love births love in us. Love given, love mutually shared — it makes more love.
So my question to you today is this: What is love birthing in you? What is the love that you have found in Christ calling you to give back in love? What must you do with that love?
Perhaps you feel short on love right now — then hear this encouragement. First, love is resonating in your body, so today, perhaps you have an opportunity to pause and pray and ask that God would awaken that in you a bit more.
And second, if you’re feeling short on love, know that we, your church family, are here for you and have plenty of love to go around. We want to know if you need help, if you’re weary, if you’re not feeling the love. We want to be with you and to share that love. Perhaps you feel perplexed like Mary did. Can we help comfort you, ease your concerns? Please, know that you are loved and your family here wants to share that love with you in whatever way we can.
Friends, love is at the center of all of this. It is the why behind all that we do. It is resonating in our bones as the Creator of the Universe pours out love in abundance. It is our hope, our joy, our peace — love.
Thanks be to God for this. Amen.
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