A sermon based on Isaiah 61 and Luke 1:39-45 preached on November 27th, 2016
Advent is a conspiracy. Advent is that secret plan that no one seems to know about—that hidden part of Christmas that everyone overlooks. Advent is God’s conspiracy, a rude invasion of the Holy into our hearts and lives. But in order to see this divine scheme at work among us, we need to look underneath all the Christmas pollution out there. We need to put our ear up to a different door—listen for another sound, a much quieter one, one softer than the ringing of silver bells or cash registers.
The word con-spire means to breathe with, to sync ourselves up with another. A group of people conspiring together gather with one another and they make a plan, they go over it again and again until everyone understands everyone else, until everyone involved knows exactly what their part is and how their part syncs up with everyone else’s part—until they’re all on the same page, until they’re acting as one, until they so intimately know how they and everyone else is involved it’s almost like they’re one body, breathing together.
Advent is a conspiracy. It’s an invitation into a plan hatched by God. God will invade the world by coming into it in human form. At first, only a few will know or even care—a teenager named Mary and her cousin Elizabeth, later a few shepherds—so unimportant to the world that they don’t even have names! Advent is a con-spiracy, a way for human beings like you and I to breathe deep and make room for the Spirit of God to invade, inspire, to sync our every inhalation and exhalation—to make every one of our exaltations—with, to, and for God.
The invitation of Advent is to go through this Christmas season living and breathing in new and different patterns than the rest of the world. As others anxiously and breathlessly scurry about all around us, we the faithful have been invited this season to breathe deeply and worship fully.
Each of the gospel writers approach the story of Jesus in a different way. If the gospel according to Matthew is like a research paper, then Mark’s is more like a blog post—much shorter and to the point. And if the gospel according to John is like one of Shakespeare’s plays, then the gospel according to Luke is like a Broadway musical. Luke’s gospel starts with 5 different musical numbers: Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, sings of the great things God will do through his son; there’s the angel’s song to the shepherds announcing the birth of God into the world; there’s Simeon’s song that he shouts at the time of Jesus’ christening; and today’s song, a duet of two pregnant women: Elizabeth and Mary, cousins who come together to rejoice in their shared fortune—God is doing something new and extravagant for the world, and for some inexplicable and wondrous reason, He has chosen to do it through the two of them!
We call Mary’s song the Magnificat because Mary sings about how her heart magnifies or glorifies the Lord. The original word that Mary sings here starts with the prefix mega-, as in megaphone. As these two women sing, they use their outdoor voices to exclaim their news. They shout over the rooftops, they exclaim their praise to the heavens, more confident than ever before that God hears their song—has heard their long-held prayers and now, finally, has an answer to all the injustice in the world. These two women breathe in deeply, and with big breath from big lungs, they use big notes to sing big songs to God!
The Velvet Revolution of East Germany started slowly. Protesters began to gather at the foot of the Berlin Wall. Every Monday evening, they came together and lit candles—just dozen or so at first. They sang songs out of hymnals with one another. Singing became their main act of protest. Over two months, the dozen or so grew into a little more than a 1,000 people, and then into over 300,000—half the citizens of the city.
These 300,000 gathered together each Monday evening, and sang songs of protest and justice and hope, until their song was loud enough for the people inside of government halls to hear them—until their voices pierced the thick walls of all the unjust laws in place in East Germany, until the people’s songs were loud enough to send the Berlin Wall crumbling down to the ground. Later, when someone asked one of the officers of the Stasi, the East German secret police, why they did not crush this protest like they had so many others, the officer replied,
We had no contingency plan for song.
The right songs, sung loudly by enough people can change the world. Mary and Elizabeth knew that. Revolutions begin with a single note beginning a single song; and somehow that song grows loud enough to send even the strongest of walls crumbling down to the ground.
If we pay attention to the words of Mary’s song, it won’t take us long to figure out that they haven’t come true yet. Mary’s words are full of hope. Mary knows that she’s giving birth to something new—it’s something that God is doing—but this thing that God is doing through her and through Jesus will not come true overnight. Even God’s plans take time. Mary sings of powerful people being pulled down from their thrones, never to rule again. The hungry will be fed with good things and the rich will be sent away empty-handed.
None of this has happened yet. The ways of the world haven’t changed all that much—they’re still the same as they have always been. But just like Mary, we don’t wait to sing our songs of hope. Like the protesters of the Velvet Revolution, we don’t wait until all the walls of injustice have come crumbling down to the ground before we start our song. We sing now. And the song we sing is a song of hope, and this song is called Advent. Hope is at the center of the Advent conspiracy. Hope is the very engine of the Almighty who comes to us in Jesus Christ. And this hope we have is not of the naïve and cheery sort. It’s not the watered-down sort of hope that fills Hallmark cards. It’s not the kind of hope we have when we toss our coins in fountains and send up wishes. The hope we sing of at Advent is of the determined sort. It’s gritty hope. This sort of hope has friction. Advent hope is the kind of hope that dares to stare into the face of darkness—the darkness of our lives and the darkness of the world—and dares to confront it.
The hope of Advent gives us what it takes to lift our single voice and dare to shout out into a meaningless world, to take a world completely ambivalent and impersonal and apathetic, and sing into it something real and meaningful and substantial. Mary’s Magnificat has been echoed over and over again throughout history in the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. as he sung his “I have a dream.” In the words of Maya Angelou as she tells the story about why the caged bird sings. In the still-sung and powerful words of We Shall Overcome…One Day, One Day. Advent is a conspiracy. A conspiracy of hope. A breathing-in to make room in ourselves and in our world for God to do something new and significant and vital.
Starting this Wednesday evening, we will gather together in the Fellowship Hall for this year’s Advent bible study. Each week we will look an often overlooked and surprising truth about the story of Christmas using a book entitled Hidden Christmas by Timothy Keller. You don’t have to read the book to be a part of the bible study, but you can if you’d like.
Timothy Keller thinks that there are a few things about Christmas that we still don’t seem to get—that no matter how many times we’ve read the Christmas story or attended an Advent Bible Study, or come to church on Christmas Eve or any one of these Sundays in Advent, there’s something that God is doing at Christmas that continues to fly under our radar screens. Keller says that the most surprising and under-acknowledged thing about Christmas is the message that the world’s hope comes from outside of it. You could call that the central confession of Christmas, the conspiracy of all conspiracies: that in a world full of people who break their backs to claim self-sufficiency, inside a culture that loves to proclaim its independence and autonomy, we who call ourselves Christian confess the opposite.
Our hope comes not from self-reliance but only and fully through reliance on something or, rather Someone outside of us. Our Greatest Hope has never dwelled within of us; our Greatest Hope comes to us from the outside. And our task this Advent: to ask for this hope to fall upon us. To actively wait for it. To look beyond ourselves for it. To worship fully—to live our lives breathing in God’s Spirit deeply, knowing that, just like air, the living, breathing Hope of God is what gives us our life—and that it comes to us from outside of us.
Friends, this Advent, be a part of the conspiracy! Breathe deeply. Make room for the Spirit of God to invade and inspire you. Sync your every inhalation and exhalation—and make every one of your exaltations—with, to, and for God. Worship fully. Practice Divine-dependence. With big breath from big lungs, use big notes to sing big songs of hope to God, just as Mary and Elizabeth did—the sort of hope that comes from outside of you, so that your life may be infused with, and invaded and inspired by, the Spirit of God!
All praises to the One who made it all and finds it beautiful!