“I Know That I am a thought in God” – Sermon for Advent

Birth Stories, The Magnificat, and the Revolution of Christmas Tags: #sermon #advent

This is the message I gave at Deep River Friends Meeting this past Sunday based on Luke 1: 46-55:

46 And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, 47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. 50 His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. 51 He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. 52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; 53 he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. 54 He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, 55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

Birth Narratives

In our family, the advent season is extra special. M, our middle daughter, was born on Nov 27, 2009. Just a few days before the start of advent on the liturgical calendar.

L, our oldest daughter, was born on December 19, 2007. She was due on Christmas, but thankfully my wife Emily’s prayers were heard and L was born 6 days before. Now she doesn’t have to competing for spotlight with the Son of God.

As you can see advent is special in our house the birthday boy, Jesus, notwithstanding.

Advent is a time of waiting and joyful anticipation of arrival. It is very much like the Quaker concept of “expectant waiting” that we share together in open worship.

In our waiting, we expect for something to happen.

There is so much build up to the moment of a birth. And, I think, what can be just as important, is the experience and memory of birth and sharing those memories over time.

One of the practices that we do each year with the kids is we have a special birthday dinner where the kids pick what they want to eat. Sometimes we make a meal, sometimes we go out to eat, but in either case, over dinner Emily and I pitch in to tell our celebrant their birth story.

Each birth and birth story is special. Each year the details remain more or less consistent due to Emily's high functioning memory, no matter how much I try and add exaggerations to the story.

But those stories do adapt and change as they get older and we get to see more of their personalities. What from those early memories do they need to hear and know now?

Can you think back to your own birth story, and how your family talked about these earlier parts of your life? How has that story shaped you over your life?

Beginnings matter because because they can tell us where the rest of the story is going. Beginnings orient us to our future.

Both pain and promise are often found within origin stories.

Birth stories have the power of building up or tearing down.

Christmas is the origin story, not just of Jesus, but to all of us who identify as being followers of his teachings and life.

It matters to us, the church, whether to us it is a sweet and quaint little story, domesticated and pretty, with Mary and Jospeh smiling happily as she gives a complication-free birth in a stable [everything's totally fine!]; or maybe this story is more about the build up to Revolution and dramatic change for our main characters who get to play central roles. If instead of meek and mild, Mary and Joseph are refugees on the run homeless; if instead of a knowing wink, there is a conflicting look of both hope and fear in Mary’s eyes, then this birth story is different from how it often gets retold.

Origin stories shape who we are and who we are becoming.


The magnificat is an important part of Jesus' birth story both because of what it says about Jesus' birth and because of the liturgical repetition it had in the of the early Jesus movement.

The words of the magnificat are powerful, beautiful, and celebratory; and these are words that were meant to be sung.

It became known as the magnificat, because that is the opening word of Mary’s famous song in Latin.

In Greek the word is Megalunei, which means to magnify, grow, enlarge! The magnificat is thought to be one of the earliest Christian hymns ever recorded and it is one of four found in the Gospel of Luke. It is the subject of much art throughout history and composers have loved to set music to the words: most notably Vivaldi and Johann Sebastian Bach.

For most of us, our experience of the announcement of a Child’s birth is cause for excitement. But that is not always the case. Sometimes a birth brings uncertainty and fear.

For Mary – I see a mix of emotions. The birth of Jesus, foretold by Gabriel is shocking news and certainly a disruption in Mary and Joseph's plan, but as she sits with it the Singer song-writer in Mary to breaks out into a powerful song.

Along with her womb, pregnant with the Son of God, Mary says her soul is growing, getting bigger because of what God has chosen to do through her. She is opening to what is before her.

The Magnificat records for us how Mary experienced the first “Christmas.”

A disruption. A revolution. A turning of the tides.

[faster] Mary sees that not only her fortunes, but the fortunes of the whole world are about to change. Her song sings of the role reversals of the powerful and the weak, the rich and the hungry. Her folk song sings of an old world that is passing a way, and the birthing of a new world where God’s justice and mercy will prevail.

God has looked down on his lowly servant – a young peasant girl, barely a woman, from a little town of insignificance called Bethlehem. Bethlehem – a little town on the outskirts of empire, “a city of dubious distinction” as one commentator puts it.

Mary is from a place where it would have been easy to go unnoticed by God.

God could have chosen a woman of power, a woman of wealth and prestige, the wife of a military or political leader, similar to the way the baby Moses was adopted by Pharaoh's daughter, but instead, God selected a young girl from an occupied Palestine. A girl who meant nothing to history moments before. A young woman who wouldn’t make roll-call in many of today’s churches. We are supposed to get that Mary is in all obvious ways a “bad selection,” an unnamed person from an insignificant place.

The Magnificat is Mary’s response to the fact that God trusted her to be the mother through which liberation for the poor and the oppressed.

This is what the Christmas birth story is all about.

A revolution for the insignificant, the overlooked, those turned away by empire then and those turned away by empire today.

The Gospel of Luke begins with Elizabeth and Zechariah, two childless elders who are given a son, named John, who will be a prophet paving the way for the Messiah.

And then we find Mary and Jesus’ step-dad Joseph, who we know even less about.

These are the people God trusted to be the family and care-takers of a completely history altering moment.

If there were newspapers back then, the headlines might have read:

The underdogs of human history catch major break.

You can see why this is cause for a wild celebration.

Mary shouts ‘magnificat’ because her entire way of understanding and perceiving the world has been transformed.

She shouts ‘magnificat’ because it is her body offered as a sacrament to God which will birth a revolution of love.

She shouts ‘magnificat’ because Mary learns one of the deepest truths in the Christian story – God is for us. Especially those who are broken, downtrodden, lost, and without a hope.

In this birth story we see that God takes one of us. A normal, ordinary person, even less-than ordinary, a young, poor person living under Roman imperial occupation and takes her and says you're the one I trust to make this happen.

When I think back the the births of our three children, and what it means to parent them, isn't it ultimately this: that we have been entrusted with these lives until the time comes when they go on to live into the call that God has put on their lives.

Mary understands this better than most:

“Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38 NRSV)

The magnificat is the recurring memory of the birth story of Jesus: the joy of what Christmas meant to the people who were entrusted with the very first Christmas.

I know I am a thought in God

I want to close with words from the Salvadorian priest, Oscar Romero, who was assassinated by his government for serving the poor in his community.

This poem called, “I am a thought in God by” captures the the power and hope of the magnificat beautifully.

He says:

This is the Christian’s joy: I know that I am a thought in God, no matter how insignificant I may be – the most abandoned of beings, one no one thinks of. Today, when we think of Christmas gifts, how many outcasts no one thinks of! Think to yourselves, you that are outcasts, you that feel you are nothing in history: “I know that I am a thought in God.” Would that my voice might reach the imprisoned like a ray of light, of Christmas hope – might say also to you, the sick, the elderly in the home for the aged, the hospital patients, you that live in shacks and shantytowns, you coffee harvesters trying to garner your only wage for the whole year, you that are tortured: God’s eternal purpose has thought of all of you. He loves you, and, like Mary, he incarnates that thought in his womb. This is what I think was going through Mary’s head. This is what we should be thinking too. These words, more than any other, that should describe for us the heart of what Christmas hope is.

“I know that I am a thought in God.”

A closing responsive prayer: After each phrase I invite you in saying with me: I am a thought in God.

No matter how insignificant you may think you are – the most abandoned of beings, where you feel you are nothing to history – “I know that I am a thought in God.”

Even when you are despised, unwelcome or judged others – “I know that I am a thought in God.”

To those who have lost loved ones in the last year – “I know that I am a thought in God.”

To those who are struck with deep feelings of loneliness – “I know that I am a thought in God.”

To those who are wrestling with fear, uncertainty or letting go – “I know that I am a thought in God.”

To those who are dealing with life threatening illnesses – “I know that I am a thought in God.”

To those for whom Christmas is not a celebration but a time of grieving – “I know that I am a thought in God.”

To those for whom having bread to eat is an extravagant Christmas gift – “I know that I am a thought in God.”

To those who are sure they have lost their way – “I know that I am a thought in God.”

To those who have given up on God – “I know that I am a thought in God.”

To those who believe God has given up on them – “I know that I am a thought in God.”

To those who need the reassurance that God is with them – “I know that I am a thought in God.”

To those who are tired, worn-out, struck down – “I know that I am a thought in God.”

To those who are a long way from home – “I know that I am a thought in God.”

We can all say together with Mary:

“I know that I am a thought in God.”

Let Mary’s song become our song. Our prayer. Not just for ourselves but for all those in our community whose stories are much closer to Mary's.

May our commitments and practices, our faith, and our lives be so that all people, everywhere will come to hear God’s voice inside them, and say along with us:

“I know that I am a thought in God.”