Rise up, Fall down

Original Artwork by Jessie Houff, Community Art Minister

Rise Up, Fall Down (1st Sunday in Advent)

Preacher: Nathan Hosler Scriptures: Isaiah 64:1-9, Luke 1:46-55

There is a certainty, and inevitability about it. The planets spin. In the night sky. Seen from the playground in the early evening, before the stars and bright enough to be seen even in the city. In a pair near the moon, Jupiter and Saturn. Coming close together (called the great conjunction) once every 20 years…and on December 21st will be the closest they have been since 1623 (or 397 years). Also, visible, one with a red-ish hue: Mars. (https://www.timeanddate.com/astronomy/planets/great-conjunction).  

The ginkgo tree leaves on our block are an extraordinary yellow and falling again. There is a certainty, an inevitability about it. But somehow surprising. “We know it gets cold but still surprises every year.”  My neighbor said it, but I was thinking it. The muggy heat of DC does, in fact, break and change. The leaves change and fall and then bare branches and then sprout.

Like some giant magical clock, spinning and whirring. Perplexing and mysterious but still predictable (to a degree). We have learned what gravity does and is. We know that in certain conditions water freezes. Birds fly south. Days get shorter and then longer and then shorter again.

In the book of Job, we hear God’s response,

“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
    Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
    Or who stretched the line upon it?
On what were its bases sunk,
    or who laid its cornerstone
when the morning stars sang together
    and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?

“Or who shut in the sea with doors
    when it burst out from the womb?—
when I made the clouds its garment,
    and thick darkness its swaddling band,
10 and prescribed bounds for it,
    and set bars and doors,
11 and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther,
    and here shall your proud waves be stopped’?

God creating and determining. Bounds of the oceans and waterways. Painting ginkgoes and juggling planets. These proclaim the goodness of God. There is certainty in it. There is an inevitability about it.

In Mary’s song there is a certainty—a supreme confidence in the work of God.

“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.”

Mercy certain from generation to generation.

The proud scattered.

Powerful brought down

Lifted the lowly.

Filled the hungry.

Sent the rich away.

Mary is supremely confident. Though a young woman in a lowly state in an occupied land, “with her back against the wall.” She declares and proclaims what she knows to be true, even though it is not immediately visible—and I assume, even for her, hard to always believe.

There is an inevitability and a certainness to the work of the creator but also the invitation and call. An invitation and call to participate in this work—call to co-create and even turn the world upside down. A call to lift but also to be lifted. A call to heal but also to be healed. To restore but also be restored

Black prophet-mystic, Howard Thurman, writing in 1949, in Jesus for the Disinherited asserts, “Many and varied are the interpretations dealing with the teachings and life of Jesus of Nazareth. But few of these interpretations deal with what the teachings and the life of Jesus have to say to those who stand, at a moment in human history, with their backs against the wall” (Howard Thurman, Jesus for the Disinherited, 1). Thurman identifies Mary as one “with her back against the wall” and this song as a critical for those living in fear and disinherited.

Mary’s song begins with rejoicing in the work of God. This work was a significant calling on her life. Her world was imbued with the action of God but also turned upside down by a call to participate in this work. While it fortifies and strengthens, it was not passive participation and observing, but a co-creating and forming of the Christ Child.

This call fortifies and strengthens, it was not passive participation and observing, but a co-creating and forming of the Christ Child.

Not only did this radically change her life but would turn the world upside down—scattering the proud, bringing down rulers, lifting the humble, filling the hungry, and sending the rich away empty.

The song of Mary echoes in Acts 17 as the Good News is being proclaimed. The accusation brought against the disciples is, “These people who have been turning the world upside down have come here also.” The disciples were rejoicing and abiding in the presence and work of God while proclaiming and working for a world where well-being, justice, wholeness, and peace flourish.

As we seek to hear and share the Good News in this season, may we, too, rejoice in the work of God, singing a new song for the world to hear. May we be healed, filled, and comforted by the peace of the coming Christ Child.

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