Shines Forth (Enthroned Upon the Cherubim)

Preacher: Nathan Hosler

Scriptures: Micah 5: 2-5a, Psalm 80: 1-7, & Luke 1: 39-55

“In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”

 And Mary said,

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

Mary’s song—the Magnificat—is not specifically or explicitly a call to action for us to join in the struggle for justice and turning the world around. It is an exclamation and celebration of praise for what God will do. A divine turning the world around and inverting our assumptions of power and prestige. That God is the actor in this hymn of praise does not make it safe (for some) or detached from worldly matters. This is the work of God.

The broader witness of scripture certainly invites and calls us to action of redressing all manner of injustice and need. From the individual to the global this is vital ministry. There is even much backing to the notion that we are called to join with God in God’s work. The Church of the Brethren has even embedded this in the long-standing tagline—“Continuing the Work of Jesus, peacefully, simply, together. And this is not in just one part of the Bible but throughout. Argentinian biblical scholar, René Krüger, names the Gospel of Luke as one of the New Testament examples of a “deeply rooted social message” and these verses as a core passage.  

However—However, in this specific passage with the specific song of praise and rejoicing, Mary is pointing to the action of God. Divine action. Yahweh showing up again. She is clearly involved as a participant with agency—and this is part of a larger story, history, and future, however, her focus is on God’s action through and on behalf of her and her community. Kruger observes that this passage starts with the individual expands to the community. “What God does to one humble person is projected onto all humble.”[1] God will lift up and cast down. God will restore and bless. It is God who will do this.

I emphasize this with some concern, for I often worry that to say “God will act” leads us to a passive waiting. My job in the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy (which could probably be characterized as being a denominational staff activist), my own internal agitation, and a Church of the Brethren service focus plus my Lancaster county working roots seem to push against waiting. I want to do something. Get others to do something. While I’m not going to recant on this, I do notice a gap in my spiritual life. Being truly biblical invites us into the fray and the struggle but also to deep prayer and waiting and trusting in God’s presence. Mary understands that God’s presence and acting is past, present, and future. God is high above but also among the people. The light of God shines upon her.

Psalm 80 goes this way as well. Three times in the first seven verses and then in the final verse, we see God’s help and salvation including or portrayed as shining. The radiating countenance of the Divine reaching out and enveloping us. In our dire straits, for people in exile, in suffering, in discouragement—depression or despair. When the shadows of sorrow or grief or regular old tiredness seem to overwhelm, God shines upon us. The Psalmist claims this truth while also lamenting the state of the people. The shining of God is not an unreasonable optimism or avoidance of reality. This shining breaks through the darkness—like a face of a child lighting up with joy and glee—it fills us. And God saves us.

The passage begins with the metaphor of shepherding and the care of the Shepherd for their sheep. Gathering those who have been scattered and guiding the people in the way of safety.

Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock!

In an abrupt pivot in the next line there is enthronement upon the cherubim—referencing the carvings on the arc of the covenant in the Temple’s holiest place. And referencing the heavenly beings of glory.

You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh. Stir up your might, and come to save us!

Notice the second part of this verse, “shine forth.”

And then in verse 3 immediately after,
Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved.[2]

This is then paralleled in verse 7. “Restore us, O God of hosts, let your face shine, that we may be saved.

The Psalm, then concludes at verse 19,

“Restore us, O Lord God of hosts: Let your face shine, that we may be saved.”

The repeating phrase, highlighting and illuminating. The light reaching—from a source that seems far-off—bringing that source of life and light close.

In the Gospel of Matthew, at the beginning of his ministry Jesus “withdrew to Galilee” and “made his home in Capernaum by the sea.” The author notes that this is so that the prophecy of Isaiah would be fulfilled.”

“Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali,
    on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—
 the people who sat in darkness
    have seen a great light,
and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death
    light has dawned.”

Like the light of the star leading the Magi to the baby Jesus and the sky filling with light as the chorus of angels announced the arrival of the Prince of Peace to the shepherds on the dark hillside, so to the light of the face of God and the light of Jesus break through announcing the coming of salvation. A saving grace which lifts us now. Not away from earth but into the fullness of life—here, now, and in the world to come. Amen.

[1] René Krüger, “Luke’s God and Mammon, A Latin American Perspective,” in Global Bible Commentary, eds. Daniel Patte, J. Severino Croatto, Nicole Wilkinson Duran, Teresa Okure, Archi Chi Chung Lee, (Abingdon: Nashville, 2004), 396.

“The Magnificat presents God’s option for the humble and God’s inversion of the relationship between power and property as reflecting God’s mercy and promises. God’s action in favor of Mary and all the poor announces the authentic alternative based on Jesus as the only savior, instead of (and inverting) what is offered by the powerful and the rich who do not save and whose reigns will be destroyed.”

[2] Psalm 80:1-3 NRSV

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