Worship Service for the 4th Sunday of Advent

Hello everyone,

Welcome to worship for this 4th Sunday of Advent, landing on December 19, 2021! We are glad that you are here!

The bulletin for this service can be found here. The bulletin will have the order of worship with all the words and responses to the liturgy, the hymn numbers out of the ELW and the page numbers out of the Tree of Life booklet, and the full sermon manuscript. The sermon is also included at the bottom of this page.

For a fuller at home worship experience, you can have a lit candle to provide the ambiance, and something small to eat and drink if you wish to participate in communion.

May God’s gracious love fill you with the joy and peace of the holiday season!

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Mighty God, you scatter the proud and fill the hungry, by your Spirit let your word leap in us and bring out the joy that comes from your steadfast love and providence, seen in the birth and life and resurrection of Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Three years ago, in 2018 when this text last appeared in our lectionary, I was talked about the hype around the at the time upcoming Marvel movie, Avengers Endgame.  The trailer for it had just dropped and people were going bananas.  Now, three years later, we have another epic Marvel movie to talk about: Spiderman No Way Home.  This movie just came out this last Friday, so being the super nerdy super fan that I am, I watched it on Thursday.  Now, I’m not going to get into the nitty gritty of the movie and drop spoilers for you all, but I can say that the movie was indeed epic, and you really should see if it if you get the chance. 

But what I want to talk about is the hype.  And there was a lot of hype for this movie.  Maybe because it was the first actual Marvel release that people care about since the pandemic started?  Sure there were other movies and titles that came out, like Black Widow and Hot Guy Hawkeye, but like I was saying a couple weeks ago, no one really knows about those other characters.  But Spiderman?  Everyone knows who Spiderman is, the character has been among Marvel’s most popular in the comics for like ever now.  And I think this is for good reason, Spiderman is a very well written character, he’s funny and has cool and unique powers, but underneath it all, he’s just a regular kid.

Much of Spiderman’s story is about his secret identity, Peter Parker, who is just a regular kid from Queens who lived with his aunt and uncle because his parents were deceased, when he gets bit by a radioactive spider that gave him his spider powers.  Shortly after his uncle dies which drives Peter to be Spiderman, because “with great power comes great responsibility”, and Peter has great power and he sees it as his job to use it for good. 

But all that comes with its own problems though.  Peter is a high school student when all of this happens.  He has homework and tests and assignments.  Even after graduation he has a meager job taking pictures for a newspaper.  He has regular problems like a regular person. He also has super problems like a super hero, but the stories around this character often talk about his personal life, his wants and his needs, his hopes and his dreams, his family and relationships, and how to balance all that regular stuff with also being a friendly neighbourhood super powered individual.

And this is what resonates with so many of the comic readers and now movie goers.  Aside from his amazing ability to do whatever a spider can, like spin a web any size to catch thieves just like flies, he is underneath that mask and hype, just a down-to-earth, regular kid.  This makes the character much more approachable, more accessible, more relatable to us, as that totally could be us.  Well, minus the super powers, that is.

So this character Spiderman relates to today’s themes because he reminds me of Mary, the mother of Jesus.  I know, first Hawkeye reminds me of John the Baptizer, and now Spiderman reminds me of Mary.  What’s next?  Simon Peter as the Hulk and the Apostle Paul as Iron Man?  Anyway, the reason Spiderman reminds me of Mary is specifically because of this passage that we get today for the 4th Sunday of Advent.  We all know Mary as the young unwed woman who gave birth to Jesus.  We all know how she was brave and wise beyond her years.  We all know her as the mother of all mothers.  In many minds, she could be a real life superhero with what she has done. 

But today, in today’s passage, Mary who is newly pregnant, goes and visits her cousin Elizabeth who is not so newly pregnant.  And their interaction reminds us that Mary, underneath all of that hype, is just a regular, down-to-earth kid.  Someone who is approachable, accessible, and relatable. 

Sure, you might think, where on earth did I get all that from just 17 verses?  Well it isn’t exactly explicit, but very implied in just how they interact and what they say to and about the situation.  Elizabeth being elated just to see her young cousin, and Mary breaking out in a song which has been coined “the Magificat” over the years.

And this song that Mary sings really packs a punch.  It’s one of those things that might be so familiar that we don’t often look at it and ponder it, but when we unpack it a bit, we can see where Mary is at in terms of her own cultural context.  We can see the hope that she has not just in her child, but in the changing of the world.  We can see her humility in giving all glory to God, and declaring that she magnifies God.

And that’s something that struck me as I read Mary’s song this time around.  She opens with her soul magnifying God.  Obviously that is where we get the Magificat name, but what does it mean to “magnify”?

Well, any kid who has read any detective story would know that to magnify is to make bigger, enlarge something so it is more easily seen, or even to harness and focus power and effectiveness, as is the case with the sun and pyromaniacs.  That is what a magnifying glass is for. 

So Mary’s song is to show how she, her whole self, her very identity is bringing to light who God is.  And who is God to Mary?  She says that God is merciful from generation to generation, God is strong, God scatters the proud and brings the powerful down from their thrones.  And at the same time, God lifts the lowly, fills the hungry with good things, and helps those in need.

See Mary sees herself in that camp, because she knows that she isn’t powerful or mighty or with any influence whatsoever.  But she sees how even in her seemed small and insignificant self, she is chosen by God not to be powerful, but to be the example of just how God’s grace and mercy work.

This isn’t to say that the powerful don’t have a role in God’s work, but it is to say that it isn’t just the powerful that have a role.  God chooses the powerless as well.  God chooses the nobodies, the outsiders, the insignificant.  God chooses the regular, down-to-earth people too.

And so, I wonder, where and in whom do we see God magnified?  With whom do we most clearly see God at work in the world?  Where is God, not hyped up per se, but in the real, tangible trenches of life? 

For me, I see God in those who take the time to help others.  Those who sacrifice their own comfort and luxuries to offer a helping hand.  I saw this most recently in flood relief efforts in the past month.  I saw it throughout this pandemic in how people have been trying to be considerate and helpful to others, even though I know everyone is tired of it all.  I see it in this community, our church, as many of us offer our time to help others, such as in making sandwiches for those who might not be as fortunate as us.

Wherever you might see God, know that God’s love and mercy is magnified even in us.  For just as Mary was an example of how God’s grace works, so are we examples as imperfect people who are just as loved and forgiven and welcomed as God’s own children.  See this is why Mary broke out in song in that in her own ordinary self she was chosen.  This is why Spiderman is so popular because he’s just a regular kid who was given special powers to help others.  This is why we worship, to proclaim and magnify God’s name, showing the world how we aren’t called to be perfect, but we’re called to be forgiven.  We aren’t made to be respected but we are made to be loved.  We aren’t destined to be powerful, but we are given the power of the Spirit of love and community to see God residing in the hearts of the least likely, and trusting that God believes in and anoints those who we might not ever give a second look.

So as we close off this season of Advent, this season of hope and waiting, may we together ring in the Christmas season, where we can see and recognise Christ enter the world as God with us, and may that truth inspire us to love mercy, do justice, and walk humbly with our God.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

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