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Turning into Worship

Turning into Worship

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Published by David Driedger

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Published by: David Driedger on Dec 23, 2008
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Turning into Worship
December 21 (1 Sam 7; Luke 1:26-38, 46-55; Fourth Sunday in Advent)

I was not sure if after my last sermon I had crossed some line in beginning to push
too hard or in being too critical of our culture and our practices. In the sermon I hoped to
challenge us to consider the life of John the Baptist who demonstrated that the comforting
face of God may come through uncomfortable means. I tested out my concern with
someone during the week asking how she received the sermon and she responded,
lightheartedly, by saying that later that Sunday one of the themes of the sermon came to
her and it was that, \u201cLife is hard, you are not important, then you die.\u201d These statements
were almost directs quotes from Richard Rohr who I used in the sermon and in fairness
that was not far from what he was getting at. So what is the point of such a message?
Messages that pass judgment on our practices are difficult to receive. The message tends
to be either embraced inappropriately or rejected uncritically. We can embrace judgment
inappropriately when we have tendency to bet oo hard on ourselves; when we have
already been shaped by messages that tell us that we are not valuable and that we are not
good enough anyway. Or we can reject a message of judgment because it is not realistic.
It is not possible for us to continue our way of life as it isand meaningfully incorporate
the prophetic path God is calling us to. What we are engaged in is good anyway, sure it
is not perfect but perfection is not possible on this side of heaven anyway right? And so
we continue on our path further entrenching ourselves either in self-hate or further
distancing ourselves from repentance.

This week it became clear to me why it was that I could get so caught up in the
message of John the Baptist. For what reason would we even entertain and reflect on the
life of someone who constantly challenges our every thought and decision other than in
the possibility that the path John opens up is indeed the path of life that leads towards an
intimate relationship with God and with our estranged neighbours. It is the wild man
John with his rough edges and blunt speech who shakes us from our dozing off in order
to prepare a place in which God can dwell. And so this Sunday as we are hopefully more
alert and aware we can reflect on what it means for God to dwell within us. Judgment is
not about guilt and shame but about clarifying for us where God is absent or where we
are absent from God. So now we can move from the wild man to the humble young
woman who receives an unexpected visitor. It is the story of Mary that sets a profound
context for the indwelling presence of God.

The angel Gabriel came one night to visit Mary in the village of Nazareth in
northern Israel. Greetings the angel says to her.You who are highly favoured, the Lord
is with you. This visit and these words were more than a little troubling for Mary. The

angel Gabriel is only named one time in the Old Testament. It is in the book of Daniel
that Gabriel comes to explain a vision that Daniel received about the world powers who
are in conflict, with one throwing another over in continual violence. In the light of this
vision of violence Daniel responds with repentance pleading for God to forgive him and
his people. Then it says that while Daniel was still in prayer the angel Gabriel returned to
him and said to him that an answer has been given to your prayer for you are highly

esteemed which sounds not unlike the greeting Mary received. Then what follows is a
highly cryptic vision of the end of time which continues to perplex biblical scholars. The
vision is filled with combinations of sevens, and seven sevens, and sixty-two sevens.

And somewhere in the midst of these times is trouble, desolation, the rise and fall of
Jerusalem, the end of sacrifices, and an anointed one will emerge but who will be cut off
and become no more. Gabriel comes to Daniel so that Daniel might understand the end
of the world. And by the first century Jewish groups had been trying to calculate the
significance of the numbers given to Daniel and many believed they were in the time that
a Messiah, an Anointed One would come and overthrow the world powers.

This same angel comes to Mary. I think it is fair to think that Gabriel introduced
himself Mary and so we have the harbinger of the apocalypse coming to an almost
unknown town out in the country visiting a teenage girl saying, \u201cHi, its me Gabriel, you
might remember me as the one who explained the rise and fall of violent nations and the
end of the world to Daniel. Well, I\u2019m back. Greetings to you who, like Daniel, are
highly favored.\u201d There is little wonder that the next verse is telling us that Mary was
greatly troubled by these words. The visitation of the angel Gabriel to Mary is above all
an introduction into God\u2019s plan for the nations. Gabriel seems to be the one designated
for political delegations. Gabriel goes on to make this even more explicit telling Mary
that her child will be called the Son of the Most High and he will take the throne of David
and rule forever. When Mary asks how this could happen since she was a virgin and not
yet married Gabriel tells her that the Holy Spirit will come and the power of the Most
High will overshadow you. The imagery that the angel Gabriel uses is extremely dense
and full of meaning.

The Holy Spirit will come and hover over you as at the very origins of the
universe. As at creation the Spirit will hover over what does not exist and bring life out
of nothingness, out of the void of absence. Then it says that the power of the Most High
will overshadow. You will enter into the midst of the presence of God. You will dwell
in the midst of God. The imagery of overshadowing is found in two significant places in
the Old Testament. This is the imagery of Psalm 91 which begins by saying that

The one who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the Lord, \u201cHe is my refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.\u201d

Then in the Greek translation of this Psalm it says,
He will overshadow you with his feathers,
and under his wings you will find refuge.

Gabriel tells Mary that indeed she will be caught up into the stage of the world\u2019s drama
but it will happen by being overcome with the secure and abiding protection of God
Almighty. But there is one other important instance of the shadowing presence of God.
In the final chapter of the book of Exodus Moses calls the people to set up the Tabernacle
for the first time. The Tabernacle is to be a portable tent so that wherever the people go
they can worship God and dwell in the midst of God\u2019s presence. Then at the end of the
book it says that Moses finished the last details of the Tabernacle and the courtyard when
a cloud overshadowed the Tabernacle and the glory of the Lord filled it and as a result
Moses was unable to enter into it. The imagery is that a cloud would overshadow the
Tabernacle and that the glory of the Lord would fill it. If this imagery can be connected
to Mary then we find that Mary was overshadowed by the Holy Spirit and that a holy one
would be born within her. The body of Mary becomes the Tabernacle. There is a
profound shift that occurs here. The people do not come together to a specific place so

that they can dwell in the presence of God. Instead they now open themselves to receive the indwelling presence of God. We no longer come into the presence of God but God\u2019s presence enters into us so that we too might give birth to God\u2019s salvation.

John the Baptist came to tell us that God would not be born into a family privilege
and power. God would not rise through political force and positioning. God\u2019s power
would come where there is no power. God\u2019s freedom would come in the midst of those
who are oppressed. God\u2019s sight would come to those who are blind. God\u2019s strength
would come through the weak. The end of history and triumph of God began through
one who had no power in her culture. And what is more the coming of God did not
immediately raise Mary\u2019s status, rather, in the eyes of the world the coming of God came
as a scandal. The pregnancy could only be explained by infidelity. But for Mary what
mattered was that her life was now literally being shaped by the indwelling presence of
God. What was to the world a scandal and a shame was the very reality of God\u2019s

Then coming from Mary\u2019s lips we have one of the most beautiful songs in the
Bible. In this song Mary captures several themes of God\u2019s deliverance in the Old
Testament. We might wonder whether Mary as a young Jewish woman learned the song
of Hannah found in the 1 Samuel. Perhaps young women were taught of the faithfulness
of Hannah and her role in God\u2019s deliverance of the people. Unlike Mary though, Hannah
was growing older and still she did not conceive a child and so she prayed that if God
would grant her a child then she would dedicate that child to the Lord. In time Hannah
did give birth and in thanksgiving she offered up a prayer to God that has many
similarities to Mary\u2019s song. What is important in both of them is the intimate knowledge
that all of reality is based on the will of God and so it speaks of turning away from human
promises and resting in the promises of the Lord. For as Mary says,

The Lord has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.

There is no promise in the comforts and securities of the world. This again is what John
the Baptist was trying to open our eyes to. In the middle of her song Mary says that God
has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. Those who have not made
room for God will be scattered. Those who try to live in control will be tossed about
while those who live out of control will be secured in God. To those who are able to let
go; to those the salvation of God will be revealed.

All the different themes and images that are tied up in Gabriel\u2019s visit to Mary and
of Mary\u2019s song are all based on one common understanding. It is crucial for us to see
that the indwelling of God and therefore also of our participation in God\u2019s salvation

depends only and entirely on our ability to pray and worship. The Christian\u2019s and the

Church\u2019s response to the brokenness of individuals and of the injustices in society is its
worship. The Tabernacle, the imagery that shaped Gabriel\u2019s encounter with Mary shaped
God\u2019s community through proper worship. In Psalm 91 it was those who called God
their dwelling place who would be secure from the evils around them Gabriel\u2019s political
vision of God\u2019s anointed came to Daniel in response to prayer. Hannah received her
child through faithful worship and prayer. Through all these images it is hard not to
imagine that the night Gabriel visited Mary that Mary was not already in prayer herself.

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