“Danielle Sermon by: Guest Preacher: Danielle Shroyer
Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration | Dallas, Texas
December 23, 2018
FourthSunday of Advent

Raised Up


For as long as I have observed the season of Advent, Advent has been a time to practice waiting. It is patience and quiet and a sort of restrained hope that inches toward the trumpeting joy of Christmas morning.

But this year has been different. This year, starting in September, I’ve been practicing a different virtue every month. And December happens to be the virtue of heroic perseverance.

Heroic perseverance, far from a time of waiting, is a time of get-up-and-go. It’s a rising energy, not a grounding energy. It’s very Rocky-Balboa-taking-to-the-steps-in-Philadelphia. Heroic perseverance is about longevity, but it’s also about starting a hard, long journey toward something good or beautiful. Which, in a way, does sound like Advent.

But at first blush, I felt this was going to be a very awkward and difficult Advent season, filled with clashing intentions and fuzzy outcomes. But what I have found, as often happens when life gives you an opportunity to look at something known as something new, is that Advent is not only a season of waiting.

It has also always been a season of raising up.

If we look back over the scripture readings in the past three weeks, we see signs of raising, of rising, at every turn. Listen to the words of Jeremiah: In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.

And the Gospel of Luke: Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.

Baruch writes:  Arise, O Jerusalem, stand upon the height; look toward the east, and see your children gathered from west and east at the word of the Holy One, rejoicing that God has remembered them.

And again, from Luke: He has raised up a mighty savior for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old.

In this time of Advent preparation, God calls us again and again to rise. We are called to rise so that we may see the coming glory of God, and we are called to rise that we may stand together and live as God’s people.

This is most clearly true on this fourth Sunday of Advent, where we finally arrive at the part in the story where Mary learns she is going to bear the son of God into the world. This is the beginning of her hero’s journey, where she is invited to a grand adventure- perhaps the grandest human adventure ever- and she steps into the unknown and the possibility and the long road of it and says yes.

She does not yet know the kind of heroic perseverance she will be called upon to display. She does not yet know that her patience will be tested, that her trip to Bethlehem will be long and her exodus in Egypt even longer. What she knows and feels is that this is the advent of a new beginning, a glorious beginning, the kind that bursts forth and springs up and demands to be shouted and shared.

So she quickly hastens to visit her cousin, Elizabeth, to share the news. Now, in our English translations, we usually read verse 39 as “In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country…” It’s a lovely transition. The literal Greek is a lot bumpier. It reads, “Raised up, Mary, in those days went.”*

Raised up, Mary went. That may be awkward grammatically, but it is gospel truth. Isn’t that absolutely the way the gospel happens to us and within us? We encounter this remarkable space in which we find ourselves caught up and thrown into the story of God, and we are raised up.

In that moment with the angel Gabriel, in the moment she says, “let it be,” Mary gets caught up and caught into the unfolding story of God, and the tide of God’s story begins to rise and carry her along in rapid fashion.

When Mary arrives at Elizabeth’s, Elizabeth rises to greet her and she says “As soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leapt for joy.” That word “leaped” means more specifically to stir with joy. It’s a movement that has been likened to cattle being released from a stall, a stampede of freedom and pure happiness.

You could call it a joyous uprising.

In response to this greeting, Mary sings out her song, the Magnificat, which is a story of God rising up to bring the promised Kingdom to bear on the earth at long last. This God-rising, in the true paradoxical fashion of scripture, requires that some are brought low. When the kingdom of God arrives, the land becomes leveled. When God arises, all things begin to be made right. And it’s the most honest and real thing in the world to say that when things are made right, it stings a little. This is not a Disney movie, where change comes through twinkling lights and fairy dust. Change comes only at a cost, and in this instance, the cost of shuffling around privileges and social standings and societal rankings is going to be a little dicey for some of us.

But the part that makes this ring true in our hearts like only the gospel truth can, is that Mary does not declare this in a spirit of meanness or of retribution. This is no revenge song. It is a song about the kind of world God is creating. It’s a song not penned in human anger but sung forth in God’s righteousness.

A new day of God is rising, and a new chapter in that long-awaited promise of God is beginning to unfold. God is intent on bringing the high low and bringing the low high. Not out of spite, not out of vengefulness, but because the most important thing in the entire world is that we are meant to be together, and in our world we are sadly separated by a laundry list of things that we find important but that pale in comparison to the fact that we are all, in the end, God’s children. Our highest and fullest calling is to live for God and to live for each other.

This is the message from all the prophets- and let us make no mistake, Mary is raised up as a prophet. Prophets are raised up, and they summon us to rise up, to cast our eyes toward a God who is coming in glory, to prepare the way.

Mary tells us God will fill the hungry with good things and lift up the lowly. She declares that God’s mighty arm will scatter the proud, bring down the powerful, send the rich away empty. (To which, many of us this year are saying, “Come quickly, Lord Jesus.”)

But a prophet’s message is always in two parts, you see. There is the part that is only God’s to do, that only God can achieve. This is salvation. It’s God’s heavy lifting. But the prophets do not only tell us to arise and look to see the coming of God in glory. They also tell us to arise and get to work.

We are less keen on this second part, generally speaking. If there is any lesson that we may be learning as a country in the past couple of years, it may be the practice of showing up when the world gets dark. Persevering when the crises seem endless, and the work unfruitful and hard.