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Belmont United Methodist Church in Belmont Massachusetts

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remembering the future - Rev Wimmer - December 27, 2009 - Luke 1:39-55; Luke 2:25-35


remembering the future (Luke 1: 39-55) 20 december 2009
Some of you may remember the Nasrudin story where Nasrudin has lost his keys and is looking for them in his neighbors’ yard when his neighbor spots him and asks what he has lost and Nasrudin says his keys and his neighbor asks the inevitable question, ‘where did you lose them?’ and Nasrudin says, ‘ at home’ so the neighbor asks him, ‘then why are you looking for them here?,’ and Nasrudin replies, ‘because there is more light here.’
As discombobulated as this sounds it reminds me of the beautiful words of Mary when she sings out God’s praise by saying God has done great things for me . . . God has shown strength with his arm; God has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts . . . God has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich empty away . . . and this is discombobulated because of the verb tense. None of these things have happened yet. The child has not been born, the proud have not been scattered in their hearts, the hungry have not been filled with great things and the rich have not been sent empty away. It is as if she has found something that is not there because of where she is looking in the great light that surrounds her, that magnifies her if you will.
But what is happening to Mary is not a mistake or a misunderstanding. She is not finding something that is not there, she is finding something that is here but no one else can see it yet. She saw the future in the present. I like the way Joanna Adams, a Presbyterian pastor, put it in the Christian Century, “Either she has lost her mind, or she has been blessed with double vision. She believes that heaven and earth are on an unavoidable convergence course. With eyes of faith and a hopeful ear, she is able to discern that the future God has planned is bleeding back into the here and now.” She seems to be remembering the future. Remembering the future.
Someone has said that in this world of shadows Mary’s song makes brightly visible “the great process of transformation being wrought by the creative energy of the triune God.” It is happening. The world is being transformed before our very eyes and we did not see it. Surely God is in this place and we did not know it! Yet this is a word that should not make us sad because we did not see it but glad because it is happening whether we see it or not! Oh yeah!
Stanley Hauerwas informs me that Catholic theologian Herbert McCabe suggests that the coming of Jesus into the world could be thought of as the coming of a new language. In the words of Hauerwas, “Jesus offers himself as the author of a new kind of communication among people. He is not offering a blueprint for a new society which we may or may not choose to realize. He is offering himself as the Word who alone is capable of creating a community that offers a new way in which human beings can be free to live lives in which self-giving becomes an alternative to victimization. He goes on to say that the name of that community is ‘church’. The task of such a community according to McCabe, is to remember the future. We are able to do this because Christ’s resurrection makes the future our present. The church then makes the presence of Christ articulate as a language, as an interpretation of the world, by being for the world the means of communicating this reality.” (Image, no. 60, page 103)
Now you may be discombobulated. I thought we were talking about Christmas not Easter you might be thinking, but just as remembering the future seems strange to our ears, Easter and Christmas are intimately related in the magnified light of God’s glory. We see this in those texts where Mary is told that a sword will pierce her heart too; where she ponders these things in her heart. The shadow of the cross falls on the blessed birth as sure as night follows day. But we know this already if we care to think of it, if we care to remember what our own hearts would tell us. When one (anyone!) is born to life they are also then born to die for if we know life, we also will know death. This mystery is no mystery to us. Our poets have spoken of it. T.S. Eliot, put it simply: “In my beginning is my end.” (Four Quartets) In my beginning is my end.
Apparently there is on the island of Patmos a small Greek Orthodox Church whose ceiling is covered with ancient frescoes. One of them shows Mary sitting by her baby’s cradle but you will probably never see it on an American Christmas card because the cradle is in the form of a casket and the swaddling clothes are a funeral shroud.
So what is going here? What is this cosmic connection, this magnified–by-the-light-of-God connection between the past and the future, between life and death, between what God can do and what is possible for us?
In some ways the birth of Christ is not much different from his death because in both cases God creates new possibilities out of what appear to be impossibilities. The forces of death and hopelessness are vanquished forever and in both cases God delivers this outcome by the power of vulnerable love. It is the vulnerability of God’s coming to the world in the baby Jesus born to the powerless maiden, Mary, and of Jesus‘ exit from this world on the cross that makes every impossibility possible and it is how the transformation of the world is taking place even now where people live out their faith in love by giving of themselves for the good of all risking security and comfort, making sacrifices to love the world into peace, peace that still we cannot see, but peace that is surely coming, as sure as the morning stars that sing, as sure as the joy in Mary’s heart and in Elizabeth’s womb at the news not of what God will do but of what God has done for us.
Someone once asked southern humorist Roy Blount if he believed in infant baptism. He replied: “ Believe in it! Shoot, I have even seen it!
What a blessing it will be when we can see what Mary saw, the transformation of our unjust and broken world and even more blessed, when seeing, we move to doing, joyfully and gladly joining in God’s discombobulating of things as they are as we together in the magnified light of God’s eternal and holy presence are even now remembering the future.



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Belmont United Methodist Church is a Certified Welcoming Congregation


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