The Fourth Sunday in Advent
The Rev. Austin K. Rios
St. Paul’s Within the Walls
December 20, 2015
As we were walking down the street the other day, my daughter screamed out to me, “Dada, you keep breaking your mother’s back continually!”
Memories of the children’s saying, “If you step on a crack, you break your mama’s back” came rushing back to me, and I realized that indeed, I was placing my feet in a fashion that was totally disregarding the cracks in the sidewalk and the “damage” it was doing to my mama’s back 4500 miles away in North Carolina.
Forgive me mama! I didn’t know what I was doing!
Though my indiscriminate stepping might not have dealt real damage to my mom’s back, the saying made me think back to both the hurt I may have caused her in the past (which all children unknowingly and knowingly inflict on their parents), and also the many important and wonderful gifts that she so gracefully shared with me.
I am fortunate to have a mother of deep faith, and from an early age, she sought to pass on to me what she had learned about life through the eyes of faith.
In the way she read Bible stories and poetry to me, in the subtle kindness with which she prepared and served meals to me and to others, and in the way she chose to prioritize marginalized people and act in ways that reminded both them and us of how we all shared God’s reign…because of her I learned to associate faith in God with such teaching, care and action.
As I grew up, I began to value these teachings more and more, and even when I was “breaking her back” as a teenager, and sometimes unfortunately her heart as well, I never forgot the foundation of faith she instilled in me.
Though I am the product of several streams of influence, in large part, my faith grew out of the garden of my mother’s beliefs and actions.
It seems fitting to me, therefore, on this Sunday when we hear about the pre-natal John leaping in his mother’s womb, and we hear Mary’s words of faith in the Magnificat, which come directly after Elizabeth’s words in the Gospel, that we reflect a bit on how Mary’s faith influenced her son’s development.
I can only imagine that Mary imparted her faith to Jesus in a similar way that my mother passed hers on to me.
Listen to the words she uses, that form the backbone of her belief, “God’s mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. 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.”
Sounds strikingly familiar to the words Jesus reads from the prophet Isaiah in the synagogue, as a grown man, when he begins his public ministry, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Jesus was no doubt, a mama’s boy.
If you look at the way his ministry played out, he indeed brought down the powerful from their thrones… even from birth as his peculiar kingship is contrasted with Herod’s and certainly following his resurrection when the whole world order is remade…
He lifts up the lowly… the paralytic and the leper, the prostitute and the ashamed tax collector… the dirty shepherd and the smelly fisherman… the blind and the lame in body and in spirit…
He fills the hungry with good things… those thousands who gathered on the mountain and the plain by the Sea of Galilee who left satisfied with plenty of fish and bread…and all those who hunger for righteousness and thirst for freedom from oppression.
And Jesus indeed sent the rich away empty… the young man who had it all except the ability to give away his possessions and follow him into God’s call… or the Pilates, Caiaphases and Caesars of the world who think they have it all, but ultimately do not.
Jesus’ life and ministry, in great part, was about living out the tenets of his mother’s convictions, and putting her faith into action, according to his own character, interpretation and calling.
I wonder how much you have been influenced by your mother’s faith.
Perhaps your mother was not a person of faith, and you have found other inspiring influences to guide you.
Maybe like me, your mom’s faith was strong and transferable.
Whether your influence came from your blood mother, or another kind of spiritual parent… each of us are formed to believe and act in large part because of those who surround us.
We are always free to choose what to believe and how to act, but so much of how we see the world is determined by those who exercise influence on us from an early age.
From the moment Jesus began growing within his mother, he partook of her emotions, her thoughts, her very essence.
Baby John and his mother Elizabeth recognized this and were literally “moved” by it, and so have generation after generation of the faithful been moved by the Christ and the foundation that gave life to him and influenced him.
On this last Sunday before Christmas, I think it is worthwhile for us all to remember the character of the faith of Mary, as we await to welcome her child into the world once more.
She was an unmarried pregnant woman, whom Elizabeth hails this day as “Honored one.”
She believed in the promises made to her ancestors and hoped for freedom for her people… something even greater than the exodus that freed them from slavery in Egypt but which had not freed them from the slavery of division and discord.
She trusted that God’s will could and would be done through her, even though the means and the methods were frightening and set her up for public ridicule.
I can’t help but think about how her son would live this faith into reality.
He was a lowly servant who washed feet with a towel at his waist, who is also acclaimed as King of Kings.
A man knowledgeable in the promise of Scripture, but bold enough to live those promises out rather than simply knowing what they were. “Blessed are you if you do these things!”
A man who, even though it would break his mother’s heart, “piercing it with a sword,” would go to public ridicule and shameful death on a cross, trusting that ultimately God’s will would be done in the process.
And who would extend God’s mercy and forgiveness not only to those who feared him, but even to those who had pierced him and rejoiced in his suffering… “Forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
How are you being influenced in this very moment to be a person of deep faith?
How are you putting the influences of your past into action to expand God’s reign of mercy and love?
It is only a few more days before we embrace the coming of Christ into our world again.
Let us use those days to give thanks for good influences, like Mary and all our mothers… to give thanks for the faith that has been passed down to us in whatever form we could receive it, and pray for the strength to put that faith into action.
Jesus was a mama’s boy.
So am I.
What about you?