Sermon from December 22, 2019, Mary Sunday, Advent Sunday of Love

“The Holy Spirit Will Come Upon You”
Rev. Thomas Cary Kinder

United Church of Strafford, Vermont
December 22, 2019
Fourth Sunday of Advent, Mary Sunday,
Advent Sunday of Love
Luke 1:26-56

The scriptures we heard today tell stories of mistaken identity.  Mary thinks she is an ordinary fifteen-year-old girl.  She thinks the angel has the wrong person.  “How can this be?” she asks.  It can be, because she is not who she thinks she is.  Similarly, Elizabeth the 60 year old childless woman is not who she thinks she is, as she becomes the mother of John the Baptist.

Mary’s Magnificat is full of mistaken identities: the servant that society looks down on is the one God favors and blesses; the proud who think they are so smart and together are scattered by the thoughts of their hearts; the powerful who think themselves secure are brought down from their thrones and the lowly are lifted up.

You could say that the entire story of Jesus’ life is one of mistaken identity.  Again and again he turns out not to be the person people think he is, and again and again he tells us we are not the people we think we are.  He urges us to die to our old identity and live in to a new one,  our true self, not the self our immature ego thinks we are, not the self our culture and the powerful and wealthy who try to shape us to their profit tell us we are.

Today the existence of all life on earth is threatened because we have persisted in living the illusion that Jesus tried so hard to dispel.  Our dominant culture, like his, leads us to believe that humanity is inherently violent, materialistic, ambitious for power, greedy for wealth and able to make our own way in the world independent of any other people or species.  Our dominant culture tells us that the powerful and wealthy are the masters of the earth, entitled to use it however they wish.

Jesus tried desperately to open the eyes of his generation to the damage of that self-identity.  In our generation it has driven us into the sixth mass extinction.

Our deluded self-understanding is the biggest threat to human existence.  Growing into the true self-understanding that Jesus taught is our greatest hope.

So who are we, truly, and why can a simple shift of self-identification make all the difference between extinction and survival?

The other day Gus Speth was wearing one of his favorite buttons.  It says, “The meek are getting ready.”  Jesus must have learned the beatitudes at his mother’s knee: “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”  That is one of the main themes of Mary’s Magnificat.  The earth is taken away from the rich and powerful and given to the meek.

Who are we humans, truly?  We are the meek, all of us, and if the dominant human culture would only live into that truth, humanity would not be speeding toward terminal disinheritance.  Instead, our culture would be inheriting a sustainable, healthy, just and peaceful paradise on earth.

Mary is the model of meekness.  We are all Mary in our truest self.  Jesus said that if we embrace our true identity and believe in it, out of our belly will flow rivers of living water, meaning the Holy Spirit will well up inside of us and flow out of every one of us.  The Greek New Testament word translated “belly” also means womb.  This is the way, the truth and the life that Jesus begged us to choose—to open ourselves to the Holy Spirit, to listen to what angels or gut instincts tell us to do, and to let our unique share of the Spirit’s gifts come to birth through us in the service of love.

The Christian contemplative tradition that we explore and practice here on Thursday evenings teaches us how to set aside our mistaken identity and consent to the Spirit as the source of our motivations and actions.  Today’s bulletin has some quotes about how to do that from contemplative masters.  Thomas Merton compares Mary to “the glass of a very clean window that has no other function than to admit the light of the sun.”

Richard Rohr says, “Loss precedes all renewal; emptiness makes way for every new infilling; every transformation in the universe requires the surrendering of a previous ‘form.’”

Mary had to let go of who she thought she was, she had to empty herself of her small self in order to let the Spirit fill her and bring this new form into being and bear the gift of the Spirit into the world.

What transformed the girl Mary into Mother Mary was that she chose to say yes to the self that Gabriel told her she truly was.  We have the ability to choose the story of our life.  Spiritual masters tell us not to be fooled by the mistaken-identity story of materialistic power and wealth.  They say to choose Mary’s lowliness, emptiness and meekness because that identity is true, and it is what enables the Spirit to come upon us and the highest power in the universe to flow through us.

The book Active Hope was co-authored by Joanna Macy, a systems scientist.  Systems science gives us another way to approach this understanding of our true identity.  The book quotes a rainforest activist who said, “I try to remember that it’s not me, John Seed, trying to protect the rainforest.  Rather, I am part of the rainforest protecting itself. I am that part of the rainforest recently emerged into human thinking.”

Our true identity is that we are the part of the earth that has emerged into human consciousness.  The Spirit that created earth created us to feel the Spirit’s feelings and think the Spirit’s thoughts.  Our true identity is evolving as the creator and creation need our consciousness to respond on behalf of the Holy Spirit to what is happening on earth.

This Spirit wants life to keep on living, it wants earth to be sustainably hospitable to life.  The Spirit has led to the rapid evolution of human consciousness at certain moments in human history, and it seems to be asking us to make a major evolutionary leap now, a leap to the heart and mind of Christ, to the ethical wisdom we need to govern human civilization by the laws of love and compassion and the Golden Rule.  The earth needs us to make that leap in order to save the balance of life it has taken billions of years to create.  The Spirit needs us to do this, and so the Spirit is creating in us a sense of pain, urgency and calling.

The book Active Hope says, “When a change wants to happen, it looks for people to act through. How do we know when a change wants to happen? We feel the want inside us. There is a desire, a tugging at us….  A shift can happen when we break through a resistance that has been holding us back.”

The Spirit spoke through Gabriel telling Mary she needed to change who she thought she was in order to let a needed change come to earth, but Mary said, “How can this be?”  She had to break through the resistance that held her back.  She said Yes and then the change could happen through her.

Every one of us is Mary.  The Holy Spirit is coming upon each of us in every moment asking us to be meek enough to let the Spirit guide and empower us with gifts of love and life and light to bring forth into the world.

After the nuclear accident at Three Mile Island a group of citizens was trying to stop the nuclear industry from doing more damage.  The lead spokesperson was a nursery school teacher with a very soft voice and meek manner.  Her first words at a microphone were almost inaudible, but as she spoke she suddenly became as powerful as Martin Luther King Jr. with her passionate plea on behalf of her nursery school children.  Someone once asked her what made that transformation and she said, “It takes me about ten seconds to remember the faces of those children.”

It still is far from clear how we are going to turn humanity around, but the first step we have to take is perfectly clear, and that is we have to let the faces of the children of earth move us to give our own version of Mary’s “Yes” and let the Holy Spirit bring a new way of being to birth through us.  We need to have the heart and mind of Christ and follow the impulses for action that they give us.

We don’t know where it will lead, or whether we will succeed, and we don’t need to know.  All we need is to remember that this is the power that created the earth that is asking to flow through us, and if enough of us Marys say yes, then miracles will happen and change will come.  Let us pray in silence in that faith…

“Mary’s greatest glory was that she in no way resisted [God’s] love and [God’s] will… She was free from every taint of selfishness that might obscure God’s light in her being…, as pure as the glass of a very clean window that has no other function than to admit the light of the sun.” Thomas Merton from New Seeds of Contemplation

“When a change wants to happen, it looks for people to act through. How do we know when a change wants to happen? We feel the want inside us. There is a desire, a tugging at us to be involved. But that doesn’t make the change inevitable, because standing in our way are all those who say we’re wasting our time, that it isn’t possible, that it will be too hazardous.  For the change to happen through us, we need to counter those voices.  A shift can happen when we break through a resistance that has been holding us back.”  Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone from Active Hope

“The effectiveness of action depends on the source from which it springs. If it is coming out of the false self…it is severely limited. If it is coming out of a person who is immersed in God, it is extremely effective. The contemplative state, like the vocation of [Mary], brings Christ into the world.”  Thomas Keating

 “Loss precedes all renewal; emptiness makes way for every new infilling; every transformation in the universe requires the surrendering of a previous ‘form.’”        Richard Rohr

We Need a Transformation

We need a transformation,
Like Mary, to bear Christ.
We share her hesitation.
Much must be sacrificed.
It takes our old way dying
To bring the new to birth,
With faith that God is trying
Through us to save the earth.

The time has come for choosing.
God waits to hear our yes
To letting go and losing
And opening to bless
With what may then flow through us
Like sunlight through pure glass:
Christ born to move and true us
And bring God’s realm to pass.

This moment we, like Mary,
Confront another choice
To make it Christ we carry,
To give God flesh and voice.
Each breath, each meditation,
Each action born of prayer
Transforms all God’s creation
Through love and light we bear.

2018 Thomas Cary Kinder

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