The Rev. Hal Chorpenning,
Plymouth Congregational UCC, Fort Collins, Colorado
17 December 2017
Those of us who come from an Episcopal background know this text well by its Latin name, the Magnificat, because it is part of the service of Evening Prayer every week, and the sung Evensong has some incredibly beautiful choral settings of this text.
Magnificat simply means “magnifies,” and it refers to Mary’s declaration that her soul magnifies the Lord. Think about that image for a moment: a magnifying glass that makes God even larger in our field of vision. Mary’s soul makes God come into clearer view for us.
[Pull out magnifying glass] Sometimes with a magnifying glass you need to pull it closer or draw it farther away for the object to come into focus. And not all of us have the same visual acuity…some people see really well up close, and people my age tend to want to extend their arms so things are clearer.
And some of us have different magnifying glasses that enable us to pull God into view. For some of us, the lens is nature, and for others it is working for justice and peace, and for yet other people it is contemplation and prayer, and for still others the optics of fellowship and hospitality provide the best view of God.
What is it that magnifies God for you? How do you catch a glimpse of the sacred?
Sometimes we have trouble bringing the Holy into focus. Our nation is in a time of deep anxiety, and it is more important than ever to keep the sacred in view. In a time when we’re not able to get away to the mountains, if that is our magnifying glass, it can be soul-killing. Or if we have an illness that prevents us from social contact, if that is our lens, it can make contact with God elusive. And at those times, we need to adjust the focus or even try switching to a new lens for awhile. For me, the ocean is one of the places in nature where it is easiest to sense the presence of the Holy…and beachfront access is somewhat limited in Colorado. And so, I changed my lens a few years back and started fly-fishing so that I could be out on the water. It isn’t the same as sea kayaking, which I dearly love, but it works.
And sometimes God is just plain hard to see, no matter how hard we seem to try.
That’s when faith (our relationship with God) and perseverance come into play.
[Bring out binoculars] Not everybody sees the Holy through the same lens, but all of us have access to multiple lenses. Perhaps even trying out a different way to see God would be a useful exercise. So, if you find God only in solitary moments, perhaps singing together in church or engaging someone at coffee hour or teaching Sunday school would open a new vista.
Has it ever occurred to you that perhaps someone sees God through you and your life? I’m not saying that any one of us is a carbon copy of God, but rather that there is a spark of the divine mixed in with all our human foibles and shortcomings that might just awaken the Spirit within another person. You might act as a lens through which someone can catch a glimpse of God!
Sometimes, at this time of the year when the nights are longest and the daylight is brief, we most need to find the bright spark of the holy. And then we need to find tinder and blow on the spark so that it illumines and shines all around.
By our standards, Mary was a “nobody.” She was a Judean peasant woman in backwater of the Roman Empire. She herself says that God “looks with favor on the lowliness of his servant.” So, how might God be looking at us this morning? How might God be looking at you? If God could favor Mary with being the bearer of Christ, why couldn’t God regard us similarly?
Meister Eckhart, the great14th century mystic, wrote, ”We are all meant to be mothers of God. What good is it to me if this eternal birth of the divine Son takes place unceasingly but does not take place within myself? And, what good is it to me if Mary is full of grace if I am not also full of grace? What good is it to me for the Creator to give birth to his Son if I do not also give birth to him in my time and my culture? This, then, is the fullness of time: When the Son of God is begotten in us.”
So, what can we do to be the bearers of Christ? What can we do to carry Christ within us and help him to be reborn not just 2,000 years ago in a faraway land, but here, now, again and again?
We don’t know very much about Mary, neither from the gospel record, nor from first-hand historical accounts. But one of the things we must certainly realize about this woman from the child she bore and raised is that she must have been extraordinary. If Jesus reflected something of Mary, it may have been her faith and compassion. Whether you take the birth narratives literally or figuratively, Jesus definitely had some of Mary’s DNA and she had the opportunity to nurture and shape the boy who would become the messiah. In other words, her soul magnified God.
So, I was thinking about this: what is it that my soul magnifies? What is it that the core of my being as well as my daily activities amplifies and projects? Does my soul magnify God, or does it magnify my own needs and wants? Can someone ever see a reflection of the divine through something I do, or is it all so much “other stuff” that the Christ-light is obscured?
What does your soul magnify in the ways you spend your time, and exert your power and influence? What does your soul magnify in your interactions with others? What does your soul magnify in what you pray about or for?
I imagine that when clients for the Homelessness Prevention Initiative come through Plymouth’s doors each Friday or when guests of Faith Family Hospitality Network enter our church tonight, they sometimes get to glimpse the sacred in the faces of the volunteers who are here to greet them and connect them with assistance. And when an ill or homebound parishioner receives a visit from Jake or Jane Anne or me or receives a meal from another member, I imagine that is a lens through which they experience God’s love is in a very human form. We all have that capacity.
As I was driving on College Avenue awhile back, a woman with a broad smile offered to let me go ahead of her when I was turning onto Drake Road. It was a simple act of kindness, but I read into it a sense of Christmas grace: a moment of unearned kindness given to me by someone I don’t know and may never see again.
And I thought to myself, what would the world be like if all of us allowed our lives to magnify the Lord – in greater or lesser ways, in simple acts or in mighty ones? What if we all acted from grace and faithfulness and compassion? Maybe we’d have fewer political tweets and a Congress to does something that isn’t in the interest of the wealthiest among us, but of people like Mary and Jesus.
We may not read about it on Facebook or see it in the headlines (especially those from Washington), but the world is populated by a portion of people who intentionally bring God into clearer view through prayer, action, compassion, investment, service, and helping others to find access to the sacred. It is almost as if there is seldom-visible queue of people who line up to help others see the divine more sharply. When was the last time you encountered someone who offered you a moment of grace or insight or inspiration? And did you take advantage of the opportunity to thank them or maybe even follow their example?
I have seen angels right here at Plymouth…and none of them has wings. Amen.
© 2017 Hal Chorpenning, all rights reserved
The Rev. Hal Chorpenning has been Plymouth's senior minister since 2002. Before that, he was associate conference minister with the Connecticut Conference of the UCC. A grant from the Lilly Endowment enabled him to study Celtic Christianity in the UK and Ireland. Prior to ordained ministry, Hal had a business in corporate communications. Read more about Hal.