December 20, 2020 Embodiment of Love, Pastor David Tatgenhorst
Luke 1:46-55 And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, 47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. 50 His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. 51 He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. 52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; 53 he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. 54 He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, 55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”
We take a moment now in silence to pay attention to your body, to parts of it that are hurting, or parts that you tend not to like. Love those parts of your body. Make yourself whole. This is the power of the the incarnation which we celebrate this day and throughout this week.
December 20, 2020 Embodiment of Love St. Luke UMC
At a church summer camp I went to in my teens, at the end of evening activities, the pastor who was the director used to say, “OK boys, make your bodies be in bed.” He would explain that our minds could be anywhere we wanted - still playing games or having fun somewhere, just as long as we got our bodies into the sack.
It was funny, a good way to try to trick us into going to sleep. Parents, teachers, and pastors have a lot of tricks like that.
My Hebrew teacher in seminary wrote a Hebrew word on the blackboard in seminary, the word “nephesh” This is how some people translate this word, and she wrote the word “soul” on the board, and immediately erased it. She said “This is not a concept the Hebrew people had, the way we think about this word. I translate it ‘Life force’.” I think she was trying to say that our idea that there is a separation between ‘soul’ and body was foreign to the ancients. They were completely connected. We pray for our bodies, all their parts and all our selves.
It is true, of course, as my pastor knew, that our imaginations can take us many places and we can fantasize about being in Paris or Mexico while we physically remain in bed or in Bryn Mawr, but the truth is that we are most healthy when we know that we are where our bodies are.
When we know this about ourselves and when we know this about the ancients, we begin to understand why they were awestruck when heard that God became incarnated into a human body, when the angel announced that this baby of Mary’s would be the embodiment of the Living God. It helped them understand who they were and what the world was supposed to be.
We are, like Christ, the embodiment of love. Our bodies are meant to be expressions of the love of the Living God. This reality is not easy for us to realize. In so many ways, we learn that we are separate from each other, separate from God, and separate even from ourselves. To know who we really are in Christ, we may have to commit ourselves to our own process of growth, discomfort, surrender, and recognition of love.
Just as Mary goes through a transformation of her understanding of herself, a turning upside down of her world, we have to do the same. If we learn to quiet ourselves and allow God’s love to become incorporated in our very being, that love is born into us and becomes part of our actual flesh. It’s like a birthing process, Mary's song -
which the gospel of Luke takes from the words of Hannah when she too was amazed at the words of the spirit telling her she would give birth in her old age - Mary’s song declares how the world is being turned upside down for her through this birth announcement - that everything is on it’s head. Everything was coming together.
The early Christian community understood her to be both virgin and Earth mother, both powerful prophet even as she submitted her life to God. She declares herself to be a lowly servant and at the same time the mother of God’s child. She knows love is being birthed in and through her, and foresees that this love and transformed and is transforming the world.
She exposes how the proud and haughty live in the imaginations of their hearts, implicitly inviting all of us who arrogantly live in our heads and think we are better than other people, to reunite with our bodies and ourselves, to realize we are no better, no different than everyone else. Moreover she declares an end, a little prematurely, to all systems of government or organization structured to keep some people poor and some people rich, some people down, and others dominating the world.
We hear this vision every Christmas. To me this vision of unity and reconnection is the essence of the Christian message - God being born into humanity, into God’s creation, reuniting us with ourselves. When we take in that message, we are able to look at the pain of the pandemic, to see how it is effecting all of God’s people and also recognize how it effects some communities more than others - and to both live in hope and dedication to a world where all people are cared for and even the rich know that they are part of the same world as everybody else.
This birth of love into our midst is an invitation to us all to be both contemplative and justice oriented, to be both spiritually and socially active. So much of the world thinks we can only be one or the other. We live only in our head or in our body. Mary declares a reunification of all of humanity, a valuing of bodies and life force as God’s creation.
As we come to the longest night of the year tonight, I love this message that God is with us in the dark and in the light, in our minds and in our bodies, and that each one of our bodies gives birth to God’s love. I appreciate my pastor’s joke about putting my body to bed, and I rest easier when I know all of me is one place.
Responsive Hymn Canticle of the Turning