Singing Judgement, Singing Comfort

A Sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Advent

Jeffrey Metcalfe (click here to listen)

Micah 5:2-5a

Hebrews 10:5-10

Luke 1:39-55

It was a difficult week.

Like the three ghosts of Christmas in a Christmas Carol, three revelations were made last week that may forever change the lives of many refugees in Canada.

The first revelation, the Ghost of Christmas Past, was a story in the Toronto Star, which revealed that over the past year, Canada has imprisoned 289 refugee children. Their crime: their parents believed that Canada was a good country, a just country, a country that would provide them with shelter.

The second revelation, the Ghost of Christmas Present, was a documentary that aired on the CBC describing the current persecution of the Roma in Hungary. Those who watched it cringed as the longs lines of brown shirted, black booted, marching militias, rallied around Roma communities yelling “Auschwitz is open,”—a fearful reminder of the realities that force many to seek the shelter of our shores.

The third revelation, the ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, was the Canadian Government’s release of the safe countries list—the list we use to help us define who we believe are not legitimate refugees. The list that as of last week, included the state of Hungary. That Hungary made this list will result in restricting Roma from being able to seek the shelter of our shores, and will result in us placing more refugee children into our prisons.

Together these three Ghosts speak to us of a Canada past, present, and future: A Christmas vision of who we are as a people, and who we are going to be.

For many, it was a difficult week.

Sometimes, no matter how deeply you believe in something—a cause, a person, or a people—you find yourself disappointed and betrayed.

Sometimes, no matter how much you want to make a difference in our world, no matter how hard you want to be good and to be just, the deck seems stacked against you—you find the cards are never in your favour.

In these times, its difficult to know what to do. We feel helpless, hapless, hopeless. We feel any contributions we might have to offer, pale in comparison to the world’s great need, and to the powers of this present darkness.

We all have our different ways of coping with the darkness.

I don’t know about you, but I find when I feel overwhelmed by the darkness, overwhelmed by the seeming insignificance of my actions, the only thing I can do is to slink to the couch and put on some music. Most recently, an album by Johnny Cash.

I must have listened to the lyrics of this one song several times before, but until this difficult week, I never really heard them.

He sings,

Well you may throw your rock and hide your hand
Workin’ in the dark against your fellow man
But as sure as God made black and white
What’s done in the dark will be brought to the light

You can run on for a long time
Run on for a long time
Run on for a long time
Sooner or later God’ll cut you down
Sooner or later God’ll cut you down

It speaks words of judgment and words of comfort.

Judgment for those in authority perpetuating injustice: you can run on for a long time, but sooner or later God’ll cut you down.

Comfort for those whose feel their actions are lost in the darkness: what’s done in the dark will be brought to the light.

Judgment and comfort: the two move together in our world.

In this morning’s gospel reading, we hear another song of judgment and comfort, the Magnificat, the song the Virgin Mary sings while visiting her relative Elizabeth.

Now Mary was not a powerful person. She was a woman in a patriarchal society. She was a native in a colonized land. As the Christmas story goes on to tell us, after the birth of Christ, she is even forced to flee that land as a refugee.

And yet, as Elizabeth proclaims, for all her powerlessness, Mary is blessed.

Blessed not because she accomplished a mighty deed,
blessed not because she was bearing Jesus,
but blessed because she first believed.

Blessed because before she bore Jesus
she bore the hope
that an ancient promise would be fulfilled:
that God would establish a world where all shall live secure—
A promise that the darkness will not eclipse the light.

And so in the backwaters of the Roman Empire, a young, insignificant woman sings a song:

My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
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.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.

It is a song of judgment and a song of comfort.

A song that sings to the proud, to the powerful, and to the rich: you can run on for a long time, but sooner or later, God’ll cut you down.

A song that sings to the lowly and to the hungry: what’s done in the dark will be brought to the light.

For those of you here this morning haunted by your own ghosts of Christmas,

for those of you here this morning overwhelmed by the darkness,

for those of you here this morning who feel that what you have to offer is a drop of water in an unending ocean of need,

keep faith

the good news is that through Jesus Christ, even the quietest songs, sung by the most insignificant people can overturn the foundations of our world.

The good news is that
no matter how deep the disappointment,
no matter how profound the betrayal,
no matter how much the deck is stacked against you,
the song of God’s redemption is already being sung in your life;
and we haven’t even gotten to the course.

And so, on this fourth Sunday of advent, as we await with Mary the hope that an ancient promise will be fulfilled,

Let us sing,
Let us shout,
Let us say to the darkness,
We beg to differ.*

Jeffrey Metcalfe is a priest in the Diocese of Quebec. While he completes his theological studies at Trinity College in Toronto, he serves as the assistant curate at the Church of the Redeemer. He is a co-editor of Catholic Commons.

*Thanks to Mary Jo Leddy, whose book title Say to the Darkness, We beg to differ helped inspire this sermon.

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