St. Mary Magdalene Anglican Church

Vancouver, B.C.

Phone: 604-877-1788


The Anglican Parish of St. Mary Magdalene

2950 Laurel Street at West 14th Avenue

Vancouver, BC, V5Z  3T3

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Diocese of New Westminster Anglican Church of Canada

Home Who We Are UAM What Is On Sermons Contact Us


December 15th Advent 6, 2019     John Marsh

Isaiah 35:1-10; Luke 1:46-55; James 5:7-10; Matthew 2:2-11

The people of Israel lived at a crossroads - everybody was moving through – Egyptians, Hittites, Assyrians, Babylonians, Greeks and Romans.

When you live at the crossroads – stuff happens. ¹

Collisions – arguments – conflicts great and small.

In Israel’s case, at the crossroads, wars break out in your backyard and armies move through doing what armies do.

Living at a crossroads, the Hebrew people knew what it meant to have your butt kicked.

So, is it any surprise, that somewhere, within the depths of the psyche, there is a longing, a desire to kick back, to kick butt yourself?

Is it a surprise, to read in Isaiah:

Say to those who are of a fearful heart, "Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God. He will come with vengeance, with terrible recompense. He will come and save you." (35:4)

But note, in Isaiah’s text, it’s not we who kick butt, ‘butt kicking’ - along with judgement and other forms of punishment, retribution and revenge – is god’s responsibility. It is god’s responsibility perhaps  because we’re not very good at kicking butt (or too good!). We tend to lose perspective; we have trouble respecting boundaries – ‘collateral damage’ we euphemistically call it - civilians always seem to pay the price.

However, we should also notice the surprise, the reversal within Isaiah’s vision of god’s judgement. For Isaiah, ‘divine butt kicking’ involves justice making, healing, the ending of oppression, restoration and re-creation - the blind see, dry places blossom, the deaf hear, the weak are strengthened, the infirm are healed (read the Isaiah text carefully).²

And therein something stirs, a calling, an invitation…

The way of life on god’s highway (‘a highway shall be there…called the Holy Way’) is such that even ‘fools’ won’t get confused. (See Isaiah 35:8)

Isaiah’s prophetic hope expresses deep longings for a reversal of conventional experience.

This longing for reversal is also poignantly and poetically expressed in the song of Mary – scattering the proud, bringing down the powerful, ‘lifting up’ the lowly and filling the hungry…

This reversal is expressed in Mary’s story which, despite narrative normalization – its rough edges smoothed out and polished up – expresses a surprising event³...

Whether a virgin or, as the Isaiah text⁴ says, which lies behind the story of Mary in Luke, ‘almah’ or ‘a young woman’ (i.e. one who has not yet had a child but is not necessarily a virgin), Mary is pregnant when convention dictates she should not be and, as the story goes, Mary encounters a reversal. Instead of judgement she receives a visitation promising blessing, instead of dismissal she finds life moving forward, instead of marginalization she moves in from the margins or, perhaps more honestly, she finds hope and promise on the margins.

This longing for reversal also surfaces in Matthew, surfacing in John’s question ‘Are you the one?’

To be clear, there is nothing wrong with the question; when you expect one thing and it comes differently, is it a surprise you cannot see what is in front of you?

And Jesus’ response is brilliantly suggestive, not a simple declaration, ultimately an invitation, a perceptual lure – the blind see, the deaf hear, the lame walk, the poor have good news – a solicitation to respond, to act – differently.

Jesus’ program is creating cells of ‘blessed unrest’, communities of those living differently at the behest and encouragement of one who lived differently⁵...

The encouragement of…

One who spoke of god differently, of god within and around them, of god discerned in acts of compassion, acts of justice making, in responses to solicitations of spirit…

One with whom meals became inclusive foretastes of how life could be different…

One who healed body and mind inviting others to participate - remember there is a wealth of knowledge within ‘traditional medicinal practices’ which is released when communities are involved; we should also remember that a miracle need not be supernatural; the miraculous is often the language of joy in the event of healing, the restoration of wellness which may, upon occasion, involve a cure.

Jesus created:

Communities of blessed unrest, of people daring to live the ‘commonwealth of god’ within the conventionality of empire and the religious status quo...

Gatherings of hopeful unrest, daring to ‘reverse convention’, to re-imagine life following the arc of creation – the arc of the holy…

(Are we a community of blessed unrest or perhaps on our way to becoming such?)

Perhaps now, within the blessed unrest of reversal, the arc of the holy may be perceived as the ‘ark of the covenant’ within, in our midst, luring, soliciting, inviting participation in the art and politics of re-creation and restoration… (would this not be an expression of grace?)

Perhaps this suggests why ‘the least’ in the ‘commonwealth of god’ are greater than John (as faithful as he was); perhaps ‘the least’, in their embodiment of the great reversal of sacred narrative, remind us that it is the whispered voice of the other within, ‘the decision of the other within’, not our projections, not our hopes cast upon an heroic leader, which is the source of our salvation.⁶

The great reversal of Jesus is such, that through the grace of god, grace within responses, within hauntings of our hearts, we embody the ‘ark of the covenant’ in our lives and in our living.

So, you see, with apologies to ‘Indiana Jones and The Raiders of the Lost Ark’, the ‘Ark’ isn’t lost – it is within us, revealed in our actions…


If we but respond…

 ¹ Anecdotally, it is said, that the early blues singer, Robert Johnson met the devil at a crossroads, selling his soul for fame. At a crossroads, one may confront possibilities leading to evil as well as solicitations to goodness, to justice. So be careful, be attentive, at the crossroads one is involved with life choices with real consequences.

 ² It is perhaps because of the surprise within Isaiah’s text, that we should be hesitant, very hesitant, to ascribe to god vengeance or any sense of retribution, given our difficulty in separating our thoughts from god’s thoughts, given our temptation, our willingness, our glee to see ourselves the necessary agents of divine judgement.

 ³ The surprise, the unforeseen, the unforeseeable, coming, is perhaps the briefest explanation of an ‘event’. Yet, it should also be said that an event is what is going on within; more specifically, in Mary’s story, the event is not the visitation – although god knows I would be surprised by any such visitation – but the invitation, the solicitation, the possibility of responses within the visitation, responses with consequences unknown and unforeseen. Within the story, Mary says yes to birth, with crucifixion unknowable and unforeseeable.

⁴ See Isaiah 7:14.

 ⁵ The term ‘blessed unrest’ is from the book of Paul Hawken, Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Social Movement in History is Restoring Grace, Justice, and Beauty to the World (2007). It is often the case that the insistence of life bubbles, unnoticed, beneath the surface of conventions, soliciting change.

 ⁶ ‘The voice of the other within’ is a thought borrowed from Jacques Derrida. Anticipating an objection, is not god but other, whose ways are not our ways, whose thoughts are not our thoughts?