December 24, 2016
Church of Peace, UCC
Rev. Mariah Marlin-Warfield
Broken Water, Broken Silence
Just over six weeks ago, there was a presidential election in our nation. As though we needed to be reminded, on this night of all nights. Regardless of who you voted for, whether you’re feeling triumphant, or outraged, or perplexed, in the past six weeks, it has become clear that our nation is experiencing the sharp edges of deep and meaningful disagreement.
In this climate of political transition and heightened conflict, it seems to me that there’s also a heightened intensity to talk about it. From news stories, to pundits, and late night comedians, from Facebook conversations and local clergy meetings, I can tell you, people are wondering out loud what will come from the new administration, and the people are talking. The people are talking a lot.
If you’re like me, you might be feeling pressure to join in the conversation. Now More Than Ever is the rallying rhetorical cry. Now More Than Ever we must advocate for those are oppressed. We must speak up for those who are vulnerable! “Now More Than Ever we cannot afford to sit this one out and be silent” is what they’re saying. And I think they may be onto something…
Wherever you stand politically (we do not all stand in the same place here), if you’re like me and you’re feeling pressure to speak up, I invite you to join me in paying attention to that pressure. Before the protest wells up within you, before you even know what to say, before you clear your throat and adjust the microphone, there is a pulse of silence.
You don’t want to miss that.
If it is taking you a while to figure out what you need to say, and how to say it, you’re not alone. Sure there is no shortage of petitions to sign, memes to share, letters to the editor, and campaigns to send money to; there are all kinds of ways to support what you need to support. But if you are trying to find your own voice, if you are looking for your own power to speak the truth, you are not alone. This is the quiet soul-searching work that keeps us up at night.
Tonight the Gospel reading begins by describing the political climate. No donkey all shaggy and brown or cow all white and red. Instead the Roman Emperor issued a decree that all the world, seriously all the world, should be registered. This was the first registration taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. Now everyone had to return to their home towns to register, to sign up to pay taxes and be eligible for the draft.
Whether you’re registering to vote, or take college classes, or receive government benefits, there’s a certain vulnerability involved in going to turn in your name. There’s a certain chill that hangs around this event of registration. This chill is amplified by the fact that in our story, except for the narrator, no one is speaking. For the first nine verses of scripture, the narrator names what happens, but no one talks to each other. Mary gives birth and the Bible doesn’t say that her baby cries.
It is all too quiet.
Sometimes silence is exactly wrong.
Sometimes silence can be used as a weapon.
Of course, the thing about weapons is they don’t always stay weapons. The same is true for silence.
Before this story of Mary and Joseph having a baby in the middle of the registration, there is the story of another couple who had a baby. This baby was John the Baptist, a cousin of Jesus. And this couple was Zechariah and Elizabeth. See before the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and told her that she would give birth to the Son of God, Gabriel appeared to Zechariah the priest.
He told him that he and his wife would give birth to a son and they should name him John. Well, Zechariah and Elizabeth were very old. When Zechariah heard Gabriel say this, he said what any of us would: “Um, how is this possible?” So Gabriel got defensive. “I am Gabriel! I stand in the presence of God and I’ve been sent to bring you this good news” (Luke 1:19).
In response to Zechariah’s perfectly reasonable question, the angel Gabriel zaps him with silence making him unable to speak until the baby is born. And maybe this zapped silence was a terrible consequence for Zechariah’s perfectly reasonable question. Or maybe this silence was the preparation for what comes next, but I am not sure how you could tell the difference.
It would be one thing if silence could extinguish our creativity forever. It would be one thing if silence stayed silent forever, but it doesn’t. When his son was born, Zechariah was given a tablet on which he wrote “His name is John.” Then Zechariah began to speak, praising God. He was filled with the Holy Spirit and began to prophesy. All that silence he’d been harboring turned into a song:
“And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High” is what Zechariah sang to his baby.
“You will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
to give knowledge of salvation to the people by the forgiveness of their sins.
By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death…” (Luke 1:76-79a)
How’s that for speaking truth to power…
Back to our story for the night, back in Bethlehem, Mary’s water breaks and a baby is born. Then the silence breaks and somebody speaks up. “Do not be afraid” says the angel to the shepherds. “A baby is born unto you.” Then a multitude of heavenly hosts appears with the angel in the fields, and they’re all singing “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace!”
Mary’s water breaks and a baby is born.
The hushed silence of all the world breaks into a song for peace.
And who can possibly sing for peace in a time like this…
These days, if you’re finding that your own voice has gone quiet, do not be afraid. And don’t think the quiet’s going to last forever. Silence, they say, is the mother of sound. So be careful, it could happen to you.
You could find yourself filled with the Holy Spirit, the very prophesy of God pouring out into your words giving light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death. You could be the one who tells them the truth. You will have something to say that helps turn the world toward peace. All of us will have something to say.
Out of the silence comes the righteous clamor of protestors and angels shouting:
Black lives matter! Police lives matter! Veterans’ lives matter!
Muslim lives matter! Transgender lives matter!
Rising up out of the silence turned into shouting, we will learn to say to each other, “Your life matters.” There’s somebody you’re going to encounter who needs to hear that from you. You matter. Your life matters. Your song matters. And it’s not too late for the world.
After the angels appeared to the shepherds in the the field, the shepherds went and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby was lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what they had been told, and all who heard it were amazed. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. Mary is so glowing and tender, meek and mild, and oh so quiet.
But don’t let this fool you. That girl can sing. And so can we. Amen.
Responsive Litany from Luke 1:47-55
One: The world says you are a poor, uneducated, teenage girl.
Window Side: My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my savior.
Organ Side: Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed…
One: The world says the powerful will get more powerful and the vulnerable will get hurt.
Window Side: It is God who scatters the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
Organ Side: God brings down the powerful from their thrones and lifts up the lowly.
One: The world says the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.
Window Side: God fills the hungry with good things and sends the rich away empty.
Organ Side: God remembers the promise made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.
One: The world remembers the song Mary sang thousands of years ago.
All: Still the young women shall prophesy and the old men shall dream dreams. Still there is more light to break forth! Amen.