Sunday, December 24, 2006

Advent 4

At this time of year, it seems that music takes a more prominent place in our daily lives as Christmas music and winter songs are piped into shopping malls and through radio stations all over town. There are school concerts, holiday concerts, marching bands in parades, and music specials on television. I’m not sure that there is really more music surrounding us as Christmas approaches, but something about the season tunes our ears in a different way. A particular magazine I enjoy recently capitalized on this awareness in one of its motivational columns. The author writes about the day she discovered her personal theme song. She was on her way to a meeting with a potential publisher, and each moment of travel time was raising her anxiety level. Then she remembered the story of a certain dancer’s earliest Hollywood audition, where the studio had written “Can’t sing. Can dance a little.” on the comment card. That dancer was Fred Astaire. The author concluded that he must have drawn his courage to keep going from music – and so she decided to sing the song that came to her – “I’m The Greatest Star” from Funny Girl. By the time she arrived at her meeting, she was filled with confidence and energy, and she had her personal theme song. The author writes that she still sings that song whenever she needs a boost of energy and confidence for a difficult situation: she doesn’t always “make the sale, but she always brings her best self.”

A source of strength that prepares us for whatever comes next , that energy to move forward is the finishing touch to the season of waiting and watching we call Advent. After hearing the warnings to be ready,
and the annunciation of what is coming, on this Fourth Sunday of Advent, we have come to that final moment of expectation. The young, single, pregnant teenaged Mary travels to her cousin Elizabeth – perhaps to share her news with an older and wiser friend, or perhaps she was simply running away from her own town where the likely consequence for an unwed mother was being stoned. Whatever brings her to the home of Elizabeth, what she finds there is a warm welcome and a blessing.

And in that moment – in the relief and warmth of that moment - Mary finds her song. The song that will carry her through whatever is to come, whatever the world throws at her. For a task as great as hers – to bear the Son of God into a broken and hurting world – not any song will sustain her. Rather, she sings a new song, the Magnificat, to mark the creation of a new world beginning with the child she carries. It is a song born from wonder and waiting. It is a lullaby and a battle cry all in one. It is the song of a young woman who finds welcome and blessing, and through that welcome, is able to remember that God’s promises are never empty, and God’s mercies are never-ending. The Magnificat is the hope of the generations, given voice and set to music. It is the final and joyful song of Advent.

What is your Advent song? In the waiting and watching of life, what words are there to describe the fulfillment of God’s promise in your life, in this community, in this world? If you have been welcomed and comforted, received a blessing through family or friends, or glimpsed the joy of expectancy, then the Magnificat is your song too.

But the Magnificat is born from more than joy, because Mary’s story is more complicated than that. The song of Mary sings of promise, but also of the hungry and the lowly. It is born not only from blessing, but from long fearful journeys and years of unanswered prayer. It dreams of the time when God’s justice and mercy rule the earth – but only because Mary is too familiar with a world where justice and mercy are altogether rare. So for many who wait and watch this Advent, unable to find their own song of hope: Mary will find one for you, and this is your song too.

Tradition claims Mary as mother of the church, and so her song is the song of all the faithful. Its joy is born not from na├»ve optimism, but from traveling through darkness and then glimpsing the light. Its hope rests not in our own exaltedness, but in knowing that God would come among us and share our lowliness. That is the hope and joy we are called to, not only in this season of Advent that is drawing to an end, but in our lives as disciples of Emmanuel. God was with Mary and Elizabeth, not only as they gathered together as women of faith, but before that, in the waiting and the wondering. And in this place and time, God comes to be with us not only moments of welcome and blessing, but in moments of fear and confusion. It may be harder to know God’s love in those moments, but that is the gift of community. It was Elizabeth speaking words of blessing that enabled Mary to sing. Our prayers and actions can lift one another until we can look for God-with-us and sing together “My soul magnifies the Lord.”

1 comment:

Michael Zimmerman said...

I apologize for barging in in this fashion, but I hope that the issue I’m raising is one that you and your readers will find of great interest. At least I hope you will! Thanks for reading on:

Celebrate Evolution Sunday – 11 February 2007

By Michael Zimmerman

The Second Annual Evolution Sunday will occur on February 11th 2007. Your help is needed to make this day a success. This date is an opportunity for congregations across the country (indeed, around the world) to join together to discuss the compatibility of religion and science. Evolution Sunday is being sponsored by The Clergy Letter Project, a collection of more than 10,400 members of the Christian clergy who have signed a letter asserting that Christianity and modern evolutionary science need not be at odds with one another.

In a two paragraph plea (reproduced below), these Christian clergy members assert that they “believe that the timeless truths of the Bible and the discoveries of modern science may comfortably coexist. We believe that the theory of evolution is a foundational scientific truth, one that has stood up to rigorous scrutiny and upon which much of human knowledge and achievement rests.” They go on to urge that modern evolutionary theory rather than any form of creationism or intelligent design be taught in our country’s public schools and conclude by requesting that “We ask that science remain science and that religion remain religion, two very different, but complementary, forms of truth.”

One of the main goals of The Clergy Letter Project is to demonstrate to the broad spectrum of Christian believers that, unlike what is being shrilly shouted by many fundamentalist ministers, a choice does not have to be made between religion and science. Because the two are compatible, congregants should feel comfortable accepting both. Additionally, the signers of The Clergy Letter want to go on record making it clear that those fundamentalist ministers are not speaking for the majority of Christian clergy.

Last year, in an attempt to further this message and to elevate the quality of the national discussion on this topic, The Clergy Letter Project sponsored the First Annual Evolution Sunday event. On this day, 467 congregations from every state, the District of Columbia and five countries participated by hearing sermons, having an adult education class or a children’s Sunday school class, or joining in a lunch discussion group. While each participating congregation chose an event that made the most sense locally, together a major international statement was made.

Last year, Evolution Sunday received a great deal of very positive national publicity with articles in virtually every major newspaper in the country. Indeed, the one in the New York Times was the most e-mail article for the week it appeared. Additionally, it is clear the event hit a nerve with creationists: both the Discovery Institute and Answers in Genesis issued press releases condemning Evolution Sunday.

The Second Annual Evolution Sunday event has now been scheduled for 11 February 2007. If you are a part of a congregation, please think about having it participate. It is only by broadening the base in this way that we will be able to reach out to a growing number of people and, hopefully, improve the understanding that people have about the interrelationship between science and religion.

Signing up is easy. Simply send an e-mail to Michael Zimmerman at indicating your congregation’s desire to participate along with the name and location of your congregation and its leader. Your congregation will be immediately added to the growing list.

The Clergy Letter Project’s web pages provide more than 50 sermons delivered by clergy last year on this topic. Check them out at So, if you or a member of the clergy you know are in need of ideas, this is a good place to start.

Additionally, if you are a member of the Clergy and have not yet signed The Clergy Letter, please think about doing so. A note with your name, congregation (optional) and address to will get you signed up.

Most importantly, please help by spreading the word about The Clergy Letter Project and Evolution Sunday to others who might be interested in participating. Please forward this note to friends and colleagues and ask them to do the same. Please post this note on as many list serves as you can. In short, please help us reach more people as quickly as we can. Efforts like this will make a positive difference for both religion and science around the country.

Michael Zimmerman, Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and Professor of Biology at Butler University, Indianapolis, Indiana, is the founder of The Clergy Letter Project.

Visit The Clergy Letter Project on the Web at

The Clergy Letter
Within the community of Christian believers there are areas of dispute and disagreement, including the proper way to interpret Holy Scripture. While virtually all Christians take the Bible seriously and hold it to be authoritative in matters of faith and practice, the overwhelming majority do not read the Bible literally, as they would a science textbook. Many of the beloved stories found in the Bible – the Creation, Adam and Eve, Noah and the ark – convey timeless truths about God, human beings, and the proper relationship between Creator and creation expressed in the only form capable of transmitting these truths from generation to generation. Religious truth is of a different order from scientific truth. Its purpose is not to convey scientific information but to transform hearts.
We the undersigned, Christian clergy from many different traditions, believe that the timeless truths of the Bible and the discoveries of modern science may comfortably coexist. We believe that the theory of evolution is a foundational scientific truth, one that has stood up to rigorous scrutiny and upon which much of human knowledge and achievement rests. To reject this truth or to treat it as “one theory among others” is to deliberately embrace scientific ignorance and transmit such ignorance to our children. We believe that among God’s good gifts are human minds capable of critical thought and that the failure to fully employ this gift is a rejection of the will of our Creator. To argue that God’s loving plan of salvation for humanity precludes the full employment of the God-given faculty of reason is to attempt to limit God, an act of hubris. We urge school board members to preserve the integrity of the science curriculum by affirming the teaching of the theory of evolution as a core component of human knowledge. We ask that science remain science and that religion remain religion, two very different, but complementary, forms of truth.

Signed by 10,418 Christian clergy member as of 19 December 2006