One of the things I am really looking forward to
now that I have lost over a bunch of weight
is begin able to ride roller coasters again.
I didn’t realize just how much I missed it
until our last trip to Disney World.
Michaela was finally at the appropriate height
to ride some of the bigger rides
and Braeleigh was in a “don’t leave me alone with daddy” phase. So when it was time to ride
the new Seven Dwarves Mine Ride Roller coaster
I was the parent who got to go with her.
We had a fast pass,
which just means that we had an appointment –
we were able to jump the line on that ride and get on quicker.
The car pulled up and Michaela got in and I got in.
Lo and behold I was too big
or maybe the mine car was actually made for dwarves;
regardless the lap bar wouldn’t secure right
and so I could not ride the ride.
Michaela’s face was the saddest I had ever seen it
when she thought she wasn’t going to get to ride the ride.
But I quickly asked the operator if it was ok for her to ride alone,
and for me to wait right there for her to get off.
When he said “yes” it was instantly the happiest I had ever seen her. Not only did she get to go on the roller coaster
but she got to ride it by herself for the first time.
Now, do you all know what the best part of a roller coaster ride is?
Is it the corkscrew twists? The loop de loop?
The rolling camelback hills? The boomerang?
I know for some of you,
your answer to what the best part of a roller coaster ride is
would be “the end”.
But the best part,
and this has been scientifically
proven in a recent research study that I just made up,
the best part, is that first drop.
Everyone is quiet. The anticipation builds.
All you can hear is the click click click click of the ratcheting system slowly drawing your car up to the highest point
of the whole roller coaster.
And then, for a second that can feel like an eternity,
you just hang there.
On some coasters you can’t even see the track anymore.
But you can see the whole park and miles beyond that.
The best moment is right after the clicking stops
and you hear that short crunch of the ratcheting mechanism let go. All the earth is silent as you are on the brink of plunging down.
That moment. That is the most exciting.
And it’s the most exciting
because you have had time to think about it.
That whole trip up and that eternal second before the drop
you allow the anticipation to build.
Your heart beats harder and harder
and it feels like its hard to breathe way up that high
but that’s only because you are holding your breath.
That friends is the best part of a roller coaster.
The rest of it, the rest of it is fun and awesome
but only because of that first anticipation.
Usually the rest of the ride is going so fast
that you don’t have time to think or anticipate. It just happens.
And is usually done in less time
than it took for you to reach that first drop.
So back to Disney and Michaela and the Seven Dwarves ride.
From the moment that car left the station
with me on the platform and Michaela on that ride by herself
the anticipation built.
I hadn’t checked with Bri about this.
I started to imagine how mad she was going to be at me
because she was worried about letting Michaela
go on the Dumbo ride by herself, let alone a roller coaster.
I started to imagine a malfunction
and the car getting caught in one of the dark tunnels
and Michaela being scared without me there to comfort her.
And the seconds start getting longer,
and those scenarios kept running through my mind,
and I swear, I held my breath
until that car pulled back into the station, safe and sound,
with Michaela and the world’s biggest smile.
My heart was nearly beating out of my chest.
I know I held onto the exit gate with white-knuckled anticipation.
It was as much a roller coaster for me as it was for Michaela,
and I didn’t go anywhere.
That moment, where the anticipation and the anticipated meet,
is breathtaking and spectacular and friends we are nearly there.
But not yet.
Our roller coaster is still approaching the top,
the last few clicks are still clicking
and the whole world is holding its breath.
I have to confess to you that the scripture for this morning,
traditionally known as the “magnificat” or Mary’s song,
is not one that I have ever paid much attention to.
As biblical scenes go this is not up there with the transfiguration
or walking on water or the raising of Lazarus.
No big flashy miracles here.
Two women, one barren and well beyond child-bearing years
and one young, betrothed yet unwed,
find themselves pregnant at the promise of angels.
Miraculous to be sure, but lacking in the grandiose.
On the surface it was pretty ordinary.
These days its hard to get excited about the ordinary things.
We like our ruts, don’t get me wrong,
but we don’t get excited about them.
For me though, 2017 was only extraordinary
because of the ordinary everyday normal stuff.
I went from being unhealthy to healthy.
I went from not being able to do much with my kids
to being able to match their energy at times.
And I was able to comfortably sit on a transatlantic flight.
All normal things for a lot of people, but extraordinary for me.
When we were in Israel,
I was struck with just how real and ordinary everything was.
It wasn’t all magic and miracles.
It was profound. It was extraordinary.
But it was extraordinary because of how ordinary it really is.
Mary, the young, unwed but betrothed, pregnant woman
in our story this morning was from the town of Nazareth.
On our first day in Israel we visited that town.
We walked into a beautiful church
built on the cave that tradition tells us
is where Mary lived with her parents
and where Gabriel visited her and told her
of the miracle that was going to take place in her.
The cave didn’t sparkle with holy light.
It was a cave home, common to the first century.
At the time of Mary,
Nazareth was a nothing and nowhere town of maybe 400 people. Now its population is around 75,000
and is a mix of Muslims and Christians.
The Church of the Annunciation is big and beautiful
with giant wood beams and ornate stained glass,
gorgeous court yards, and intricate murals.
The street that you walk up to get to the church though
is a normal street. A street full of shops and vendors.
A street like you might find in any city anywhere in the world.
One of my favorite pictures from that day is of an alley in Nazareth,
its dirty, and greasy and like a thousand other alleys
we have seen in our lives,
not 100 yards away from the place where Gabriel visited Mary
and announced the coming of the messiah.
After that announcement Mary traveled between 80 and 90 miles,
on foot, to the hill country of Judah,
on the outskirts of Jerusalem, to see her cousin Elizabeth,
the woman in our story who was beyond child-bearing years,
and yet, six months pregnant.
For a teenager, newly pregnant, woman
this trip would have taken 3-5 days, very slow going,
the entire time hiking up hills and down valleys over and over again, looking for places to stay the night
or else sleeping out in the open wilderness.
Seeing all of that,
the reality of the conditions of that journey,
changes how we see Mary in this story.
This is no frail teenager but a strong and determined woman.
Fueled by the promise of God to go
and bear witness to the miracle of her cousin’s pregnancy
about which the angel had spoken.
As she approaches the house of her cousin
I can almost hear the click click click of the anticipation.
In that amount of time
she would not be able to confirm that she was truly pregnant,
but if her cousin, barren and beyond child-bearing years,
was truly pregnant,
then she would know the angel had spoken the truth.
Imagine as Mary reaches the threshold of the front door,
she is holding her breath,
she peaks inside looking for her cousin,
and not quite seeing her, calls out to her,
and little tiny John the Baptist, still in Elizabeth’s womb,
leaps at the sound of her voice,
recognizing the voice of the mother of the messiah
and the presence of the messiah in her.
In that instant,
both of them find their hopes – and the angel’s promises – confirmed.
Something big is about to happen, the world is about to shift.
They are teetering on the edge,
uncertain and hopeful of the future at the same time.
Elizabeth tells Mary what she just felt,j
what she now knows to be true; and in response,
Mary sings the scripture we hear today –
“My soul magnifies the Lord!”
Mary’s hope, which perhaps until now she struggled to believe,
this crazy promise from an angel, is suddenly affirmed.
the words of blessing from her miraculous pregnant cousin,
affirms the reality that the God of the universe
has chosen a poor girl from a backwater nowhere
to be God’s gateway into humanity. How could she not sing:
“My soul magnifies the Lord. My spirit rejoices in God my savior.”
And as you pay attention to the words that she sings,
about what that salvation looks like, we really need to listen.
This is something I have just read through
without much thought for years,
but listen again to what Mary recognizes that God,
in this strange and crazy plan, is doing
“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.”
It is strikingly similar to the good news
that Jesus declares later on in chapter 4
“The spirit of God has anointed me to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captive,
recovery of sight to the blind, and freedom for the oppressed.”
None of this has anything to do with heaven,
with what happens after we die, but rather with what happens now.
Jeremiah asked God to tear open the heavens and come down home. To help set us back on the right path.
And God answers, choosing to be born
to an ordinary girl from an ordinary village.
God does not come to us as rich, or powerful, for proud.
But humble and poor and as a servant.
This life that we anticipate,
is not merely about an intellectual belief or a “spiritual thing;”
it is so much more than that.
The life of Jesus that is yet to come in this story,
is not about wealth and empires;
it is about God living an ordinary life.
Teaching us through familiar metaphors, healing our wounds,
and saving our souls.
All through the life of an ordinary first century man from Galilee.
And this is God’s business.
Using the ordinary to do the extraordinary.
It happens in ordinary towns,
in ordinary streets, in ordinary homes every day:
God’s love is revealed, and the good news is lived out.
We don’t have to wait to “go home” to heaven some day;
God has come home to us, here and now.
We don’t have to wait for heaven
to see God’s promises fulfilled;
God is at work all around us, every day,
if only we have eyes to see…
and we are invited to be a part of that work, too.
And God is still doing what God did all those years ago: choosing the unlikeliest people
and the most ordinary of places,
and bringing good news to the hungry, and the thirsty,
and the hopeless and the oppressed – and friends,
if we want to “keep Christ in Christmas”
then we’d better not forget what Christ was all about…
we need to love the ones that he loved, too.
Time and again we see God
using the weak to overpower the strong.
Using the fool to outwit the wise.
Making the last first and the first, last.
God is all about turning the world on its head.
Making us really consider if what we are pursuing
is really what we want after all.
And like Mary and Elizabeth we do not know what the future holds. But we can face that future with anticipation – with hope, suspended as we are
between the promise and its fulfillment.
Maybe we aren’t there yet –
but we are on the very edge,
and starting to pick up steam.
God is still at work in the world today,
in ordinary places, using ordinary people like us
to do extraordinary, eternal, wondrous,
and miraculous things.
Hold on tight. The first drop is coming. Amen? Amen.