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Sermon for December 13, 2015

When Men Dance and Women Sing

Mary got up and traveled to a town in Judah in the hill country, straight to Zachariah’s house, and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby in her womb leaped. She was filled with the Holy Spirit, and sang out exuberantly,

You’re so blessed among women,
    and the babe in your womb, also blessed!
And why am I so blessed that
    the mother of my Lord visits me?
The moment the sound of your
    greeting entered my ears,
The babe in my womb
    skipped like a lamb for sheer joy.
Blessed woman, who believed what God said,
    believed every word would come true!

And Mary said,

I’m bursting with God-news;
    I’m dancing the song of my Savior God.
God took one good look at me, and look what happened—
    I’m the most fortunate woman on earth!
What God has done for me will never be forgotten,
    the God whose very name is holy, set apart from all others.
His mercy flows in wave after wave
    on those who are in awe before him.
He bared his arm and showed his strength,
    scattered the bluffing braggarts.
He knocked tyrants off their high horses,
    pulled victims out of the mud.
The starving poor sat down to a banquet;
    the callous rich were left out in the cold.
He embraced his chosen child, Israel;
    he remembered and piled on the mercies, piled them high.
It’s exactly what he promised,
beginning with Abraham and right up to now. Luke 1:39-55
I saw a video on Facebook that was the best thing I had seen all week. In a green field, standing in an open semi, circle stand 5 older Greek men – perhaps in their 70s and 80s. A drum and accordion begin to play, and, one at a time, the men step into the circle and begin to dance. Like an ancient riddle, every step seems to have meaning and purpose. Each man has a fire in his eyes, and even if their limbs are tired or frail, the dance renews them. I love watching that video. I made my kids watch it –twice. The caption had these words – part of a song by Maria Broom:

When the men dance ... the wolves stop howling.
When the men dance ... the dogs stop barking.
When the men dance ... the ladies start screaming.
When the men dance ... people stop fighting, stop fussing, stop killing, stop cussing!

I love it! What a great message for these time of violence, fear, and division. Imagine a world where instead of using public hate speech as a way to garner votes, people like Donald Trump danced with Nihad Awad, the Executive Director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations – no cameras or reporters allowed. If we danced some more, maybe we would not have as much time to fear each other and get caught up in our divisions. When the men dance, people stop fighting.

I saw another video that reminded me of the difference between good and bad policing in our communities. In the video, a white, female Washington D.C. police officer arrives on the scene of a fight to break it up.  When she gets to K St SW, the officer sees a 17-year-old, African-American student dancing to the popular song “Watch Me (Whip/Nae Nae)”. The officer reportedly told the girl she could dance better, and one of the teens challenged the cop to a dance-off, which the officer accepted.  The officer brings her A-game. Slightly hindered by her police gear, she keeps up with the teen, who gyrates effortlessly to the Nae Nae dance. The officer seems to be doing a little bit more of a freestyle dance, but she keeps pace with the teen. In the end, the students walk off without a fight and the officer leaves without escalating the violence.

When the women dance... the earth stops trembling.
When the women dance... the babies stop crying.
When the women dance... the men start listening.
When the women dance... the angels and ancestors sing!

When the children dance... the winds stop blowing.
When the children dance... the oceans stop rolling.
When the children dance... the people start smiling.
When the children dance... we all sing together!
 What a world we would live in with more dancing and less shooting!

The same goes for singing. Today’s scripture reading is all about listening to women sing. It starts off with us listening in as Elizabeth croons to Mary about the blessings of women who hear and respond to God’s activity in the world. She sings, “Blessed woman who believes what God said…” Blessed woman?

When God announces this most important moment in history, the message comes to the world through … two women!?  Women were considered to be inferior to men, and under the authority of men. In the eyes of the world, Elizabeth and Mary are of little to no consequence. Elizabeth is too old to be pregnant. Mary is young and not married enough to be pregnant. And the first to receive God’s message of the coming kingdom are these two pregnant women. God doesn’t give the news to the Roman Emperor. God doesn’t give the news to a governor, or to one of the temple’s high priests. God doesn’t put up billboards or go on CNN. God goes to two ordinary, women on the margins of society. Elizabeth carries the messenger, and Mary carries the Message. They are not forgotten, anonymous pawns. They are women and they are blessed!

After Elizabeth sings, Mary also bursts into song. We begin to get the idea that Mary and Elizabeth aren’t just singing songs of praise but songs of subversion.  Mary sings about God who scatters the proud, who lowers powerful rulers, who raises up the lowly, who feeds the hungry, and who turns away those who allow their fellow human beings to go hungry when they have plenty. Mary sings a song with the power to turn the world upside down. The high are brought low and the low are brought high, the first will be last and the last will be first.

If I’m remembering right, I think her son said something very similar.

Mary’s song is the cry of a young, pregnant, unwed mother living among a people oppressed by an occupying force. Her song is so dangerous, the Guatemalan president banned the reading of it in the 1980s because it was seen as encouraging rebellion against his genocidal military junta. The song of a young, pregnant, unwed mother was a danger to the state!  Mary’s song was also banned in Argentina when mothers rose up to cry for justice for their missing children in the 1970’s. During the British rule of India, Mary’s song was banned from being sung in churches. In Nicaragua, Mary’s song was often kept as an amulet, worn by poor peasants.

Mary’s song is a song of subversion. Mary’s song insists that oppression of the poor is not the will of God and that when God’s kingdom arrives fully, the tyrant will have no power.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the minister who plotted to overthrow Hitler and was executed by the Nazis, said this:  “The song of Mary is the oldest Advent hymn. It is at once the most passionate, the wildest, one might even say the most revolutionary Advent hymn ever sung. This is not the gentle, tender, dreamy Mary whom we sometimes see in paintings. This song has none of the sweet, nostalgic, or even playful tones of some of our Christmas carols. It is instead a hard, strong, inexorable song about the power of God and the powerlessness of humankind.”

Can you imagine what might happen if, instead of schmaltzy and cloying hymns, our Christmas carols were songs of subversion?

Imagine if, when we sing, “O Come, All Ye Faithful,” it’s not just an opening hymn on Christmas Eve, but a summons to gather in courage and faith, beckoning us to revolt against the pains and upheavals of the world! Imagine when we sing, “Joy to the World,” which, by the way was originally an Easter hymn, our greatest joy is found in working with Christ to knock tyrants off their high horses, pull victims out of the mud, and invite the starving poor to sit at our banquets! When we sing “What child is this” about the baby sleeping on Mary’s lap, imagine what happens when we remember a child who was:
Helpless and hungry, lowly, afraid
Wrapped in the chill of midwinter;
Comes now among us, born into poverty’s embrace,
new life for the world.
 When we sing about the baby, tucked safely away in the manger, imagine we also remember that humility is put in service to the least of God’s people …
To lowliest manger, where animals feed,
Comes Jesus, redeemer of all human need.
May we bear the Christ Child to all whom we meet
By living God's justice and washing their feet.
Imagine when we sing, “O Little Town of Bethlehem” we could also sing …
When lives of humble service preach
The Good News to the poor,
When troubled minds or bodies find
A welcome at our door,
When healing hearts and hands lift
The lowly from the dust,
Then ring the bells and sing Noels:
For Christ is born in us.
Imagine our most peaceful Christmas song, “Silent Night,” as our cry for hope in life’s shadows …
Silent night, holy night!
When will peace conquer might?
Pray that justice will set victims free,
Those who are shackled to bleak poverty.
Christ be born in each heart,
Christ be born in each heart.
May our songs call for justice, and resistance, and trust in God who uses the most unlikely of us to turn the world upside down.
When the men sing and dance... the wolves stop howling.
When the men sing and dance... the dogs stop barking.
When the men sing and dance... the ladies start screaming.
When the men sing and dance... people stop fighting, stop fussing, stop killing, stop cussing!

When the women sing and dance... the earth stops trembling.
When the women sing and dance... the babies stop crying.
When the women sing and dance... the men start listening.
When the women sing and dance... the angels and ancestors sing!

When the children sing and dance... the winds stop blowing.
When the children sing and dance... the oceans stop rolling.
When the children sing and dance... the people start smiling.
When the children sing and dance... we all sing together!

So let the women sing and dance!
And let the men sing and dance!
Let the children sing and dance!
Let's all dance together! 



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