Adventus

"The central doctrine of Christianity, then, is not that God is a bastard. It is, in the words of the late Dominican theologian Herbert McCabe, that if you don’t love you’re dead, and if you do, they’ll kill you."--Terry Eagleton

"It is impossible for me to say in my book one word about all that music has meant in my life. How then can I hope to be understood?--Ludwig Wittgenstein

“The opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice."--Bryan Stevenson

Monday, December 21, 2009

Fourth Sunday of Advent 2009: My Soul Magnifies the Subsistence of the Lord



Micah 5:2-5a

5:2 But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days.

5:3 Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in labor has brought forth; then the rest of his kindred shall return to the people of Israel.

5:4 And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. And they shall live secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth;

5:5 and he shall be the one of peace.

Luke 1:46b-55

1:46b "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,

1:48 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;

1:49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.

1:50 His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.

1:51 He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.

1:52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly;

1:53 he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.

1:54 He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy,

1:55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever."

Hebrews 10:5-10


10:5 Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, "Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body you have prepared for me;

10:6 in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure.

10:7 Then I said, 'See, God, I have come to do your will, O God' (in the scroll of the book it is written of me)."

10:8 When he said above, "You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings" (these are offered according to the law),

10:9 then he added, "See, I have come to do your will." He abolishes the first in order to establish the second.

10:10 And it is by God's will that we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

Luke 1:39-45

1:39 In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country,

1:40 where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.

1:41 When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit

1:42 and exclaimed with a loud cry, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.

1:43 And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me?

1:44 For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy.

1:45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord."


Noun
Singular
subsistence
Plural subsistences

as, the subsistence of qualities in bodies.
That which furnishes provisions, or that which produces provisions; livelihood; as, a meager subsistence.

(theology) A person, specifically the person of Christ or of another part of the Trinity; hypostasis.

It's a very odd thing to start a sermon, or a meditation, or just a consideration of the lectionary readings for today, with a dictionary definition. But a book I glanced through yesterday mentioned that one definition of "Subsistence" was "abstraction from existence," which seems so contrary a reading of the word as we usually use it that it struck me, and I went searching for something on-line to substantiate that definition; and I found, in part, what you just read above.

It ties into this reading in so many ways; ways that might seem frivolous or fantastical, or even fancifully French (anyone who has read anything by Derrida would know what I mean immediately). But consider: "Bethlehem," pronounced here as the birthplace of the Messiah (as Christians like Matthew and Luke later read the text) means "House of Bread." Bread is the "staff of life." Bread provides a "subsistence living." Subsistence provides a living, but is also the essential characteristic of something which exists; it is the state of having substance. It is real being. It is existence.

We ask more of the world, we say; especially at Christmas. But why? And what do we do with it? Aye, there's the rub.

5:4 And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. And they shall live secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth;

5:5 and he shall be the one of peace.

There's the Christmas promise, and it doesn't involve packages, or trees, or feasts, or wise men, or shopping. It involves subsistence, and very little more. Compare it to the words of Mary:

"My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm; 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.
He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever."
Her extravagant praise of God never rises above the level of subsistence. What does God do? Levels the playing field. God feeds the hungry, and lets the rich go hungry for a change. God brings the powerful down, and raises the poor up. But God does not provide mere subsistence; God is subsistence. That's the reason the baby moves in Elizabeth's womb. That's the reason Mary breaks into song. If we first encountered Luke's story as a musical, if we first heard these four songs of Luke's nativity as song, not just words, maybe we'd get that immediately. In musicals people always pour fourth their reason for living. Their song is their subsistence, it is their being, and we react to the characters more strongly for that. This Magnificat is Mary's subsistence; it is the proof that she has being, this is her existence. And it pours forth in response to the actions of God. It pours forth, and it proves and improves, life. Without putting anything under any tree. Without adding anything to our credit card balance. This song seems to take away, but it neither adds nor takes anything away; not anything we need, anyway. This song reflects the wonder of the story, the "reason for the season." This song is about the one who comes, who shall be the one of peace.

And peace, is very much a matter of subsistence. And not in the minimal sense at all, but in the essential sense.

Amen.

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