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"Dancing the Magnificat" - Sermon for Advent 4C - Dcn. Tammy Breitbarth - December 19, 2021

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of each heart be pleasing to you, O Lord, my strength and my Redeemer. +

Picture it.

It is the year 3 of the Common Era. The Roman Empire is in full control and flexing its mighty muscle in all parts of life. They cleverly put the community and church leaders in charge of collecting, protecting and accounting for the taxes, giving the conquered elite a sense of power and therefore siding with the conquerors. There is no separation of church and state, and society is strictly controlled and monitored by the Roman authorities, along with the community and church leaders. You are born into a fixed status with little or no opportunity for advancement.

If you are wealthy, you are living high and mighty.

If you are poor, you work to support your family and pay your taxes, and you participate in temple and maybe political debates.

But… only if you are male.

If you are female, it is another story completely.

Women born to wealthy families and rulers sometimes could exert influence,

but most women, and especially poor women were mere property.

No rights.

No protections.

In the first century, it was thought that men’s semen contained everything necessary to create a baby, and women were only “fertile ground” for the growth of that baby. Therefore, women had value only as fertile ground, homemakers or slaves.

Women could not participate in politics.

Women could not own property.

Women could not participate in religious functions.

Women could not make decisions over their bodies or circumstances.

A first century woman was under the control of a man her entire life. Her father first, then her husband. If her father or husband died, and no other man, such as a son, claimed her, she would become destitute. She had no home. No income.

She was cast to the outskirts of town to beg or prostitute in order to try to survive. Many didn’t and no one cared.

Please see this contrast.

On one hand, the powerful Roman Empire. The community and church leaders who are dictating all aspects of life. How to dress. How to act. How, when and what to eat. How and when to pray. Strict social roles that cannot be broken. Church leaders proclaiming to be the experts on who God is, what God expects, and how God will fulfill the promises made to Abraham and his descendants.

On the other hand, …Women.

Property. Fertile ground. Slaves.

All decisions.

No decisions.

Women. Such as Elizabeth and Mary.

Do you see the irony here?


It is Elizabeth who turns into a prophet, exclaiming that Mary is “filled with the Holy Spirit.”

It is Mary,

a thoroughly marginal person in her culture,

who carries in her womb the Savior of the world!

The scene is absurd!

The coming of the Messiah, who will redeem Israel, is anticipated and proclaimed,

Not by archangels.

Not by high priests or emperors.

Not even by ordained preachers. (FOW, p. 93)

Rather, the coming of the Messiah is proclaimed by two marginalized, pregnant women.

One young, poor and unwed. The other far beyond child-bearing age.

And their reaction?

Pure joy!

“Blessings are shared. Astonishment is expressed. Songs are sung.” (FOW, p. 95)

Baby John is leaping in the womb!

This joy and frivolity, followed by “Mary’s song, her Magnificat, gives voice to this subversive incarnation that she and Elizabeth embody.” (FOW, p. 95)

Mary gives us a song that begins by inviting us to celebrate the greatness and faithfulness of God, as she herself seems amazed at what has happened:

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.

And then, in the rest of the song Mary announces the larger implications of the child within her womb. That God, through Jesus,

…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.

Picture it.

Year 3 of the Common Era, a thoroughly marginalized woman, unwed and pregnant. Chosen as the one to bear Jesus in her womb, and to foreshadow how his life will turn the world upside-down, or perhaps better said as right-side up.


Now … picture this.

It is the year 2021.

  • You are a gay, lesbian or transgendered person. And you have been kicked out of church.


  • You are a woman who believes you are called to ministry, but your church believes it is wrong for women to be ordained ministers, or to teach in the church or to even speak or pray publicly in church.


  • You are an Afghan refugee. In a new country. A different culture. With a different religious practice.

Beloved, today is the 4th Sunday of Advent.

We lit The Candle of Love.

Next week, we will light The Christ Candle, signifying Jesus bringing light into the world.

St. Andrews Episcopal Church,

YOU … all of YOU…

sitting in these pews today, and watching online,

You have been and continue to carry the light of Christ to many.

You are dancing to the Magnificat.

You are lifting the lowly.

You are feeding the hungry.

You are welcoming those who are marginalized.

You are bringing blessings and astonishment to others,

so that they too may sing--

My soul magnifies the Lord,

And my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,

For God has looked with favor on the lowliness of this servant.

In this last week of Advent,

I thank you for spreading the light of Christ, the light of Love.

I thank you for dancing the Magnificat!

And I thank you for allowing me to join in the dance…I love you all.

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