I was sorting through some papers in my office last week and found an anonymous note mixed among my papers. It was handwritten, unsigned and obviously intended for my reading. I'm not sure when or even how it got there. It was just one sentence and it had no punctuation but it would have ended with an exclamation point if it did. Here's what it said: “Grandpa is the most duffiest duffer” I'm not sure who wrote it. I suspect Acacia but it could have been any one of the grandkids as we often tease each other with the nickname duffer; usually when we've done something silly.
Now I've done a lot of English lessons so far in Advent. Today's sermon is entitled “Superlatives” and that previously unread note expressed strong feelings. But most of you know it is incorrect grammar to use a double superlative in that way—most duffiest. But the point was being made in the strongest possible way—Grandpa is a great duffer.
In today's bible readings the authors work to make their points in the strongest possible ways.
He does the same with prayer. Again, he could have just told us to pray. And that would be good, but he makes it an imperative—pray without ceasing. And by that he doesn't mean we are saying prayers 24/7 but that our life is lived in such a way that we are always aware of God with us. Everything we think, do, or say is touched by the Spirit of God; that is prayer without ceasing.
And give thanks. Like rejoicing, Paul doesn't tell us to give thanks for the good things, he says in everything give thanks. I admit that can be difficult. But when our mind is centered on God, we can find blessings for which to give thanks. We are living in a world with many restrictions, many changes. For instance, we gather here in the sanctuary with 6 people instead of 30. It's hard and it's sad. But I give thanks that it has led us to a new way to meet face to face on Zoom. And this new way means the Rech's can be here from Texas and the Viehausers from Brainerd. And so we give thanks even in a pandemic.
We mourn the many activities that have closed down and yet we can give thanks that it has given many of us the new opportunity for quiet time that is often hard to find in our busy lives. Financial help is being provided for many in need, families are finding new ways to gather, new traditions are being made, life patterns are being reset. There is plenty to complain about and we don't give thanks for the troubles but give thanks for the positives which flow from those challenges. We give thanks that in various ways our community comes to our side with words of comfort and gifts of love.
This Advent, a few of us pastors have gotten together to review the lectionary readings. The question came up, “What does that next line, “Do not quench the Spirit” mean? I interpret that as meaning if we fail to find joy and thanksgiving in our lives, if we leave constant prayer to others, we are not giving the Spirit the opportunity to express itself in our lives. Also, a bitter, complaining, negative attitude will quench the Spirit of joy that Jesus came to bring. Beyond this simple meaning, we trust in the Holy Spirit to work in us so we can recognize God's presence in all things. It is the Spirit's work to sustain us in prayer and to interpret our efforts to express ourselves. The fruit of the Spirit grows us in patience, love and joy.
Our gospel reading is known as the Magnificat, the Latin word for Mary's first words. I think the word magnify sounds like a superlative. Magnify, glorify, exalt, are other ways it could be expressed. Magnify is the root of the word magnificent. The point is that she is expressing great, magnificent honor for the Lord. Remember, Mary is a young woman, she has been given a mysterious message of being the one who is to give birth to the Savior of the world. Can't we imagine that her initial response would be fear, perhaps a feeling of unworthiness, worry about what others will think? And next week we will see Mary's story some more as our reading will be the annunciation-the angel's actual pronouncement to Mary. The setting for today's prayer of Mary is her arrival at Elizabeth's home. What we don't read is the greeting Elizabeth gives. Her recognition of Mary as the mother of the Lord served as a validation of what the angel Gabriel had announced to Mary. And Mary's response is praise and exultation in the plan and the purposes of God. ““My soul magnifies... and my spirit rejoices! The Mighty One has done great things... holy is his name.”
Now I could go into detail about how this prayer of praise matches up with the Old Testament matriarch Hannah when the Lord answered her prayer for a child. It also aligns in many ways to this Elizabeth's own prayer of thanksgiving. But I would rather simply let it stand alone. An expression of praise and a review of the Lord's goodness. She celebrates mercy and strength, the fulfillment of promises and the special way the Lord treats those in need. The words she uses wouldn't necessarily be termed superlatives, but when we look at her prayer as a whole, it is a superlative in its tone and totality.
Finally, while Mary's prayer is very personal, I want to remind you all again that most of Paul's writings are not individual instruction, but written to the community. The pronouns are plural; today's verbs are plural. And so we can take Paul's words as instructions for us as a congregation. So in our worship together, we offer prayers, thanksgivings and we look for superlative ways to offer our praises to God. Our opening hymn we sang of the Joy the good news of Jesus brings to the world... and all nature repeats the sounding joy and we recognize the wonders of God's love. In our candle lighting, Julie read these words of the light of the candles, their, “radiance warms our hearts and fills us with joy!” Our call to worship used some of these words of Mary. In our confession we said we rejoice in the Lord's mercy and grace. And our next hymn implores everyone to rejoice with heart and soul and voice. With the mother of Jesus, we magnify the Lord in our personal devotions and prayers. And we respond to Paul's call to rejoice, pray and give thanks as a community of faith. So let us raise our voices today and each day, rejoicing in the good news that is Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior; God with us, Emmanuel. Amen.
Hymn: Good Christian's all Rejoice