Sing a New Song – Sing Transformation”
Follow Me: Biblical Practices for Faithful Living
DPC Intern: Nicole Jiskoot
Decatur Presbyterian Church
February 19, 2023
Luke 1: 46-56
NEW TESTAMENT READING
Our New Testament reading comes from Luke 1:46-56.
46 And Mary[a] said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, 47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has looked with favor on the lowly state of his servant. Surely from now on all generations will call me blessed,
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name;
50 indeed, his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty.
54 He has come to the aid of his child Israel, in remembrance of his mercy,
55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”
56 And Mary remained with [Elizabeth] about three months and then returned to her home.
God always blesses the reading and the hearing of God’s holy word…
As we come to our final week of singing new songs, this time a song of transformation, we find ourselves immersed in songs sung by mothers. Now whether or not you are a parent, there are pearls of wisdom to be found in their separate journeys toward transformation. I invite you to take a look at these women with me through fresh eyes.
First, we have Hannah. Hannah is living in a polygamous relationship with her husband Elkanah and his second wife Peninnah. Now, any household involving one man living with two women is bound to have some drama – I’m talking soap opera worthy! Peninnah, the second wife, is bound and determined to make Hannah’s life miserable. It isn’t enough that she has numerous sons and daughters while Hannah has none – she has to tease her and make fun of her relentlessly as well. Perhaps it was because their hubby liked Hannah best. Gotta love jealousy!
Well, Hannah is beside herself. She wants a son more than anything and promises that if God will give her what she wants, she’ll dedicate him to the Lord. In fact, she gets so consumed during her silent prayer that Eli, the priest at the temple where she’s praying, actually thinks she’s in a drunken fit. After hearing what’s really going on, Eli blesses Hannah and sends her on her way…
Our first pearl of wisdom is “Wait.”
All mothers wait. Some wait to conceive. Some wait to adopt. Some who don’t really want to be mothers, at least not right now, wait to see if (and how) their lives are about to change. Some wait for years, some for months, but all mothers wait.
Hannah serves as an example of godly waiting. Hers is a story of pain, but it is not a story of despair. In her waiting, she brings her requests to God, who hears her prayer. When she returns home, she and her husband conceive a son – Samuel.
I know what it is to wait to be a mother. Like Hannah, I waited for a child, and when my husband and I conceived a son, we named him Samuel Layfe. After that, we suffered together through three miscarriages. The waiting continued. Waiting for answers. Waiting for another child. Waiting for hope. One day, we heard a song on the radio that stopped us in our tracks. It is not a Christian song, per se, but it still hits us hard when we hear it, even now that we have our daughter Lovinia. You may have heard this Mumford and Sons’ song at some point. Its haunting lyrics are set to some amazing banjo riffs…
Mumford and Sons – I Will Wait
Well I came home
Like a stone
And I fell heavy into your arms
These days of dust
Which we’ve known
Will blow away with this new sun
But I’ll kneel down wait for now
And I’ll kneel down
Know my ground
And I will wait, I will wait for you
And I will wait, I will wait for you
I encourage you to go look it up at home later – it just isn’t the same without the banjo!
What is it that you wait for? What are the thoughts and prayers that linger in your mind at night? What are the desires that make your heart ache with longing? As you bring your requests to God, do as Hannah did – trust that God hears your prayers and wait upon the Lord with hope.
Next, we skip ahead nearly a thousand years from Hannah to a small town girl named Mary, who gets engaged and then gets some very unexpected news. An angel tells her she’s going to have a son – no, not just A son – God’s own son. Of course, her neighbors are not going to understand this. There is a lot that could go wrong in this story, and it clearly is not something Mary has asked for. At best, this is an awkward inconvenience that could cost her her reputation. At worst, this could cost her her life.
Our next pearl of wisdom is “Surrender to God’s will.”
Now, we don’t like the term surrender very much. It’s right up there with “submit” or “sacrifice.” I don’t know about you, but I tend to like to be in control of things – just ask my husband, bless his heart! (He is an actual saint, by the way!)
Surrender is exactly what Mary did. She did not spend much time thinking about it. She didn’t weigh her options or draw up a pro and con list (I’m great at those, too). She merely asked how it was possible, then told the angel, “Let it be as you have said.” Mary let go of her own plans and allowed God’s will for her life to become her new story.
This is not a light matter. It is wonderful to wait upon the Lord and bring our requests to God, but to end those prayers of longing with “not my will, but yours be done…” Well, that’s something else entirely. Surrender such as this makes us vulnerable before God and ourselves. It is the greatest sacrifice I think we can offer to God – that of losing control over our stories. When we let God write our stories for us, we begin to be transformed in ways we never thought imaginable.
Let’s look again at Hannah’s song. It is not just a song of praise and thanksgiving. It is a song of victory – God’s victory over oppression and injustice, over poverty and destitution, over pride and arrogance. God turns the world topsy turvy. Those who had plenty are now scraping by. Those who were puffed up are made low. Those who were weak are made strong.
Hannah sees herself in this story. The second half of verse five says, “The barren has borne seven, but she who has many children is forlorn.” As a mother who loves to see God as a parent, I cannot imagine that “she who has many” becomes forlorn because her children are taken from her. Rather, I think back to Peninnah, who compared to Hannah had everything – she had children. Yet, she was not satisfied.
Isn’t that the way it often happens in life? I spent most of last summer working with the unhoused population of inner city Atlanta during a chaplaincy internship. I cannot tell you how many times I asked people how they were doing – mind you, people who had no home, nothing to eat besides the snack we provided, and only the donated clothing on their backs – I asked how they were doing and they answered, “I’m blessed! I woke up this morning!” Then I look at the news stories of famous people who live in huge multi-million dollar mansions, surrounded by luxury with adoring fans following their every move, and they wind up overdosing on the pills they have to take just to sleep at night.
We shouldn’t be surprised at Hannah’s image of God’s victory in the world. We can already see traces of it if we’re paying attention. Mary says it in her song as well in verse fifty – “God’s mercy is for those who fear God from generation to generation.” This is transformation. This is what surrendering to God’s will looks like.
How do you feel God transforming you? What is it in your life that needs to be set topsy turvy? Are you prepared to allow God to upend what you cling to so tightly?
A wise friend of mine asked me this week, “Is it really transformation if I can’t see the change in you?” In other words, transformation is not just something we feel, any more than love is just a feeling. Love is action. Transformation is putting God’s love into action. How do we do that? By imagining the world according to Hannah’s and Mary’s songs – and then doing what we can to make that world a reality in our neighborhoods and communities.
Zach Williams, a contemporary Christian music artist has a song on the radio that I love. In his music video, he’s driving a bus on his way to a tent revival. Along the way, he picks up various people in need – a group broken down on the highway, a homeless man pushing a shopping cart, a mother and daughter down on their luck. As he drives, he sings… (far better than I will, so your grace is appreciated…)
Zach Williams – Less Like Me
Oh, I have days I lose the fight
Try my best but just don’t get it right
Where I talk a talk that I don’t walk
And miss the moments right before my eyes..
Somebody with a hurt that I could have helped
Somebody with a hand that I could have held
When I just can’t see past myself
Lord, help me be
A little more like mercy, a little more like grace
A little more like kindness, goodness, love, and faith
A little more like patience, a little more like peace
A little more like Jesus, a little less like me
Every time I hear this song on the radio, all conversation in the car has to stop so I can sing along. It reminds me that surrendering to God’s will and allowing myself to be transformed by God is a life-long process. I struggle with it all the time. There is such a temptation to close my eyes to all the hurt in the world, feeling like I can’t possibly make enough of a difference, so why bother? Yet, when I sing this song, I feel that transformation in me again. It gets all stirred up by the Holy Spirit. I remember that the last will be first and the first will be last. To quote more from Zach Williams’ song, “I wanna feed the beggar on the street, learn to be [God’s] hands and feet, freely give what I receive…”
That’s the key to it all right there. We say it every Sunday, whether implicitly or explicitly. Everything we have is from God. Not just our finances, but our compassion – our love for those around us – our ability to see a need in someone else, human to human, and meet it. That is transformation. With God’s help, may we continue to be a little more like Jesus, a little less like ourselves.
Decatur Presbyterian Church
February 19, 2023