In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Mary's day is just getting started when an unexpected angelic visitor gives her some troubling news: she's pregnant with the Lord. Mary doesn't waste any time; she quickly packs her bags and heads for the hills. She's going for a visit. To get away for a while, to think, to talk things over with Elizabeth. (And also to get away from Joseph. He's a nice guy, but he can't find out about this.)
Luke tells us that Mary left quickly, and it seems like she was traveling alone, probably on foot. she would have traveled during the day, so she must have arrived in the late afternoon or evening. Mary would have sung her Magnificat in the evening; it was the world's first evensong.
For most of us, our families are flung far and wide. We can't just walk over the hills in a day, and sometimes a long phone conversation just isn't good enough. When something big comes up, we need to meet face to face. Like Mary, we need a "visitng space." Paul encourages us to create this kind of space in our community: "Bear with one another," he writes, "and , if anyone has a complaint against another forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so also you must forgive."
In the film Napoleon Dynamite, Kip, the title character's brother, finds that his budding relationship with LaFawnduh cannot be confined to an internet chat room. He too is in need of "visiting space." And sometime after their visit together, Kip and LaFawnduh are married.
Preiding at the ceremony, old farmer Lyle says:
When an argument arises . . . if you go outside and take, uh, a nice walk . . . you'll calm down and then you can come back and it won't be an argument. And you'll find that helps your health. All that fresh air and exercise will do you a lot of good.
If we think of the "visiting space in marriage being raised like a tent, we see it supported by two poles erected in cooperation holding up a relationship where two people dwell in close proximity. The late comedian Mitch Hedberg reminds us that a tent is a bad place to get into an argument, because how can you express your anger? Walk outside and slam the flap? Maybe zipper it up really quickly?
But a marriage is never a bad place to argue. Arguments arise in marriages, friendships, churches, communities-anywhere people meet together. We can be sure Mary and Joseph had at least one big one before they were married.
Our arguments and actions continue to create conflict, not just at home, but on the other side of the world. American economic and military actions have made new classes of hungry who need to be fed and lowly who need to be lifted up. Conflict is inevitable in our human world. Paul knows this but insists that we find a way to "bear with one another."
At the world's first evensong, John the Baptist hears Mary's voice and, from Elizabeth's womb, gives a little kick. This kick is a spark that ignites the presence of the Holy Spirit in both women. And in this holy "visiting space," Mary's fear melts away as she sings that she and all of humanity are blessed.
What would Mary sound like on American Idol? There's no "visiting space" on the show, but there is a "judging space," a hostile and unpredictable "Simon Cowell space." The goal of the show, which stems from its own greed, is to silence as many people singing as possible. But Mary can't be silenced because we are already singing with her. We're expanding the song.
American Idol is a global phenomenon. What started as Pop Idol in the UK is now in Australia, France Germany, Poland, Crroatia. It's everywhere. The audition tapes reveal that even people who have no vocal training or concept of pitch still want to sing. To sing is human. The church should make it possible.
At that first evensong, Mary proclaims the greatness of a God who bears with us, forgives us, and genuinely likes us. God wants to be with us. Following God's example in Christ, if we bear with one another, forgive each other and love each other, then we will find ourselves accepted, forgiven and loved. How, then, can we be anything but thankful? And it is "with gratitude in [our] hearts," Paul says, that we "sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God."
Through God's grace, let's learn to expand the song. Let's learn to slam flaps and take walks so that we do not speack or act in anger or hatred. Let's learn to forgive each other truly. Through God's grace, forgiveness, and "love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony," let's journey toward a place where we want to visit with each other and sing with each other.
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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