He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly.
Some sermons stick with us, while others fade away. I can remember interactive sermons from the church where I grew up that required congregational participation for the message to hit home. I can remember specific lines from the church I attended in college that continued to resonate in my relationships and activities. And I can definitely remember a preacher from seminary who connected the hymns in worship with the sermon better than anyone else.
After preaching steadily for the last few years, I have noticed how much I miss listening to sermons. I enjoy the art of crafting words to proclaim God’s Word in worship, but I also need to have words preached toward me as well. I will often listen to, or read, sermons online but they are no substitute for the depth of experiencing a sermon in worship.
Last advent, Clayton Payne, one of my clergy peers from Staunton, preached for a community advent service. I served as the liturgist for the service, welcoming the congregation, announcing the hymns, praying when necessary, and introducing the speaker. And then Clayton walked up in to the pulpit and brought the Word.
He preached from Mary’s Magnificat, Luke 1.46-55, a song of praise that she delivered after meeting with Elizabeth. The beginning of the sermon was striking because Clayton specifically confronted how joyful Christmas is for us, and how Mary’s song should really put us in our place. Mary proclaims that God will bring down the powerful from their thrones, and lift of the lowly. Clayton then made it very clear that most of us are not the lowly that God will be raising up. We who rest in comfort, we who have presents piled under the Christmas tree, we who always know that we will have another meal, are like the powerful that God needs to bring down from our thrones of privilege.
I remember thinking that Clayton was mighty brave for preaching such a convicting sermon, and then I realized how right he was. Christmas should be a time of great joy and celebration, but it should also be a time when we take a hard look in the mirror and recognize our place of privilege. The words of scripture around the first Christmas are filled with hope for the lowly, but they are also filled with terror for the powerful.
Some sermons stick with us, while others fade away. Though it still makes me uncomfortable, I am grateful for Clayton’s words that helped me to see another angle of the great story of God coming to change the world.
This week, as we prepare for Christmas, let us reflect on the sermons from the past that have stayed with us. Let us give thanks to the preachers who faithfully proclaimed God’s Word. And let us remember our place in the story.