Musical Overture


Malachi 3:1-4

See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight—indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap; he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the Lord in righteousness. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years.

Luke 1:39-56, 68-79

39In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 40where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. 45And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”
46And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, 47and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 49for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. 50His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. 51He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. 52He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; 53he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. 54He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, 55according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.” 56And Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home.

[Zechariah said:] “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them.
He has raised up a mighty savior for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.
Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors, and has remembered his holy covenant, the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham, to grant us that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins.
By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”







I suppose I could count on the fingers of one hand the number of movies I saw in the movie theatre before the age of ten.
But there were two in particular that I remember and have watched many times since. I watched them with my children when they were young.
They are classics.
One reason that I was thinking of them lately is that there is a new Mary Poppins movie coming, opening in ten days. It is a sequel to the first movie. Mary Poppins comes back to the Banks children who are now grown up with kids of their own.
And so, of course, one of those two influential movies was the very first Mary Poppins released in 1964 starring Julie Andrews as Mary Poppins.
And the other movie also starred Julie Andrews. It was called The Sound of Music. It was a film version of the Broadway musical released in 1959 it was loosely based on the real-life story of the musical Von Trapp family.

And the other reason I was thinking of them was that they are famous musicals…..
and the focus in todays gospel lesson in Luke is musical.

I know we don’t think of scripture very often as musical, because what has been handed down has been handed down in print version.
The psalms were actually songs.
And there are many songs recorded in scriptures in words, but not the music.
And today we get two songs almost back to back in the first chapter of Luke. Mary’s song and Zechariah’s song.

And these songs are overtures.

In Musical theatre or Musical film, the overture is a piece of music the previews the show, and plays the themes or bits of the music that is to come.

In the Mary Poppins overture at the beginning of the movie, one hears: Feed the birds; A Spoonful of Sugar; Chim Chimney, and Supercalifragilistic.

In the Sound of Music overture one hears: The Hills are Alive; Doe a Deer; Favourite Things; Something Good, and Climb Every Mountain

And that’s exactly what Mary’s Song and Zechariah’s song do…. They play the themes of Luke’s gospel.
They tell you what is coming.

Mary sings:
52He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly;

Zechariah sings:
By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness

In Luke’s gospel the lowly are lifted up, and those who sit in darkness are given light.

And maybe the first of the lowly to be lifted up in the gospel of Luke is women.
The start of the gospel it is all about the women. First of it is Elizabeth the wife of the priest Zechariah. She is old and unable to have children and yet a miracle happens and she becomes pregnant. She is going to have a son who will be named John and John is going to be filled with the Holy Spirit and is going to be a mighty prophet.
And when Zechariah is told this he doesn’t believe it, and because he doesn’t believe it, he is struck dumb for nine months, and is unable to speak until the baby John is born.
I don’t know if you get it, but in a patriarchal culture where women were forbidden to enter the worship and women were often forbidden to speak in public, it is the man who is forbidden to speak by the Holy Spirit, and Elizabeth is given voice who sings to Mary:
Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And blessed is She who believed…

Blessed is She who believed…
Notice the She. Mary is the other star here in the opening of Luke’s gospel. In contrast to the he who didn’t believe, Mary, the woman, believed.
In Matthew’s gospel the angel visits Joseph. In Luke’s gospel the angel visits Mary.
And this is a theme that runs throughout the gospel of Luke.
The lowly and those in darkness are lifted up. And one of those groups is women.
Jesus is radical in his treatment of women and accepts them and loves them and lifts them up and values them.

But there are others who are lowly and in darkness.

The poor. Luke has a special emphasis on the gospel reaching out to the poor.
Mary sings 53he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty
When Jesus says the Beatitudes in Matthew’s gospel it is: Blessed are the poor in spirit; but in Luke’s gospel he says: Blessed are the poor.

Luke’s gospel is the only gospel that has the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus, where the rich man dies and is in torture and the poor man is in Abraham’s bosom; and the only criteria that seems to be given for this is wealth vs, poverty. It is a parable, mind you, and not to be taken too literally, but the importance is not to be missed how the gospel values the poor and lifts them up.

In the wedding banquet parable in Matthew’s gospel when people refuse the invitation the servants are sent out to gather all, both good and bad…
But in Luke’s version the servants are sent out to gather the poor, the crippled the blind and the lame.

In Luke the poor are valued as none other.

Another group that are lifted up out of darkness are the sick and the crippled and the blind.
We heard it in the wedding banquet. Gather the poor, the crippled the blind and the lame.
Only in Luke’s gospel does Jesus read from Isaiah
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Luke seems to be the kindest gospel. If I asked you your favourite bible story, there is a good chance it comes from Luke’s gospel.

Luke’s gospel welcomes all those who wouldn’t have been welcomed. Outcasts and sinners and unmentionables and sick and dirty and different.

Luke has the story of Jesus birth, no room in the inn, being laid in a manger, the visitation of the angels to the shepherds who would have been outcasts. It is a humble story of poverty and God coming in poverty to the poor.
Matthew’s version is of Jesus being a king and it is wealthy people who come with wealthy gifts
Luke has the story of the Good Samaritan who would have been an outcast.
Luke has the story of the prodigal son, who wouldn’t have been welcomed home.
Jesus has indeed and does indeed lift up the lowly.
In Luke’s gospel which is written by a Gentile to a Gentile there is a real inclusiveness that Jesus is for all people: Sinners, enemies, prisoners, losers, outcasts and all whom society puts down.

Which is good news because that means you are included.
The overtures point to the good news of Jesus who loves and includes us, who saves us and forgives us.

But they point to more than inclusion.
Zechariah sings:
And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins.

Eventually Zechariah gets his voice back and sings about his son John.
He sings that his son is special, is chosen, has a purpose..
He sings that he was chosen to prepare the way for Jesus to come into people’s lives.
…to let people know that God forgives, that God loves, that God changes us, and we call that salvation.

And I want you to know that is what parents and grandparents think too.
My children and my grandchildren are special and chosen and have a purpose…

And that is what God thinks of you. That you are special and chosen and have a purpose.
God has created you to be unique and you are more than what society and this world classifies you by class, status, gender, race, orientation or wealth.
You are a unique child of God and your purpose is no less than John the Baptist’s: to prepare others to give and receive love. To point the way to Jesus’ love for all people. The sin we are all guilty of is excluding those we do not think are good enough or belong. We point to the light that forgives us and not only forgives us but empowers us to include and love.

And it is scary, sometimes. But Zechariah says we do not have to fear. That even when we sit in the shadow of death there is a light to lift us up and his name is Jesus.

Maybe there are some here who sit in the shadow. WE all have those time.
WE then diagnosis is positive and the prognosis is not, we sit in the shadow.
When the job is lost and the money is run out we sit in the shadow. When millions of children go hungry in this world, we sit in the shadow.
When a man breaks into the sanctuary of a school or a church or a synagogue and shatters the lives of innocents we sit in the shadow…
But God has an answer to the shadow. And it is simply this: Love.
In the face of the shadow of death, what did Jesus do. He loved. Everyone.
When we face the shadows of death the way to be is to love.

You know there is one other group of the lowly I haven’t particularly mentioned yet, that Jesus lifted up in the gospels and it is children.
Jesus lifted up children and both Matthew and Luke make this point in their gospels.
I love the King James way of saying it. Suffer the little children to come unto me and forbid them not; for of such is the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus lifted up children, in a culture that didn’t really value children.

You know in the movies The Sound of Music and Mary Poppins there is a similar theme.
There is a heroine and they are both a Mary. Maria is what is in the bible in the original Greek for Mary, and is the word for Mary in Latin and in a number of languages.

And these Marys go to homes to look after children whose fathers in particular are somewhat stern and detached from their children
And these Marys lift up the lowly children and treat them as valued members of the family,
But more than that they prepare the way for their fathers to really learn how to love their children.

And that is your calling too. Not only are you the children who Christ is lifting up.
You are Mary, singing the overture of the gospel, the gospel of love for everyone…
Preparing the way for people to truly love.

That is our calling and the calling of those who are ordained to be elders. While elders make promises to uphold the rules of the Presbyterian Church, their primary calling and ours is to love one another and prepare each other to love. Amen