Pastor Wilbert Miller’s Sermon
“Catching Our Fancy”
(Luke 1: 39-56)
Bach Vespers: J.S. Bach’s Magnificat (BWV 243)
December 10, 2017
The Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Holy Trinity
New York City at Central Park
Funny thing how God catches our fancy in the unlikeliest of people.
It happened three years ago when I was a pastor in San Diego. We had a considerable outreach to the homeless community, including free medical and dental, acupuncture and legal clinics, and a hospice program for homeless dying; we fed 200 people, twice a week. We rubbed shoulders with God’s unlikeliest friends, day-after-day.
Jordan and Addison, shall we call them, were two unlikely ones. They came knocking at the church door and wondered if they could speak with me. They were homeless and Addison was eight months pregnant. Once my office door was tightly closed, they apologized profusely and embarrassedly asked if I would be willing to marry them.
For some reason—it must have been God’s grace—I said I would do more than marry them; if they wished, we would create the most magical wedding of all. Instead of having the wedding in my office with just the two of them and me, we would have the ceremony on our church patio, immediately before the Friday morning meal. 200 of their homeless friends would be guests of honor and Jordan and Addison would process right through their midst. My wife, Dagmar, made a beautiful bridal bouquet; Dorothy and Dale donated a stunning cake; Ladonna saw to it that the wedding couple was feted in great delight; Mary made certain that Addison had a dashing bridal dress that highlighted her stunning beauty and swollen belly.
People hardened by repeated rebuffs and shattered by years of wretched street-living watched in wonder, weeping with gladness and cheering with abandon. When I announced Jordan and Addison as husband and wife, out-of-the-blue, a group of Anglican and Lutheran theologians who happened to be at our church as part of the national gathering of the American Academy of Religion broke into a spectacular rendition of “Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow.”
The wedding caught everyone’s fancy. A picture of it appeared in our national church magazine, “Living Lutheran,” and a friend of mine who teaches the highfalutin subject of Trinitarian theology at one of our seminaries told me that the wedding was the most powerful presentation of the week for a number of his colleagues and him: “Wilk, I felt like old Simeon in the Bible who upon seeing the baby Jesus said, ‘I can now go in peace, for I have seen my salvation.’ That’s how I felt after Jordan and Addison’s wedding.”
In a few moments we will hear Mary’s “Magnificat.” While the seventeen-piece orchestra and the Holy Trinity Bach Choir will lift us to the angels, never forget the song was first sung by a young woman who would soon be highly pregnant and snubbed by refined company; people would snidely ask, “And who exactly is the daddy of her baby?” And, of course, to this very day, outrageous comments continue to be made about Mary as her calling as the Mother of God is compared to the sleazy goings on of an adult politician reported to have had dalliances with young, minor girls.
Mary and Joseph were not terribly different from Jordan and Addison; they were suspect candidates in playing such a significant part in God coming to earth. God could have chosen kings and queens in ornate palaces but instead opted to come to earth by way of a very poor and very young girl.
In one of my five favorite books, “Death Comes for the Archbishop,” Willa Cather writes: “There is always something charming in the idea of greatness returning to simplicity—the queen making hay among the country fields—but how much more endearing was the belief that [the Holy Family], after so many centuries of history and glory, should return to play their first parts in the persons of a humble Mexican family, the lowliest of the lowly, the poorest of the poor—in a wilderness at the end of the world where the angels could scarcely find them.”
Willa Cather’s poetic eyes saw God coming by way of poor Mexican peasants and this caught her fancy.
In these days of Advent, as you watch and wait and listen, may you have poetic eyes. Resist letting Bach’s music sentimentalize the “Magnificat;” refuse to let it lift you into the netherworld of luxurious aesthetic enchantment. Instead, carefully attend to the words: “For God has regarded the low estate of his hand-maiden…He has put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree.”
Watch God come to Mary and Joseph and Jordan and Addison. And, if you are so blessed, may God come to you as well in those places and on those occasions where angels can scarcely find you. May the charm of it all catch your fancy and may you, with Mary, proclaim, “My soul magnifies the Lord.”