Sanctuary & Song

Posted By Communications on Dec 14, 2020 | 0 comments

Sunday, December 13, 2020 – Pastor Teressa Sivers
Isaiah 57:14-19
Luke 1:1-4, 26-56

I am deeply indebted to the Rev. Jan Richardson, United Methodist clergy, amazing artist, and beautiful poet, for the blessing she wrote based on our Luke reading for today. Hear these prayerful and powerful words:

You hardly knew
how hungry you were
to be gathered in,
to receive the welcome
that invited you to enter
nothing of you
found foreign or strange,
nothing of your life
that you were asked
to leave behind
or to carry in silence
or in shame.

Tentative steps
became settling in,
leaning into the blessing
that enfolded you,
taking your place
in the circle
that stunned you
with its unimagined grace.

You began to breathe again,
to move without fear,
to speak with abandon
the words you carried
in your bones,
that echoed in your being.

You learned to sing.

But the deal with this blessing
is that it will not leave you alone,
will not let you linger
in safety,
in stasis.

The time will come
when this blessing
will ask you to leave,
not because it has tired of you
but because it desires for you
to become the sanctuary
that you have found—
to speak your word
into the world,
to tell what you have heard
with your own ears,
seen with your own eyes,
known in your own heart:

that you are beloved,
precious child of God,
beautiful to behold,*
and you are welcome
and more than welcome


Sanctuary…what is sanctuary? My first thoughts go to the famous scene in the Hunchback of Notre Damewhere Quasimodo saves Esmeralda from certain death, swinging into the cathedral of Notre Dame and crying, “Sanctuary! Sanctuary!” There was a time when church property was true sanctuary for governmental powers had no authority on its grounds. Merriam-Webster dictionary defines sanctuary as “a place of safety, refuge and protections,” and also as “a consecrated place;” such as our church sanctuary or a place set aside as holy. However, I believe that Rev. Jan Richardson captures true sanctuary in her poetic blessing. Sanctuary is where we are welcomed in our entirety—nothing found strange or foreign, nothing of ourselves that must be left outside or kept silent. Sanctuary involves no shame! Sanctuary is where you are welcomes wholly and declared holy…beloved…precious…child of God!

Jan Richardson is brilliant and correct, in today’s reading from Luke, Mary IS making haste to Elizabeth’s home to find sanctuary, a place of safety and refuge and protection. Amy-Jill Levine argue persuasively in her both, The Light of the World, that Mary’s life is not in real, physical danger, but she certainly needed some time and space to process all that the angel said—all that is happening to her. What will her parents say? Will they believe her? What about Joseph? What are the repercussions of this holy pregnancy? How does she feel? What does she think? How does she wrap her mind around this? Mary clings to the lifeline that is offered by the angel Gabriel, her cousin Elizabeth is six months pregnant. She too is grappling with a holy pregnancy. Perhaps she can offer guidance.

In Elizabeth, Mary does indeed find sanctuary in every sense of the world. Elizabeth offers a place of safety, refuge and protection—Sanctuary. The Holy Spirit fills Elizabeth with the flame of passion, creating a consecrated space for the two women to be together—Sanctuary. And Elizabeth goes beyond the dictionary definitions. She welcomes Mary in her entirety, bestowing blessing on the very aspect of her that the world may disbelieve and condemn her for—this pregnancy. And WHAT a blessing Elizabeth offers! It is a blessing that has been prayed by the church across the millennia, is prayed daily by millions and millions of Christians around the world: “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus Christ. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death—Sanctuary!

Elizabeth’s blessing and gift of sanctuary enfold Mary, allow her to “settle in,” and circle her with unimagined grace. It is within this sanctuary that young Miriam (her name in Hebrew, named for Moses’ sister), finds her voice. Mary learns to sing! She raises her voice like her ancient namesake did so many centuries ago. And WHAT a song! It is a song of revolution! It is a song of the great leveling, the great making things right! It is the song of God’s justice made manifest in the world. This song is made possible through the love and support and acceptance and SANCTUARY that Elizabeth offers. Mary’s song becomes a widening spiral. She begins with her personal experience; that one who is lowly is so favored by God, that one who ordinary is so beloved. And then Mary broadens the circle, spirally outward, to include more and more people, to include all people. The arrogant and proud and powerful will be brought down as the lowly are lifted up until they all stand side by side. Mercy and strength meet. Justice and peace kiss.

This…this wondrous story of sanctuary and blessing and revolutionary song and babies and angels…this is OUR story! We are meant to see ourselves here, to take our place in this long, two-chapter Nativity story of Luke. Mary and Joseph are common, every day, every-people names: Mary-Miriam, the sister of Moses and Joseph, the great dreamer of Genesis, who saves his people down in Egypt-land. Mary & Joseph, common people, nobodies from nowhere, proclaim the wonder of God—that all are favored and beloved and precious. Mary and Joseph are chosen by God to participate in the birthing of God’s salvation for all creation. WE are chosen by God to participate in the birthing of God’s salvation for all creation. This is our call—to perceive God’s Kin-dom breaking in all around us, the participate in expanding this Beloved Community, to point others to its presence and guide them into living it with us—pure sanctuary. 

Where might you find and create sanctuary this Advent and Christmas, even in the midst of social isolation and pandemic? Where can you ‘go’ to encounter the blessing of ultimate acceptance? Mary-like, we need to seek it out, not wait for it to find us. We must move with haste in the direction where it can be found: weekly or biweekly outside gathering with a few beloveds (masked and physically distanced) where we can offer words of love, acceptance and support;  regular zooms to share encouragement; an good, old-fashioned pen pal? We settle in to this sanctuary so that, nourished and loved, we will find our voices, learn to sing, cry out for justice. For in doing so, we create the sanctuary we have found for others—where they can find their voices, sing their songs, and create more sanctuary. It is the ever-widening circle that we draw wider and wider still until we find we have drawn it right into Beloved Community, perfect sanctuary, where we are welcomed wholly…holy.

This is our ultimate Christmas gift we can offer to ourselves; sanctuary and song. It is the ultimate gift to offer to the Christ this Christmas—to God, to the Spirit. It is a gift for all the world. As Isaiah says; ‘survey, survey,’ look around, take note, get the lay of things, and build that road through the wilderness to the justice of God. Remove the barriers from God’s people. Let us read that blessing from Jan Richardson again (go to blessing above).

Let us close with our Litany of Belief:

I believe that we have sometimes been silent in the face of injustice AND I believe that we are capable of raising our voices and insisting on goodness for all.

            I believe…help my unbelief.

I believe that we have been afraid of feeling deeply, making our joy small, AND I believe that the deep joy of community can always be present, even in hard times.

            I believe…help my unbelief.

I believe that sometimes we wonder if we can make a difference AND I believe that small acts of kindness and help do make a real difference.

            I believe…help my unbelief.

We believe, even when we are discouraged. We believe that when we are discouraged, raising our voices for justice will offer us joy!

            I believe…help my unbelief.

We believe…help our unbelief. Amen.

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