Sermon: The Year of the Lord’s Favor

December 13, 2020

Third Sunday of Advent
Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11

Luke 1:46b-55

by Eric Anderson

Nobody had ever heard of a mejiro who didn’t sing, but there she was: she was a mejiro, and she didn’t sing.

Her friends found it a puzzling personality quirk of someone that they loved quite a bit. It worried her parents, and things that are different from how they’d been when they were that age usually worry parents. It was, sadly, something of a topic of fun and derision for birds that didn’t know her well. You know how there’s always somebody who’ll make fun of somebody based on, well, on anything at all?

It turns out that there are bullies among the birds, too.

She wasn’t worried about the bullies, and she was glad of the support of her friends, even if they did seem rather pitying at times. There were these moments when one or two of them would start on a song, glance at her, look at each other, and say, “We can do this later.” She was grateful to be included, or at least not excluded, but not singing didn’t mean that she didn’t enjoy it when others did it. She found herself growing tired of being treated with kid gloves, only she didn’t call it that because mejiro don’t really have much idea what gloves are.

She was, however, somewhat inclined to the same worry that her parents had. She didn’t sing. Did that mean something was wrong with her? In fact, she’d tried some experiments with singing. She could produce notes, all right. There wasn’t anything wrong with her voice. Bringing out more than a chirp, or the tones of polite conversation, however, and, well. Nothing came out.

She went to see her grandfather. He always seemed to care and never seemed to be really unsettled by anything. He could tell her if something was wrong – even better, he’d help her be calm if something really was wrong.

He listened. He thought. He asked, “You can sing a note?”

She could, and she did.

“But when you go to sing a longer song, what happens?”

“I can’t find a note. Nothing comes out.”

“What happens when you really want to sing?”

She thought about this, and slowly said, “I’m not sure I’ve ever really wanted to sing. I’ve wanted to be like other mejiro, but I don’t know that I’ve ever wanted to sing.”

Grandfather nodded. “Since there’s nothing wrong with your voice, and there’s nothing wrong with you, I think you’ll sing when there’s a song for you to sing. None of us can know when that will happen, or even be sure that it will happen, but just keep your voice strong and your senses open. There’s at least one song inside you. When it wants to come out, it will come out.”

She worried less after that.

One day she was flying about over one of the newer lava flows below Pu’u O’o. The wind whirled her about and the clouds raced overhead. The sun would hide one minute, then emerge the next and turned the dark gray rock below into a sudden kaleidoscope of flashes and colors. She rested for a bit on the open rock, looked at its devastation and wonder.

A low note, the low note of lamentation, began to hum in her throat. It wandered over the black rock and beneath it to the trees and plants inundated below. But then it began to follow the flowing stone, swirling in its ropy contours, and suddenly glistening like ice in the sun. The notes took flight over the landscape.

She was singing.

Though she was some distance away, other mejiro heard and came to listen. The song changed from past to present and ventured into future, breaking rock into soil by water and by root, rising into tiny ferns, growing into bushes, blossoming into naupaka flowers. The other mejiro were not spell-bound but music-bound as the song went on.

When she finished, the song was clearly not done, for the future has many possibilities and no one song can follow them all, but there would be time for more later. Her grandfather alighted next to her.

“I hear that you found a song you had to sing,” he said.

“Yes, grandfather,” she said. “I think I did.”

I wonder how 2020 will be described in history texts of the future. One of the curious things about pandemics of the past is how they nearly disappear from later accounts. How many know that Martin Luther lived during an outbreak of bubonic plague in 1527, and wrote about it? How is it that we forgot about the smallpox outbreak during Lili’uokalani’s regency in 1881? I understand about the end of World War I being a big marker for 1918, but how do we pass over the worldwide influenza pandemic that was so horrific that death toll estimates range from 17 to 50 million people? I wonder if 2020 will be remembered for the election which wasn’t all that close or difficult to count and yet is being carelessly discounted and discredited by those who care more about – what? – than about the social understandings that make a republic possible.

Well. I’m even likely to take off on a tangent. 2020 has been… momentous, if only in the sense of “full of moments.”

What it has not been is the year of the Lord’s favor. It has not been the fulfillment of the Magnificat.

Quite literally, we are unable to properly comfort the mourners in the world right now, whether their loved ones died of COVID-19 or of something else. The things we do to comfort are, by and large, gifts of presence, and presence is the greatest risk factor in our lives these days. We are not building ancient ruins, we are ruining social understandings, mostly by holding some accountable and others not, and the glaring disparity between the two groups is skin color. Last night men associated with the racist Proud Boys stripped Black Lives Matter signs from Asbury Methodist Church in Washington, DC, a predominantly African-American congregation, and burned them. This week a Wall Street Journal opinion writer condescendingly advised Dr. Jill Biden, who is married to the President-Elect, to stop using the title “doctor” because she has earned a Doctor of Education rather than a Doctor of Medicine degree. It was abundantly clear from the piece, however, that the writer’s issue was a woman’s claim of achievement and authority, not a discussion of what courtesy titles we give people.

Oh, yes, and the newspaper printed this drivel.

I promise you that the rest of the world is not watching the United States’ rising infections and deaths from COVID-19 – we lead the world – and acknowledging that we are a people whom the LORD has blessed.

Isaiah’s vision in one sense was fulfilled centuries ago when the exiles returned from Babylon and did, indeed, rebuild the ancient ruins of Jerusalem. In another sense, however, it remains a vision of the future. If this has indeed been the year of the Lord’s favor, sign me up for another God.


Mary did something casual and absolutely stunning when she sang her song hundreds of years later. The situation was completely different, of course. She was no exile; she lived in her own country. She lived under foreign occupation, but it probably didn’t change the life of a poor village woman very much. She was the recipient of a promise – to be the mother of someone who would change things greatly – and she had just heard from her cousin a confirmation of that blessing.

By the way, if you ever wonder whether your words of support and affirmation for someone make a difference, remember that Mary heard an angel’s words and said, “Let it be with me according to your word.” She heard Elizabeth’s words, her very human words, and created this amazing song.

What did Mary do? The same thing Hannah had done centuries before, but which Isaiah had not: she sang her song of praise in the present tense. Isaiah said, “They shall build;” Mary sang, “the Mighty One has done great things for me.” Mary’s entire magnificent Magnificat gives thanks for what has already come to be, not for things that lie ahead in the future.

Even though the proud are quite content in the thoughts of their hearts. Even though the powerful are quite happy on their thrones. Even though the lowly remain low and the hungry remain hungry. Even though the rich are full, full, full.

The correction of those things, Mary believed and treasured in her heart, was in the advent of the Anointed One promised for years and now taking shape within her.

Cheryl Lindsay writes at, “If we attend to the words of Isaiah’s mission, which we know was also Christ’s mission, and therefore, is also our co-mission, we recognize that the mission itself is simple, if not easy. They invite us to turn our gaze on the other and their condition. The goal here is not simply to witness it or to pray on their behalf. It is to bring good news to the marginalized and oppressed like we carry a gift that we’ve purchased for someone. But this is not our gift to give, we give it on behalf of God by the anointing of the Holy Spirit.”

The year of the Lord’s favor is already here because Christ has come, Jesus has been born, and Mary’s song has been treasured for its truth down the centuries. But the year of the Lord’s favor has also not come because we have not recognized the way it summons us to organize our lives. Instead, we have been content to accept the years of the world’s favor, or of the empire’s favor, or of the comfortable-in-their-power’s favor. We have not brought the good news to the marginalized or oppressed in a way that’s recognizable for long. We have not raised others or ourselves to be called oaks of righteousness.

As we move toward 2021, how can we guide our community and our nation so it looks less like the stratified, racist, sexist, society we have known (and loved, let’s face it, because this is our home and we love it)? How can we make it look more like the year of the Lord’s favor? How can we embrace the vision of Mary and let it shape reality?

That is a home we can and will love more.


Watch the Recorded Sermon

The video above includes the entire worship service of December 13, 2020. Clicking “Play” will jump to the beginning of the sermon.

Variations from the prepared text are… normal. We hope they’re improvements, but they’re certainly normal.

The image of The Visitation is part of a fresco in the Church of Santa Sofia, Benevento, Italy; Public Domain,

Categories Sermons | Tags: | Posted on December 13, 2020

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