The following is a sermon Brenda Kronemeijer-Heyink preached earlier this month at Wine Before Breakfast.
These past few months I have deeply appreciated the lyrics of the song “Wake up Jesus” by The Porter’s Gate. The song stood out to me at first because Jesus in the storm is one of my daughter’s favourite Jesus’ stories, but I have kept listening to it as the words have resonated with how I feel this season. When I look at the world around me – at the injustices we hear about and the suffering connected to covid-19 – I feel as lost as Jesus’ disciples on the raging sea.
And I wonder, Jesus when are you going to wake up? Don’t you care that we’re drowning?
This song captures Advent, especially Advent this year. We are in the middle of a storm. Waves of anger and hurt crash over us. Polarization and frustration rain down us. The wind blowing over us carries the cries of the downtrodden. Our boat has been shaped by the systems of privilege that help some of us but do tremendous harm to others of us.
We’re sailing blind in the middle of that boat, not sure if we should jump out or hold on. We catch glimpses of the suffering around us: domestic abuse, gun violence, empty stomachs, discrimination. But we also realize how little we see when most of our attention is focused on our own feeble attempts at staying afloat.
Jesus, wake up. Gracious God, do something.
Come and heal this world.
Don’t you care that we’re drowning here?
Wake up already and calm this raging sea.
I find it easy to imagine the panic of the disciples in the storm, as it echoes my own sense of being overwhelmed.
When I tell this story to my small daughter, though, her reaction is not that of being overwhelmed. Jesus in the storm is really one of her favourite Jesus stories, and she interacts with and interprets the story with the enthusiasm – and wisdom – of a 3-year-old.
When I start talking about how the disciples are panicking because of the wind and the waves and the rain, and they start looking for Jesus to come fix things, I ask my daughter where Jesus is. And she enthusiastically replies that Jesus is sleeping. Perhaps her enthusiasm is because she recognizes the absurdity of the situation – that in the middle of the raging sea Jesus is sleeping.
But perhaps my daughter’s answer is one of joy because she knows what comes next in the story. The disciples go to Jesus and tell him to Wake up. Jesus, Save us. Jesus, wake up. And sometimes my daughter lets me know that the disciples must have stolen Jesus’ blankets to help him wake up. And just like her Papa responds so well when you pull the blankets off him in the morning, Jesus must also have woken up. And when Jesus wakes up, he tells the wind, the waves, and the rain to stop. And they stop. And things are restored to the way they ought to be.
When I tell my daughter this story, I am struck by her complete and utter conviction of how things ought to be. Of course, Jesus will wake up. Of course, Jesus will fix things. Of course, Jesus can be asleep in the middle of chaos – because he sees and knows things that his disciples – and we – do not.
When I listen and read Mary’s song, I hear that same conviction. The words Mary speaks are the words of someone who knows how the story ought to end. Mary knows the stories of God redeeming the people of Israel. She knows that the Messiah’s coming will change everything. She knows that God will keep the promises made long ago to the people of Israel.
Because Mary knew these stories and knew she belonged to the Mighty God who does great things, she could sing this song, a song that was active resistance and fierce hope. Because as much as Mary’s song is a song of elation – of joy that the Messiah is coming and that she gets to play a part – it is also a song that is sung in a time when Mary’s words were not obvious – like us, Mary was living in a time when it wasn’t obvious how God was working.
As much as Mary knew the stories of how God had acted in the past, she and her people were living in a time when God seemed silent. The great stories of Elijah and Hana were from the distant past. Despite the fiery message of the prophets, the people had gone into exile. While some returned, as the books of Ezra and Nehemiah tells us, it was only a small remnant. And after that came the Greeks, and then the Romans. Even Judas Maccabeus, who had looked like he might be able to rescue the Jewish people, was more than a hundred years in the past.
Mary’s song is more powerful because of the context in which it is sung. She is singing out of the conviction of who God has been to the people of Israel and out of trust in the promises that God has made – and not primarily out of her current situation as a young woman whose people had not been free for centuries.
Furthermore, Mary sings this song even though she does not yet know what will happen in her own future – she does not know if she will be rejected by Joseph and forced to raise her child alone, if she even survives childbirth. She didn’t yet know that Jesus would reject her one day or that she would witness the world’s rejection of him with his death on the cross. She did not know what would happen and yet, because of who she knew God to be – the Mighty One who does great things – because of this she declared that all people would one day call her blessed.
It is one thing to sing this song of joy when all is well. It is another thing to sing these words about God’s mercy from generation to generation, words of how God has shown strength and scattered the proud – when you were still waiting for those to happen in your own life. Mary expected Jesus to be the answer. And he was and is, but perhaps not exactly the way Mary or even we expect.
Because of Jesus, the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. (Matthew 11). Because of Jesus everything has changed. But the changes are not always how we want them to be. Jesus didn’t come as king into Jerusalem and conquer the Romans. Instead, his love and power were shown by his laying his life down. Even Mary’s song invites us into this revolutionary way of power and love – letting go of our own power, riches, and privilege so that we might be part of what Jesus started – a kingdom where all are welcomed, the silenced are given voices, the loud are invited to listen, and all have enough.
Because of Jesus’ life and the Spirit’s working in this world for hundreds of years, we now know more than Mary did about how the Mighty God has done great things for all people. At the same time, we, like Mary, haven’t lived to the end of the story yet. We often feel like we are still in the middle of the storm waiting for Jesus to wake up, waiting for God to come and heal us and this world.
In Advent, we name the difficulty of living in the middle of the storm, living in the middle of the story. As we celebrate Christmas, especially when we long for things to be different, we need to be reminded of the whole story – and that we, like Mary, can be certain of how the story ends. Mary’s song of active resistance and fierce hope is a reminder to us of how God has worked in the world and will continue to do so.
By singing this song with her, we can find hope when all seems hopeless, courage enough to keep fighting the waves of injustice and despair around us, and strength to turn to each other and Jesus when the storm overwhelms us.
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.