"Breath of Heaven"

Sermon December 21, 2014

Luke 1:39-55



          I have traveled many moonless nights, cold and weary with a babe inside,

          And I wonder what I’ve done.

Holy God, you have come and chosen me now to carry your son.


One of the dangers of a familiar story is that we often take it for granted. We are so busy moving forward into this season of Advent that we don’t stop and think about how terrifying it must have been for a young girl to be chosen by God. She said yes, but there must have been so many questions. Why me? What if I can’t do this? Is there some other way? What about Joseph? How many songs did she sing before the Magnificat? I wonder if her first song was a little less confident…


I am waiting in a silent prayer, I am frightened by the load I bear.

In a world as cold as stone, must I walk this path alone?

Be with me now, be with me now.


Terry Tempest William’s book When Women Were Birds says, “In Mormon culture, women are expected to do two things: keep a journal and bear children. Both gestures are a participatory bow to the past and to the future.” (p. 20) The book is based on a mystery. Before her mother dies, she tells Terry that she is leaving all her journals to her. After she dies, Terry goes to the journals (one for each year) and opens them. They are all blank! The book is an attempt to understand her mother’s voice. What was she thinking? Terry describes picking up journal after journal and discovering that they were all blank. To illustrate, she follows with several blank pages in her own book. I found myself racing through the blank pages looking for the next words as if they would comfort me somehow…as if that is the job of a book. I was curious at my own discomfort in the series of blank pages.


Those stark, blank pages call to mind the times when there simply are no words. Perhaps you know what I mean…moments beautiful beyond belief when the most we can utter is a gasp; moments so devastating that all we can do is reach for the hand of another; moments of utter loss when we stand in the gap and wait for something to show us the next step. In the wake of so many tragic events this fall and the news from Pakistan this week, I open my mouth to speak and find only emptiness: blank pages. There are no words to explain, to comfort, to ease our despair. What holds us together in times like these? Can we trust that there is light in the darkness even if we can’t see it? Before Mary sang, did she wait in the darkness, in the emptiness, filled with terror and loneliness? When we find ourselves lost in the darkness fearful and alone, we may find that God meets us in the gap where words fall short.


Breath of Heaven, hold me together, be forever near me, Breath of Heaven.

Breath of Heaven, lighten my darkness, pour over me your holiness

for you are holy, Breath of Heaven.


The word magnificat means to magnify. In this poem, Mary focuses her lens on a God who is not only great, but also good. She moves from her own fear to looking at the one who has called her. She recognizes that hope is not found in her own greatness, but in the one whose love and mercy goes beyond human imagination. She rejoices in a God who keeps promises and cares for people in such tender ways. She celebrates from her place on the margins as the one who has been chosen to carry God. This song is deeply personal and it is a song of a God who is changing the world through the birth of a child. It is a song of joy and hope sung by one who is risking her life by saying yes. She could be stoned for carrying this child.


Each year Christmas pageants portray Mary as a passive, boring character. She walks in at the end and stands there looking angelic as if her role in this magnificent story is just showing up. But Mary is a young woman of great courage. She stands at the edge of society and sings of a God who has done great things, has shown mercy and strength, scattered the proud, brought down the powerful and lifted up the lowly, filled the hungry and sent the rich away empty.

Breath of Heaven.

Where did she find this song? How did she go from being a terrified teenager, to a young woman whose confidence is grounded in God?

Breath of Heaven

Somehow she went to the deepest place inside and found words to describe a God who is beyond words.


For you are holy, Breath of Heaven.


What if the Magnificat, one of the most powerful pieces of poetry in scripture grew out of a faltering prayer, a simple, “help me”? What if she somehow understood that this wasn’t about who she was or what she was capable of? What if she woke up and understood that it was about allowing God to be God in and through her?


Do you wonder as you watch my face, if a wiser one should have had my place?

But I offer all I am for the mercy of your plan.

Help me be strong, help me be…

Help me.


We tend to think in terms of what we have to offer; of what we can and can’t do and forget that faith means opening ourselves to the fullness of God. One of the most profound examples of faith is Mary saying yes despite all her uncertainty. She was saying yes to God and shifting her focus from her own inadequacy to the one who can heal our world.


This story asks us to believe the impossible and take our place in it. It is not a story for bystanders. Everyone is invited to peek into the manger to witness the miracle before us and proclaim it to the world. It asks us to step into the fullness of God with us and allow God to be born in us. Who knows what will happen then?


Breath of Heaven, hold me together, be forever near me, Breath of Heaven.

Breath of Heaven, lighten my darkness, pour over me your holiness

for you are holy, Breath of Heaven.


Elizabeth tells Mary that John “leaped for joy” in her womb at the sound of Mary’s greeting. Mary’s song is one of joy at a God who fills the world with goodness. She sings with hope trusting that God is bringing healing to a world full of hurt. There are many who are hurting this morning. As we prepare for the coming of Christ, many in our world have put away their Christmas decorations. It is just too painful. Yet, it is into this world of brokenness and despair that God steps and brings hope. We are invited to say yes without even fully understanding what yes means. We may find that with our yes comes a song of hope from some deep place inside.


A song like that doesn’t deny the reality of suffering, but it acknowledges that, with God, suffering is never the last word. It recognizes God is at work even now, even in the darkness, even in the uncertainty, even in the emptiness. That is what hope looks like. It doesn’t suggest that we have reached the happy ending we dreamed about. It acknowledges that God is in all things.


Breath of Heaven, hold me together, be forever near me, Breath of Heaven.

Breath of Heaven, lighten my darkness, pour over me your holiness

for you are holy, Breath of Heaven.


Terry Tempest Williams says, “Once upon a time, when women were birds, there was the simple understanding that to sing at dawn and to sing at dusk was to heal the world through joy. The birds still remember what we have forgotten, that the world is meant to be celebrated.”  (When Women Were Birds by Terry Tempest Williams, p. 205)


Breath of Heaven

We can trust in that and celebrate as we wait for Christ to come in our midst.

Breath of Heaven

We can open our mouths and release the joyful song that is growing within us.

Breath of Heaven

We can magnify God and say yes.



*Breath of Heaven (Mary’s Song) – Words and Music by Chris Eaton and Amy Grant