“Stir up your might, and come to save us!” Psalm 80:2b
“Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, ‘Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body you have prepared for me…See, God, I have come to do your will...’” Hebrews 10:5-7
“When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the child leaped in her womb.” Luke 1:41a
See today’s full Revised Standard Lectionary texts here.
Stir Up Sunday should be featured on an episode of The Great British Baking Show: Masterclass (please tell me you’ve seen these; Aaron and I are obsessed).
On the last Sunday of the church year traditional liturgy rises in a cognate with Psalm 80:2: “Excita, quæsumus, Domine…,” “Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord…” While hailing the divine, this liturgical invocation has also summoned many a British homemaker, cook, and baker to stir up their Christmas pudding so that it has time to mature before the big day.
I find the tradition charming and have embraced the fun injunction this Advent season through Sunday bakeathons.
But that phrase, excita , has stuck with me. Three out of the four Advent Sundays also begin with excita, calling congregations deep into the active wait for Christ.
When the invitation is made to God, however, as it is in today’s psalm, the question haunts me. What does it mean to say, “Stir up thy might, O God”?
What does God’s might look like? What am I really asking?
Gruesome images come to mind of a wraith on horseback or an Old Testament bloodbath. And then comes the nightmarish power displays from another age. Bombings, military parades, and children detained and dying at borders.
Twentieth century theologian Karl Barth saw such things with his eyes.
On the heels of German progressivism, he witnessed the worst humanity could do through both World Wars and their holocaust. He saw human morality in an absolute state of chaos and determined that progressivism was naïve at best and a delusion at worst. Humankind can never fully achieve the good, he thought—and power as we see it expressed in the world is case in point.
God’s power is not like our power, he said, over and over again. Almost like he was trying to keep his sanity.
Barth taught me that Christ as we encounter him in scripture is the clearest expression we have of who and what God is. Though humans must always approach even this testament with fear and trembling—rather than rigid absolutism—we can begin to wonder about God through Jesus.
So when I have questions or anxieties about God, when I feel afraid, I look to Jesus.
What do we see of might in Christ? How does he answer the psalmist’s prayer for God to stir up God’s might and come to save us?
There are of course scenes of the adult Jesus tossing tables and expelling demons. There is also the God-man on the cross, the forsaken one, the nevertheless loving one.
What is there is not a swashbuckling messiah or a human sacrifice to an angry god. No.
Instead, “a body you have prepared for me,” he said (Hebrews 10:5). God’s might stirs life into being.
This is how God stirs up might to save us. Salvation comes not in hellish slaughters or displays of violence, but in the forming of a body, the growing of a body that needed time to conceive, develop; that needed space within the womb and a breast for succor.
The might of God saves us by becoming completely defenseless and dependent.
God’s power is not like our power.
As I type my own babe stirs in my womb. In that secret place a new life is coming into being. She tosses and kicks; my body attunes to hers. I close my eyes, sink into myself, and lay aside my defenses and fears—listening with all that I am to meet the stranger becoming within. I wonder at her patterns of sleep, stretch, and strike. I wonder about the shape of the little foot pressing against my hand, the little noggin rocking into my ribs, the little presence revealing realms I never knew were there.
And I know—I know—that she is so other, completely beyond my design and determination.
She is she, not me. I can only receive her as she is.
And yet somehow she is here, she is my own—mine to care for, to engage with, to learn from, and to love beyond life itself.
Mary and Elizabeth knew the stirring of God’s might. They felt the kicks and caresses of salvation from within at its very beginnings.
As we pray excita one last time this Advent season, we might try the posture of these power-full pregnant women.
We might lay aside our defenses and preconceived notions about God and the particulars of God’s salvation and attune ourselves instead to the wild and other being conceived within us. We can open to the salvation of Christ, not the salvation we choose.
We can discern the mighty work that needs time to mature,
that stretches us, that tickles and pains us,
that marks us, blesses us,
and that leads us to new birth.
Stir up thy might, O God, and come to save us.
May we be willing to receive you in wonder just as you are.