Mary: Turning the World Luke 1: 46-55
Rev. Debra Bowman, Ryerson United Church
Dec. 11, 2016
Our reading from the Bible today included the words that Mary, the mother of Jesus spoke, when the angel told her that she would have a baby, and that that baby would change the world. Her reaction, what she said, is called The Magnificat. It’s a bit like Martin Luther King’s famous “I had a dream speech’ except, Mary said it a long, long time before he did.
There is a saying that I like about stories of our faith: I don’t know if it happened this way, but I know it’s true. We don’t know the facts of the story of Jesus’ birth, but what we do know is true is that somehow, somewhere Jesus came in to the world and he lived and talked about God’s love for the world in a way that made people experience hope, peace, joy and love as truth, as real, and as being very close to them.
We usually think of Mary as a young, acquiescent girl, not someone with much will of her own, really not much more than a vessel for God’s coming realm. But Mary didn’t just agree to birth a child, she agreed to be the first one to sign on for a revolution, a cosmic revolution in which the world would be about to turn. Mary literally put her body and her life on the line. The Magnificat, the song in which she sings of God’s justice and her part in bringing it forth, is not the soft soliloquy of a puzzled young person with no will of her own – it is a celebration of God’s drawing, near – and her role, and our role in it.
As we sang her song in worship last week it struck me that her words speak to us in a more urgent way these days, her words rouse us from fear and anxiety to taking our place in the turning of the world. We’ll sing it during the offering time, and I invite you to notice, to really notice, the call to not just hope but action that the rephrasing of her words, and the music call us to.
Recently I came across an article about Mary and I want to share some of it with you:
Luke’s is the only gospel in which Mary’s story appears, and in his account there is nothing submissive nor immature about her. According to Luke, the Angel approached her with words of great honor: Hail Mary, full of grace. Many artists paint the angel kneeling, in recognition of the honor given to her. The angel is [clear]; the honor is for the grace that is distinctly [Mary’s]. This is a courtship scene. The angel is wooing her, on bended knee, a suitor – not a constable bringing a decree.
It is Mary’s grace that has attracted God’s attention. And what is this grace? It is what Luke shows us in her conversation and her actions – courage, boldness, grit, ringing convictions about justice. Not submissive meekness. Grace is not submission. And the power of God is never meek.
Many women in biblical stories appear in domestic settings. Sarah is in her tent, baking cakes. Rachel is drawing water at the well. Bathsheba is taking a bath. Martha is fussing around in the kitchen. The woman who lost a coin is sweeping the house. But with Mary, there is no evidence of any domestic work on her part. We never find her cooking, cleaning, washing up. The evidence offered us is her love of adventure. What we find her doing, over and over, is traveling, in journeys that involve risks and an element of danger.
Her recital of the Magnificat is a political manifesto, delivered fairly publicly, in the home of an official temple priest…. In Mary’s manifesto there is evidence of deep thought, strong conviction, and a good deal of political savvy.
None of this gibes with the idea that she is a young teenage girl. The Greek word Luke uses for virgin is an unusual one, a very specific word that means she has not yet born a child. Its precise meaning does not indicate sexual innocence. So let’s be clear: the focus is on her womb …[and her openness to housing God, to hosting the incoming kindom of God].
Mary, wanted by God, according to the angel, for her bold, independent, adventuresome spirit, decides to bear a holy child – for a bold agenda: to bring the mighty down from their thrones; to scatter the proud in the imagination of their hearts, to fill the hungry with good things and send the rich empty away. This is Mary: well-spoken, wise, gritty.
Traveling alone, like every prophet before her, she sets out on her first journey, to her cousin Elizabeth’s house, to declare her agenda. There will be more journeys: to Bethlehem; to Egypt and back; to Jerusalem when Jesus is twelve; to Jerusalem when he is crucified.
She gives birth in a barn, lies down animals, and welcomes weathered shepherds in the middle of the night. She is determined, not [docile]; free, not foolish; holy, not helpless; strong, not submissive. She beckons women everywhere to speak out for God’s justice, which is waiting to be born into this world.
(No More Lying About Mary December 3, 2015 by Nancy Rockwell
Recent events in our world are making it clear that it is time for all of us to welcome the kindom of God. And by that I don’t mean you need to become Christian, or even a believer, although I think it helps give us strength and hope in the face of some pretty grim realities. I do mean, that in a time when racism, and misogyny, and fear of the immigrant and prejudice against people of colour is on the rise, when all those peace-denying activities are on the rise not just below the border but in our country and neighbourhoods, each one of us needs to find in our own way a song of resistance, and a song of solidarity with the sacred desire for justice, for hope, peace, joy and love to reign.
Meister Eckhart, a 13th Century mystic wrote: We are all called to be mothers of God – for God is always waiting to be born. There is urgency now in that waiting, a time for us to decide how to be the voices of peace in our world. May God give us each a song, and may we sing with the courage and grace and guts of Mary.