First Lutheran Church
December 20, 2014
MARY SAID YES
Last week, I spoke about Mary’s consent to submit to the will of God to be the mother of Jesus, the Incarnation, the Word Made Flesh.
This week’s passage which contains her visit to Elizabeth fleshes out a bit of what that means. Over the past 2 centuries much (or little) has been made about Mary, who she was, what her status is in the church and the faith, how she is a model (or not) for faithful disciples through the ages. At some point in medieval history, Mary’s place supplanted that of Christ himself. Superstition and speculation painted her as the Gentle Mother who stood between the powerless masses and the wrath of her angry son, leading people to pray to her rather than to God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Reformers were right to challenge that as a perversion of the Truth of the Gospel. They insisted that the Written and Proclaimed Word, that is, Scripture and preaching, be the source and model of discipleship and truth. But, they went so far in the other direction, as an anti-Catholicism backlash grew that Mary became almost a non-entity. A more recent portrait of Mary is sentimental schlock—the submissive and quiet young woman who simply does what she is told with no will of her own.
Yet Mary is part of the sacred story and we cannot sentimentalize, venerate or ignore her. Luke gives her the most consideration is his telling of the Gospel. Her spontaneous outburst in song echoes Hannah’s song when she discovers she is pregnant with Samuel, the great Old Testament prophet. Like Hannah, Mary sings out of her own experience and hope, but also out of the experience and hope of her people. These are not private prayers which celebrate private graces. The Magnificat is a lovely expression of joy at God’s promises kept, a celebration of the tables being turned, or overturned: the lowly are lifted up, the proud are brought down, and the hungry are fed. God remembers the people of Israel, and the promises God has made to them. Mary says yes to all of this, not to magnify herself but to magnify the Lord.
It takes a magnitude of courage to submit to the will of God for oneself. Mary found courage beyond all human expectation when she submitted to the will of God for the life of the entire world. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is always told as the story of faith in community. This is not just the private story of Mary and Elizabeth, but the story of God and his people. Yet it is told in the simplicity and beauty of two kindred women, clinging to one another, finding the courage to do that which God chose them to do. Women and babies are seldom considered powerful or important people, yet in this short passage, the prophetic words of these two women, filled with the Holy Spirit, give voice to those who are lowly, like the shepherds to whom the angels later announce the birth of Jesus.
In his book, The Road to Daybreak: A Spiritual Journey, Henri Nouwen provides a thoughtful reflection on the encounter between Elizabeth and Mary. While they sing of the great God who brings the mighty down, they meet to share the ancient, womanly experience of having a baby. Mary and Elizabeth are two ordinary, pregnant women in the most extraordinary time and circumstances, tending to their relationship with each other and God. For them, motherhood was unexpected and daunting, one past the age of conceiving, and the other young and unmarried. Like women in every place and time, they spend time together in support as they face first-time childbirth and motherhood.
One wonders how these two humble women must have felt about what was happening in their lives. Who could ever believe it? Who could ever let it happen? But Mary says, Let it happen to me, immediately realizing that only Elizabeth will know and understand. Human gestation and extraordinary events take time to unfold and they needed each other to ponder the great works of God, for whom nothing is impossible. In community, these women nurtured and loved these babies who would embody God’s most radical intervention into human history.
Mary’s song is music that comes from deep within her. She sings of God’s blessings in her life and of her vision of God redeeming the whole world. She sings of God filling the hungry with good things and sending the rich away empty. This is not a call to violent revolt, but they are disturbing words to those who really pay attention to them. We join her song every Christmas Eve when we sing He rules the world with truth and grace, and makes the nations prove the glories of God’s righteousness and wonders of God’s love. This is not a song to make nice people feel good about their personal piety, but a song glorifying the Lord who chooses to come to save his people from their sins. It is a song of radical discipleship, living in abundance and generosity.
This is the biblical vision for the future, but we live in the present, bound by the linear unfolding of time and space. Yet, when the holy touches the human, eternity breaks forth. Through the power of the Holy Spirit Mary imagined this future for all people, not in the future but in the past, as if the promise had already been fulfilled. Prophets seem never get their verb tenses straight, because they see the world as God sees it. They see eternity unfolding in mystery as it moves toward linear time.
In the season of Advent, our waiting is accompanied by beautiful and treasured music. The power of Christmas carols speak to the deep places of our wanderings from and wonderings about God. This music is imprinted on our hearts and souls as Mary’s song was imprinted on hers. In a world that longs for the birth of the prince of peace, we stand with Mary, filled with expectant hope and joy because we also catch glimpses of eternity breaking into time, of promises yet to come. Mary said yes and today we say yes with her.
To God be all glory. Amen.
~ Interim Pastor Helen Rose Moore