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Mary’s Magnificat

Advent 4, Common Lectionary Year B

Luke 1:47-55

©2014 Rev. Elisabeth R. Jones

Audio file

“How do you solve a problem like Maria?”
She is a bit of a problem.
For Roman Catholics and for
the Orthodox traditions,
Mary is the “God-Bearer”
– almost a deity in her own right,
Queen of heaven, Star of the sea, miracle worker,
the great Intercessor and Mother of mercy.
She is the subject of more Christian art of
the Middle Ages than her son.
She is clad in blue and gold, the model of piety, virginity, obedience.
Protestant Christians, from the 16th century onwards
have rejected such a lofty status
for the mother of Jesus,
and she has been largely consigned to the shadows,
allowed to come into view only at Christmas time,
as a necessary agent in the drama
of God’s incarnation.

As I talked with colleagues a few weeks ago at our lectionary study group,
I discovered that those who had grown up
in the UCC, or the Presbyterian church
had either never heard
nor ever preached a sermon about Mary,
so reticent to step into the muddied waters
of theological debate.
One colleague said
“How do you even find Mary under all this…. tradition?”

Good question, and really the only answer is
to go back to Scripture,
and in particular to Luke,
who seems, more than the other Gospels,
to be really interested in this young woman
in her own right.
Luke doesn’t portray her as a mere vessel,
as a rose-strewn, maternal plant pot
for the seed of God.
He definitely does NOT portray her as
simpering, simple, or submissive,
far from it.
For Luke, this is a woman with a soul,
heart and mind, and guts,
all working to put the pieces of
holy and human mystery together.

Trouble is, we often rush past these first, critical details about her
in our rush to get to the birth in Bethlehem.

So let’s slow ourselves down and notice her first action in Luke’s Gospel.
It’s a deep frown, perplexity, and inner questions.
And no wonder; her ordinary, predictable,
engaged-to-be-married world
has just been invaded by the Holy.
A massive celestial presence has just declared her
to be among all women, favoured, blessed.

How would we react?
The same, no doubt;
and this is Luke’s intent;
to get us to identify with this young woman,
right from the start.
For really, how many of us truly believe
that God is with us,
favouring us, blessing us
in our workaday world?
Not many.
Granted, here, and now,
this Fourth Sunday of Advent,
perhaps, we may feel the brush of God’s presence.
But for the most part, we have a hard time believing that God even notices us, let alone blesses us.

So, we share her frown,
stand with her suspension of belief.
We identify with her ordinariness and wariness
“How can this be?”
She and we ask.

As Mary listens to the voice of the Dream of God,
tumbling from the golden lips of Gabriel,
Luke’s hope is that we do will be drawn into it,
word, by word, hearing them as words for us:
“God blesses you, with hope,
God gifts you with the pregnancy of possibility,
that through you, and your “Yes,”
the impossible will happen, and the world will turn.”

Mary has the advantage over many of us though,
for she hears in Gabriel’s words
the songs of her childhood, her ancestors,
she can sing the refrain,
“O, that you would tear open the heavens,
and come down to touch the earth
with mercy and justice!”
She recognizes the ancient pedigree
of this new promise:
she knows she stands with sisters reaching back
to the dawn of time,
sisters whose wombs have cradled the promise of God:
Sarah, Hagar, Rachel, Hannah, Ruth, Elizabeth.
Like the solstice sun breaking the grip of winter,
new life, new hope, new possibility settle into her soul,
her body.
Forget the seated, pious, passive Mary you see
in these images!
Imagine instead, an adolescent,
feisty young woman,
rebellion and integrity jostling within her
as she learns the ugliness and beauty of the world.
There’s fire in her eyes,
every muscle from her neck to her ankles taut,
ready to spring into an unknown future,
smitten for the first time with the realization that
she can by her actions,
her conviction, her commitment, her will, her voice,
turn the world.

This is Mary,
She is Luke’s first prophet!
She is his first Gospeller!
And she picks up the ancient song
and makes it hers!

And listen to her sing!

“My heart shall sing of the day you bring,
let the fires of your justice burn,
wipe away all tears, for the dawn draws near
and the world is about to turn.”

She sings of God,
tearing the heavens to come into the world,
with fierce mercy and tender justice,
pulling the power hungry down,
and lifting the forgotten from the gutter.
It is a song of holy revolution,
to Abraham and Sarah and their children
in every generation.

A song of God’s revolution has sparked fires
of hope in every generation of those who hunger
and thirst for mercy, justice, truth and freedom.
A song of God’s revolution that has been
banned, censored, silenced, and sweetened
by those in power in every century and continent.

It was Luke’s hope, that in telling Mary’s story,
all of it, we would, like her, find a way to move
from hopeless doubt, to doubtful hope,
and then to fearless, faithful commitment
to birth the Dream of God into the world,
for the world’s turning.
If you are in any doubt that such things are impossible,
then let me remind you of when you’ve heard
Mary’s Magnificat sung in our own day, for the turning of the world.
You’ve heard it sung on the Freedom March,
in the protests against nuclear armament.
We’ve heard and sung Magnificats
to end apartheid,
to bring about the beginnings of truth and reconciliation,
to call for ecological recovery at all levels of society.

Mary’s Song has had new verses added to it
as women and men find a voice to speak out against
racism, misogyny, violence against women.
The Magnificat of solidarity is hash-tagged
“I can’t breathe” “I’ll walk with you.”

A Magnificat of four words
was sung quietly by
Rinelle Harper, 16 yrs old,
beaten almost to death in Winnipeg
“Love, Kindness, Respect, Forgiveness.”

And this Magnificat, from 17 yr old Malala Yousafzai,
“I am not a lone voice
I am many.
I am the 66 million girls who are deprived of education;
I am raising their voice.
[I speak for] those forgotten children who want education.
those frightened children who want peace;
those voiceless children who want change;
I am here to stand up for their rights, to raise their voice,
it is not time to pity them, but time to take action.

In every generation the song rings out:
“My heart shall sing of the day you bring,
let the fires of your justice burn.
Wipe away all tears for the dawn draws near,
the world is about to turn.”

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