Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Sermon: Repainting Mary

Luke 1:46-55

I know that you have just had a wonderful teaching and learning

program from our kids as they presented to us the Christmas story again. I want to share just a short reflection with you about Mary, Jesus mother.

In the season of Christmas, we paint pictures in our minds of Mary and Joseph in the stable and the baby Jesus being born. We imagine Mary, young, innocent, but willing to do what God asked. She is a model of trust and surrender – so it is easy to picture her as a submissive, calm, and inoffensive person. We may think of her as meek and mild, a mother, a nurturer, and many other things. But perhaps we are wrong. You see, we only have a very few quotes from Mary in the Bible, and the longest one is the Luke scripture for the day.

Let me read it:

“With all my heart I glorify the Lord!

    In the depths of who I am I rejoice in God my savior.

He has looked with favor on the low status of his servant.

    Look! From now on, everyone will consider me highly favored

        because the mighty one has done great things for me.

Holy is his name.

    He shows mercy to everyone,

        from one generation to the next,

        who honors him as God.

He has shown strength with his arm.

    He has scattered those with arrogant thoughts and proud inclinations.

    He has pulled the powerful down from their thrones

        and lifted up the lowly.

He has filled the hungry with good things

    and sent the rich away empty-handed.

He has come to the aid of his servant Israel,

        remembering his mercy,

    just as he promised to our ancestors,

        to Abraham and to Abraham’s descendants forever.”

Her words here start out like we would expect as she reflects on her low status and the might of God, but then her next words are almost “revolutionary.” In fact they have “a long history of being banned by various church or political bodies. As recently as the 1980s, the government of Guatemala forbade public reading of it, as did the government of Argentina in the 1970s.”[1]

Saying that the powerful will be pulled off their thrones,

And the rich will go away empty handed just doesn’t sit well with a lot of people. These are the words of a prophet who wants to see the world change. She sounds more like a Malcom X than a milquetoast.

Of course she isn’t simply raving about ruining the powerful, what she really wants, what she honestly expects is for God to bring justice and mercy, to lift up those who are low, and bring hope to the hopeless.

So I think that Mary does not submit to God’s will and become the mother of the savior because she is meek and submissive, but because she is strong enough to share God’s vision for a new world. This is a different picture of Mary, than many of us are used to. Yet it makes sense. This is the woman who raises Jesus, who himself is executed as a rebel and a blasphemer because he challenged the powerful. He pronounces judgment on the way they do things, and then he talks about the kingdom of God being at hand. Jesus sounds very much like the son of this more radical Mary than the sweet and meek one we often imagine.

So as we look around the world, where does Mary’s song need to be sung? – probably in the places it would be most likely to be banned. How can we continue to sing this song even in the midst of resistance? (and the resistance may even be our own, knowing that this song calls for immense change).  It might help to look and see where we see signs of it coming to reality. Where is hope rising? Where are the low being lifted up, and where are the hungry being fed? Where is justice being done and mercy shown? Where is the kingdom of God at hand?

[1] Seasons of the Spirit, 2016

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