Sermon – December 24, 2017 – Fourth Sunday of Advent

 

Mary did you know that your baby boy will one day walk on water?
Mary did you know that your baby boy will save our sons and daughters?
Did you know that your baby boy has come to make you new?
This child that you’ve delivered, will soon deliver you
Mary did you know that your baby boy will give sight to a blind man?
Mary did you know that your baby boy will calm a storm with his hand?
Did you know that your baby boy has walked where angels trod?
And when you kiss your little baby, you have kissed the face of God[1]

 

I am here to answer the age old question: Yes, Mary knew. She knew. It’s right there in our scriptures. Mary knew that her child would change the world forever. Not only did the angel tell her, “He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” But her song, which we now call the magnificat, predicts the kind of impact this Son of God would have on the world. I have absolutely no doubt that Mary knew. However, somehow Mary’s side of the story gets lost in translation and she comes out on the other side of history despited as a meek, mild, silent, and submissive little girl. But make no mistake, Mary was a strong woman whose courage, boldness, grit, and conviction paved the way for Jesus. Today, as we find ourselves so near to Christmas, it is only right that we remember Mary for who scripture tells us she was—brave enough to say “yes” to God despite all risks, strong enough to give life to the divine.

The angel visits Mary with an expectation. There is something special about her. She is  poor and outcast, a woman in a patriarchal society, and without a child to give her value— in her world, these were all characteristics that degraded her worth. Yet, God chooses her, not in spite of who she is but because of who she is. In the fullness of who she is, she has found favor with God. And though the angel tells her to not be afraid, there is no indication that she actually is. Instead, Mary boldly consents to this divine plan, saying “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Mary’s “yes” to God was risky. Pregnancy in this time often led to physical death and being pregnant without the culturally appropriate family system in place often lead to social death. Mary knew she was risking her life, yet, with great conviction she still says “yes.”

After the angel’s visit, Mary decides to travel by herself to visit Elizabeth. Mary does not seek validation from her religious tradition, she doesn’t go to the temple or visit with a priest. Mary does not seek the protection of her father nor does she seek the council of her fiance. Instead, she chooses to share her experience with another woman. Elizabeth has no problem affirming Mary “yes”—Not only did Mary know, Elizabeth did too. In the security of Elizabeth’s home, Mary can take the time to actually proclaim her own thoughts about the angel’s visit. Her song of praise, the Magnificat, interprets the angel’s visit theologically— Mary has the opportunity to proclaim aloud the pondering that has been taking place in her heart, shouting aloud what this all means.

 

46 And Maryf said,
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
50 His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

 

In this subversive and counter-cultural song, Mary proclaims what is to come. The proud will be scattered, the rich sent away, the lowly uplifted, the hungry filled, the mighty brought down. God will keep God’s promises. This is not a song of the meek and mild. This is a courageous sermon, a bold prophecy, that is laying a path for Jesus. All in the present tense… as if it has already been made so. In her song, Mary is not announcing a birth. She is announcing new movement, a new reign, a new thing that God is doing in the world. During his time on earth, Jesus would do the very things that Mary proclaims in her song. Jesus follows in his mother’s own preaching tradition.

Mary made Jesus’ story happen by saying “yes” but consequently is largely written out of the story for the next two thousand years. Mary gets put on a pedestal, made a perpetual virgin, untouchable, out of reach, cut off from positions of power and leadership in the world that God so loves. The church has rewritten Mary’s story. She, like so many other faithful women, is unable to break the stained-glass ceiling in perhaps one of the biggest boys clubs of them all. Yet, if we look closely, we’ll notice that she’s still there in between the pages. She is present every time Jesus preaches a divine reversal of roles, every time Jesus uplifts the lowly, feeds the hungry, and sends the proud away. She is there weeping when her son is rejected. She is at the foot of the cross, when she hears her son echo her same words, “let is be so according to your will.” She is there at Pentecost, where she, among other women, receives the Holy Spirit and births the church that would soon cast her true grit aside in favor of a more palatable character. A church who would see her value not in her faithful ability to lead and preach but in her ability to reproduce.

It is true that Mary’s world considered a female voice less valuable and less important than a male voice. More difficult to comprehend, however, is how this has also been true in the time since Mary sang her powerful, prophetic song. And although we’ve come a long way, we have silenced or refused to hear many strong, courageous, and faithful women through the centuries, and in many ways, continue to do so. As we reflect on and ponder Mary’s words today, let us also wonder what prophetic voices we are missing. May we hear those voices and let them teach us their truths, especially the truths that we may be reluctant to hear.

If Mary’s song teaches us anything, it’s that the story of Jesus, like Mary herself, is anything but tame, meek, and mild…so, tomorrow/tonight if we show up to Christmas and expect a lovely story about a sleeping baby, we’ve likely come to the wrong place. However, if we show up for Christmas worship willing to listen to a story about reversals that might end up reversing us, If we come ready to hear a tale of adventure and bravery, where strong and gentle people win, and the powerful and violent go down to dust, where the rich lose their money but find their lives and the poor are raised up like kings. If we show up to be reminded that God loves us too much to leave us unchanged. If we come for salvation and not safety, then we are ready to truly ready for Christmas.[2]

The waiting of Advent is over. It’s time to do something. To say “yes” to God’s reign and work to make it so with the tenacity of Mary, brave enough to act for something risky, as if it had already been done. In many ways, God’s justice is still waiting to be born into this world. Are we ready to let it be so?

[1] From the popular Christmas song, Mary did you know?

[2] Revised and abridged from Quinn Caldwell, “All I really want.”