“Mary the Bold”

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Rev. Jocelyn B. Gardner Spencer

December 14, 2014 – The Third Sunday of Advent

Scripture:  Luke 1:46-55

 

When you think of Mary, the mother of Jesus, what comes to mind?

She doesn’t get a whole lot of attention in our Protestant piety. Most of us don’t pray to her as our Catholic sisters and brothers do. Some of us may feel unsure about her; some of us may feel unsure about the stories about her. Was she really a virgin? Did she really have a choice when the angel Gabriel showed up? How is it possible for a human being to be the Mother of God?

If you listen to the lyrics of our Christmas carols, Mary is scarcely mentioned at all. Mostly, we sing about the other characters in the Christmas story—“Hark the herald angels,” and, “Lo, humble shepherds,” and, “We, three kings of orient are,” and, “The friendly beasts around him stood,” and, of course, “Glory to the newborn King.”

Mary is a necessary part of the tableau, of course; it’s hard to tell a birth story without a mother. But when she appears in our carols, it is only in passing. We hear, “Mary, loving mother mild,” and, “The virgin mother kind,” and, “But his mother only, in her maiden bliss,” and that’s about it.

If you look at the way well-known artists have depicted Mary over the years, you’ll find more of the same: demure, lowered gaze; meek, folded hands; mild, innocent face. She is gentle, unassuming, almost timid—pretty unremarkable except for the child she bore.

But just as “The little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes,” probably doesn’t tell the whole story about Jesus’ birth and infancy, I think “Mary meek and mild” misses something important. If today’s scripture reading is any indication, Mary was anything but demure and timid. She was bold, even revolutionary. She had the gift of prophetic imagination.

 

The text Sam read for us this morning is known as the Magnificat, so named for the first word of the Latin translation of the text. Listen again to Mary’s words:

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden.
For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed;
for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
And his mercy is on those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm,
he has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts,
he has put down the mighty from their thrones,
and exalted those of low degree;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent empty away.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
as he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his posterity forever.”

Mary sang of God’s special care for the poor and the afflicted. She sang of God’s justice, of a world made new. She sang of a great reversal of fortunes, in which the hungry are fed and the rich are sent empty away. And she sang—did you notice this?—she sang in the past tense, not the future tense. She sang as though it was a done deal, as though God had already brought about that new day. She sang of promises fulfilled.

But here’s the thing. Mary’s world—rural first-century Palestine—did not look much like the world she described. Mary lived in a world in which the gap between rich and poor was insurmountably wide. She lived in a world in which those in power used their might for their own benefit and left the lowly to fend for themselves. She lived in a world threatened by war, a world afflicted by violence, a world scarred by torture, a world divided by religion and race and ethnicity and language. She lived in a world in which children were not as safe as they should be, a world in which the justice system was nowhere near impartial. Mary’s world was, in short, a lot more like our world than it was like God’s realm of justice and joy.

Mary could have looked around and shrugged her shoulders. She could have resigned herself to her fate. She could have let circumstances convince her that a pregnant, unmarried teenager would never amount to anything. She could have let society tell her that a poor, Jewish girl had no future at all. She could have let the world say that the powers that be would always be, that things would never, ever change. She could have let go of hope and thrown in the towel.

But Mary was anything but demure and timid. She was bold, even revolutionary. She had the gift of prophetic imagination. Mary saw through the clouds of sin and sadness that obscure our vision so much of the time, and she caught a glimpse of the future God has in store. And what she saw made her sing praise to God at the top of her voice.

 

If you had the vision of Mary, what would you see?

If you had that bold, prophetic imagination, what would you envision?

If you caught a glimpse of God’s future, what would it look like?

If you sang a Magnificat, how would your song go?

 

In this Advent season, this is our call: to look through the eyes of Mary, to see beyond the world as it is to the world as it could be.

To see beyond the status quo to the dawn of a new day.

To see beyond a world caught in the talons of racism, a world in which some of us benefit from privilege we didn’t earn while our sisters and brothers are saddled with burdens they don’t deserve, and to imagine a new world where justice rolls down like waters, where people are judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

To see beyond a world with too many guns and too few counselors, a world in which schools and movie theaters and hospitals and homes are not safe, and to envision a new world where peace prevails at last, where swords are beaten into ploughshares and spears into pruning hooks, where every child of God knows that he is loved.

To see beyond the prison of our own private sorrows, to see beyond the encroaching darkness of our fears and our sufferings, and to imagine a world in which streams flow in the desert, and the dry land blooms riotously, and we drink deeply from the well of Living Water and will never thirst again.

In this Advent season, this is our call: to look through the eyes of Mary, to see beyond the world as it is to the world as it could be. And not just to see it, not just to imagine it, not just to envision it—but, with Mary, to say, “Yes!” to our part in the building of that world, to open our hearts and our lives to the stirrings of God’s Spirit, to take our place in the long, long line of God’s faithful people, and to start here, to start now, to live into the new realm God has in store.

And then, when we do that—then, like Mary, our souls will magnify the Lord, and our spirits will rejoice in God our savior. Then, like Mary, we will give praise to God at the top of our voices. Then, like Mary, we will sing a bold Magnificat with our mouths, and with our hearts, and with our very lives.

May it be so.