Scripture: Luke 1:39-55
There’s something about Mary….
This morning I want you to think about what words or images come to mind when you think about Mary. If you want, you can take a look at the stained glass window of the Nativity here in the Sanctuary, which I’ve included in the PowerPoint for those of you at home.
The scene depicts Mary and Joseph bowed over their new son Jesus, Mary is small in stature and has a position of humility and gentleness, bowed down to take care of her infant son.
As you look at the picture or think about what you’ve learned about Mary, perhaps words and images that come to mind are ‘meek’, ‘mild’, ‘virgin’, ‘young’ and other similar ones – we need only think of the Christmas carols we will sing in a week or the images on Christmas cards or from our children’s Christmas books to confirm this image of a gentle, simple, submissive Mary.
While there is some value to holding this kind of image of Mary, since it allows our attention to focus squarely on Jesus, the reality is that the image was largely crafted by a male-dominated church and society as a tool to keep women in their place. If we take a good look at the Scriptures, we get a completely different take.
The passage we heard from Luke this morning includes Mary’s beautiful song known as the Magnificat – her response in song to Elizabeth’s greeting and blessing. And if you take a look at those words, Mary is anything but meek and mild. Author C.S. Lewis once described the Magnificat as a ‘terrible song’, not in the sense that he thought it was bad, but rather from the Latin terribilis meaning awesome, awe-inspiring, chilling, and terrifying in its vision of God rebuking the proud, the powerful and the rich in favour of the same people who had been exploited by the rich and powerful in the first place.
This is not a song without consequence.
Mary’s song is full of power, the power of God but also the power of Mary – a power that stood up to the powers and principalities of the world through her prophetic words, a power that bore and grew the very life of God within her womb for nine months, a power that guided and protected the young Jesus as he grew and a power that wept at the cross as Jesus’ died.
Mary’s song is filled with charged political, and societal implications and should shatter the image of Mary as a meek, submissive part of God’s plan. Mary, filled with prophetic power foresaw a world turned upside-down: the high and mighty brought low, the wealthy and comfortable get sent away empty-handed. In other words, whenever this happens, it will be the most famous, the wealthiest people that will find themselves at the wrong end of the stick. It will be the celebrities, the millionaires, billionaires, the highest government officials of the world who will be on the bottom looking up.
Those who will be lifted and exalted in the place of these famous and wealthy folks are precisely the opposite: they will be the little people on the margins of the society of whom most people have never heard. They will be like Mary herself, a poor woman from a backwater town in the mighty Roman Empire, who was chosen by God to bear God’s son, who the Angel Gabriel had bowed down to, as if she, not Gabriel were the most exalted in the room.
This is what Jesus’ coming kingdom is going to look like, as Jesus would make plain again and again 30 years later in his public ministry when in places like The Beatitudes Jesus turned the world’s way of reckoning value upside down by blessing the lowliest of the low: the meek, the mild, the suffering, the weeping.
Like mother like son.
Jesus’ life and ministry mirrored the prophetic words of his mother. Time and time again, Jesus and his Kingdom challenged the ways of the world, raised the lowly and brought the proud and the powerful low. In the Gospel of Luke, at the very beginning of his ministry, Jesus declared the year of Jubilee for God’s people, sight to the blind, freedom to the prisoners, setting the oppressed free.
Throughout his ministry Jesus lived this declaration out: think of all those that Jesus healed, all the people that Jesus brought from the margins back into the community, how Jesus challenged the rich and powerful. This penchant to speak truth to power, which Jesus perhaps got from his mother Mary, eventually led to his death – it was his challenge of the social elites, the scribes, the Pharisees and the rulers that ultimately led to his crucifixion because he challenged their place in the world, he challenged the political and religious institutions.
Like mother, Like Son, like Church.
In the life of the church, there is a trend to think of Christianity as apolitical – that religion and politics, religion and society are meant to be separate – that our faith is a private and individual matter that has no bearing on our lives beyond our house or our churches on a Sunday morning. But if Mary and Jesus are anything to go by, then God is calling us to something more. Our faith, our life as a church should take a page out of the faith and life of Mary – a faith that defends the weak and broken, that speaks truth to power that challenges the rich and powerful and holds them accountable for the lives of the least and the lost.
Like our typical image of Mary, the church is meek and mild when it comes to standing up to the Kingdom of this world; for too long the church has been comfortable with the status quo, with the ways of the world: colonialism, misogyny, white supremacy, wealth accumulation and so much more – instead of living into the topsy-turvy kingdom that Mary prophesied about in the Magnificat and that Jesus declared in his life, death and resurrection, we accept a counterfeit kingdom, a lesser version of the life that God intends for us and all the world.
We are called to be like Mary, to be filled with the Holy Spirit and power so that we too can speak truth to power to challenge our governments, our rich and powerful, our institutions (including the institutional church) – to challenge them with the vision of God’s kingdom where the poor, the marginalized, the least and the lost are valued, respected and lifted into places of prominence. We are called to work to shape our society to care for all people, where children do not end up on the streets, where women are not abused, where teens don’t see gangs and violence as their only option, where race and socio-economic status don’t limit access to life-saving vaccines.
You might think that as an individual Christian, or even as an individual congregation we have no influence on the political or societal reality of our world – but that would be a mistake. With God all things are possible. While Jesus doesn’t support any political party or any particular institution as Christians we are always called to seek life, to seek the kingdom. In all of our decisions – our political decisions, our economic decisions, our personal decisions even in our decisions around following COVID-19 protocols and vaccinations – all of our decisions should be made for the sake of the vulnerable, for the poor, the marginalized so that life might flourish.
Each of us can claim the strength of Mary, to live into the Kingdom which she foresaw in the that ‘terrible song’ the Magnificat – it may not be comfortable, it may challenge us and our assumptions but it is the path to life, it is the path that Jesus forged in his walk to the Cross. But Jesus shows us that death is not the end, God always finds a way, life always wins out when it is a life lived for others, a life lived not for ourselves but the kingdom. Like Mary, choose life, the world depends on it.
Let us Pray.