December 23, 2018 – Advent 4 C

Luke 1:39-45 [46-55]

39In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 40where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. 45And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” [
46And Mary said,
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
47and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
50His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
51He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
52He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
53he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
54He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
55according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”]

—–

Growing up, I didn’t pay much attention to Mary. I grew up in a town that had a history of misunderstandings and conflicts around Mary so, instead of trying to understand or learn about Mary, I pretty much avoided her. I was Lutheran and, it seemed to me, Mary was a Catholic thing. So, aside from reciting the Apostles’ Creed every week, she didn’t get much attention in my childhood. But as I’ve grown a bit, I’m different than I was, and I’ve grown to appreciate Mary. Her story is much more than I had been lead to believe.

She, like so many people in the Bible, have been made in caricatures of who they were. We see Mary in the nativity and we see a serene, reverent maiden in a barn, usually surrounded by animals, kneeling beside her new baby. What I missed, what we often miss, is that she was also a woman who had just experienced the birth of a child; she was strong, she was sore, and she had just defied the odds. She gave birth to the baby named Jesus without the help and support of trained doctors and nurses, or even people she knew. Likely, she gave birth in a house surrounded by complete strangers, feeling utterly alone as she nursed her new infant, still wondering how this came to be.

This vision of Mary, the strong, young mother, shouldn’t really have caught me by surprise, though. In our gospel today, we get a glimpse of this strong, poor woman. It all starts when she visits Elizabeth, her relative. She hurries to her after the angel comes to her and, in an encounter with Elizabeth, Mary seems to put the pieces together. God’s choosing of Mary falls right in line with how God has always seemed to work – she was utterly ordinary, she had no reason for us to consider her, she seems to come from no lineage of note, and yet she becomes the vessel of Christ, the Messiah. We have Emmanuel, God with us, because of her resolve and her willingness to take on a task that, by all rights, was too big for her.

She becomes a member of a long line of people who should not have been remembered: Abraham and Sarah, the couple who, in their 90s, brought forth the start of a nation of blessing; Jacob, the cheat and second-born who wrestled with God and became Israel; Joseph, the Egyptian slave who rises to power to save the family who sold him into slavery; David, the shepherd boy who becomes the greatest king in Israel’s history; Ruth, the foreigner who becomes an ancestor to Christ himself.

And a lowly, unwed, teenage mother gave birth to a lowly, needy, infant boy. God has entered the world, not through clouds with light and an army of angels, but through a womb in a dark corner of a room with a host of strangers…and a mother who defied the odds. By law, she should have been killed for pregnancy out of wedlock, but, by God, she became the mother to God-made-flesh.

It seems, after her conversation with Elizabeth, she realizes her place in this story, that her story is a microcosm of how God has worked and continues to work. She begins to see that she has a place because God is in the business of lifting up the fallen, putting back together the broken, and gathering the lost. She seems to be putting the pieces together that the qualifications of the world are different than the qualifications of God. The strong are scattered, the rich are sent away, and the proud are put to shame. It is not the rich or privileged who are given such roles, but the meek, the lowly, the humble.

In the midst of this revelation, Mary sings what I can only describe as a protest anthem. This song is in past-tense, she is singing about what God has done, time and time again. By doing so, she is also singing about what God continues to do today. God is near to the brokenhearted. God is gathering up the lost. God is feeding the hungry.

If you’ve ever felt lost, hungry, or broken, you know that this is good news. In the battles of life, when we feel as though we’ve run out of energy, our strength is dwindling, and we’ve lost the heart to go on, we need reminding that God is there, carrying us as a mother carries her child. You are not alone, even though it may sometimes feel that way. Just as Mary must have felt alone as she gave birth in a strange town, surrounded by people she didn’t know, you have the presence of God with you. Just as Mary bore the son of God, you are bearing the light of God.

As image bearers and light bearers of God, we follow the example that Mary gives to us. We declare that God is caring for the lowly, even if the powerful and the elite of society do not. We will proclaim that God’s strength gathers the lost and humble and scatters the proud. We will observe God feeding the hungry. And then we will do it, too. We, who have been given so much, will take part in the new age. Followers of Christ give voice to the voiceless, food and drink to the hungry, and stand up for the wellbeing of others. They will work for justice. They will stand up to rulers and watch as God tears down the systems of oppression and injustice.

This is what God has done. This is what God will continue to do. And here, we listen to the words of an unwed teenage mother in modern-day Palestine. The kingdom is coming, the lowly are lifted, the King of Kings is near. Soon, very soon, we will gather around and see God enfleshed among us. But now, for now, we listen to the words of a mother.

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

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