Pondering Mary the Mother & Her Song of Revolution
Micah 5:2-5, Psalm 80, Hebrew 10:5-10, Luke 1:39-56
Sunday December 23, 2018 – The 4th Sunday of Advent – LOVE
Knox-Metropolitan United Church – Regina, SK – Treaty 4 Territory
Within Christianity, as a historical movement, we’ve not always done well in offering young girls in our midst, heroes to look up to.
Now as the dad of two pretty great girls myself, I think this is a not insignificant problem, something I think about often – and it just so happens, that we read about a pretty amazing girl, or young woman, this morning.
But how do we read it? How shall we read it?
What potential within the story shall we lift up?
Because even in sacred texts, we make decisions as readers — we read through lenses either with intentionality, or sometimes out of habit.
I often ask myself, how do I speak of such stories with Lily and Isla (and Oliver too)?
We read a story about a young woman – and we could note here that the word translated “virgin” simply means “young unmarried, woman” a phrase to which has stuck other connotations – this young woman is named Mary, and she is asked to do something incredibly hard, but also incredibly important, and she needed to be oh so brave, which we sometimes forget when we tell her story.
For almost 2000 when her story has been told, people focus on her being gentle and mild, and the church sort of began telling girls, to be like that too. Now there’s nothing wrong with being gentle and mild in and of themselves, but in Mary’s case, we’ve almost made her passive, like she had nothing to say herself, just a silent character in Christmas Pageants, waiting for Joseph to put her on a donkey for a trip to Bethlehem.
For generations, Mary’s astonishing story has descended into theological and biological debates – so much ink has been used defining what could or could not have happened within her body that often we’ve missed how powerful a mover she herself was – and what magnificent insight she brings to the tradition.
Purity and obedience within many Christian movements today have become a problematic concept misunderstood and even weaponized — and Mary is often lifted up at the epitome of both. But what if we re-considered how she embodies these, less as meeting some standard to which all girls must be held, and instead as purity of vision, clarity, intensity, and obedience to that within which drives her, not passive acquiescence, but passionate integrity, a listening to her life speak herself into being and a refusal to be dissuaded.
Lily, Isla and I have been learning about Greta Thunberg, a 15 year young woman from Sweden, who spoke a few weeks ago at the COP24 international summit on climate change. Greta has Aspergers, which she describes as that which allows her to see the world in very clear terms. We spoke earlier about her strike from school, and I hope you’ll listen to one of her speeches to hear her laser focus on what she describes as something so important, so existential to life, that she can’t believe that it is not all everyone of us is talking about.
I can picture Mary being quite pleased with Greta’s words.
Mary realized that her life has the power to magnify God in this world —and I think that if she were here today, she’d suggest that this is true of all of us. That while something of God might be physically growing within her, that this is a picture of each one of us.
Out of our ordinariness, amazing things emerge —things that will bring wholeness and healing, freedom and justice.
The story will go that people will not believe her about what is happening, and so begins a long tradition within the tradition of not taking seriously the word of young people, especially young women, but Mary will not keep silent, and I hope you won’t either, when you see the truth in the world around, when you speak the truth that is within you.
Mary will call out the powerful —she knew that she lived in a time when some people had more than they needed while others starved, she knew she lived in a time when people had power that they used for their own good instead of the good of all, and she spoke powerful truth into that moment.
God has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
Likely the name we render as Mary today would have been within Jewish Palestine of the first century known as Miriam an allusion to Moses sister who leads the freed Israelites to freedom with song, a name whose meanings include their rebellion — and so years later when her child kicked a whole bunch of people out of the temple for taking advantage of others, I’d like to think that someone said, “Oh that Jesus, he gets it from his mama!”
Mary knew that God would be found among those in the greatest need, and it was their circumstances that she lifted up, she knew compassion and mercy, and she believed that she, as young as she was, could change things for the better!
Then in our story she goes and seeks out her cousin Elizabeth, and when they see each other the children within them seem to leap with joy —which again, I think is a great picture.
It’s like a namaste moment – that of the divine in me sees that of the divine in you.
I hope my daughters will find Elizabeths in their lives. People who will see them, who will believe that within them are words and acts to change the world.
I hope I can be such to them.
The Rev. Bethel Lee is a pretty smart woman herself, and in speaking about the relationship between Mary and Elizabeth put it this way:
“As liberating as it might feel to assert that no one influences who I except for me. It’s just not true. How we speak to people, how we treat them, how we see them, can either diminish who they are or it can usher them more fully into who they were meant to be…”
So like Mary, whose story we read today…
May you have the courage to believe in that which is with you.
May you own your truth and not be limited by what others say.
May you see the plight of those in this world whose need is the greatest, and direct your attention towards them, and may you have the audacity to believe that this world even its beauty does not have to remain how it is.
May you find your Elizabeths, those who will share your truth, who will see you and speak back to you of your best self, and may you do the same to others.
Mary whose story we read today is not just a passive background in someone else’s story, even if generations of adults have tried to treat her like she was.
May her revolutionary and brave spirit be within you, and within all of us.
For in life, in death, in life beyond death, God is with us and we are not alone.
Thanks be to God. Amen.