In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, ‘Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you.’ But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 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 for ever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.’ Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I am a virgin?’ The angel said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.’ Then Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’ Then the angel departed from her.

In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leapt for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.’

And Mary said,
‘My soul magnifies the Lord, 
   and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, 
for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name. 
His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation. 
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. 
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly; 
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty. 
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy, 
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.’

And Mary remained with her for about three months and then returned to her home.

Luke 1: 26-56, NRSV

Preached Sunday, December 24, 2017 at Westfield Church by the Rev. Jonathan Chapman

 

This Advent, we’ve been considering some of the women found in Jesus’ lineage listed in the first chapter of Matthew. We started off learning about Ruth, whose faithfulness was inspiring. Then, we chatted about Rahab, a woman of Jericho who got the reputation of being a harlot. But rather than picking apart her sexual history, we admired her courage and deep yearning for justice. Last week, we examined the story of Tamar, and learned what we can take from a story that involves marriage, prostitution and trickery—courage. And this week, the fourth of Advent, we meet Mary, the mother of Jesus, mother of God.

I’ve always been a bit fascinated by Mary.   We think of her as this heroic young woman who bore God into the world. She has millennia of legend and lore and tradition surrounding her. Mary was a young girl, poor and with no power.  And God called this ordinary girl to do something so extraordinary; and she answered that call with such great affirmation and strength of faith.  As a pastor, I have so much to learn from her. Every year, when we think about Mary and her role in the Christmas story, I’m reminded of what it means to be called. And the implications of answering that call. And I also feel, as a Christian, living in a very chaotic world full of the unknown, we all have a lot to learn from her as well—we all can learn about God’s surprising and upending nature.

Really, we only have a small glimpse into Mary’s life.  A lot of the commentary on her is conjecture based on different people’s interpretations of the pieces of her story that we know.  But those pieces we do have are essential to our Advent season and the Christmas story.

Today, we heard a reading from the Gospel of Luke.  An angel appears to Mary and tells her she is going to give birth to a son named Jesus.  Mary travels with haste to the Judea region of Ein Karem to the home of her cousin, Elizabeth who, though well past childbearing age, is also pregnant.  After the angel departs, Mary sings a song. We call it the Magnificat, which comes from the Latin, “to magnify.”

Mary starts the song, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,” and then sings of all the wondrous work God is doing in her life.

for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant.

Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;

for the Mighty One has done great things for me,

and holy is his name.

Year after year,  I’m always amazed that, in the midst of her own chaotic world full of the unknown, Mary responds to God’s call by praising God. It isn’t just a yes. It’s a yes that glorifies God. There weren’t eyes rolling around in an irritated teen’s head. She didn’t huff or whine. She praised. She answered God’s call willingly.

The Magnificat is more than a piece of Mary’s story; it also serves as a reminder to us of what we are being called to do in our own lives.  God does great things in the world, Mary sings in the Magnificat. 

[God] has shown strength with his arm;

lifted up the lowly;

[and] has filled the hungry with good things.

When God called Mary to conceive and give birth to this boy named Jesus, God was not simply asking her to participate in an isolated ministry; God was inviting Mary into the larger story of what Jesus would do in the world – in his lifetime and in the generations that would follow.

And this is what God invites us to do in our own lives as well.

God calls us to rise up to greatness in our lives.  Like Mary, we are ordinary people called to do extraordinary things.  We are compelled by the Gospel to magnify God in all that we say and all that we do.  We are called to open our eyes to the things that Mary is praising God for in the Magnificat – lifting up the lowly and filling the hungry with good things – and seek to do this in our own lives as well.  The Magnificat boldly calls us to magnify God in our words and in our actions as we seek to bring hope, peace, joy and love to all people.

And you know something? It isn’t going to look like you think it will. It isn’t going to sound like you think it will. God didn’t choose a seasoned matriarch to bear Jesus. It was a young girl. Jesus didn’t come into the world as some triumphant King—the Messiah we had long been yearning for coming to conquer the oppression of the Empire. No, it was as a new born—vulnerable, tiny.

Sometimes, I fear that we’ve domesticated Advent and Christmas too much. That our picture perfect Victorian Christmases have neutered the visceral shock and surprise that is at the core of Christmas. We are so quick to jump to the Kodak moment without savoring and soaking in everything that comes before—without hearing Mary’s song and making it our own. And so, for four weeks before Christmas, we do that—we sing Advent songs that remind us something big is coming, that it’s on its way but it isn’t here yet.

And during those weeks, Advent reminds us that we, too, are called to, “lift up the lowly” and “fill the hungry with good things,” as Mary proclaims in the Magnificat.  We, too, are called, as Jesus proclaims to the disciples, to offer healing to the blind, the deaf and the lame, cleanse the lepers and bring good news to the poor.  We are called, as children of God and as people of faith, to fight for justice, to give voice to the marginalized, to reach out to those in need and to shine light into the darkness of the chaos and the unknown. We are called to turn the world upside down.

This is the glory of God Mary sings of in the Magnificat, this is what Jesus preaches, time and time again, throughout the Gospel and this is what we are called to remember this Christmas as we celebrate God’s triumphant, quiet entry into the world.

So today, on this fourth Sunday of Advent, hours before Christmas Eve services in this very room, here’s my question to you:  Are you willing? Are you willing to answer God’s call? Are you willing to praise God for all God has done? Are you willing to let God surprise you and stump you and love you? Are you willing?

Amen.

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