(click above to listen along)
Another lady-pastor friend of mine in New York posted a simple 3- line poem today.
It is titled “Virgin” *
It seems everyone wants at least 3-5 years experience.
Except God, that is.
He looks for the one willing to try something new.
It’s no secret that one of my favorite things about Jesus has always been his mom. I have images of her in my car and in my home and on my arms and back. But Mary got precious little mention in my religious upbringing. Sure, Mary could be admired by women for her virginity and obedience, but we knew better than to turn Mary into some kind of golden calf – that which the mistaken, the lost and the ignorant worship in place of God. But I soon learned that other Protestants don’t really know what to do with Mary either. It’s like Catholics already have dibs on her so we just dust her off once a year for the nativity scene and then quickly put her back before she embarrasses anyone. But I wonder if one fabulous advantage to observing the church year is that it throws Mary in our face every single December and January. She won’t be ignored. Which I think is awesome. So for today, the 4th Sunday of Advent, I thought I’d ask Mary, the mother of our Lord, the Queen of Heaven, the God-bearer a few questions about our Gospel text.
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth,
Wait. Nazareth? This is like God sending an angel to Commerce City. Isn’t Nazareth a nothing of a town?
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, favored one! The Lord is with you.”
What kind of greeting is that Mary? Had you ever been called favored before? Mary. They are all called Mary aren’t they? Mary the sister of Lazarus, Mary from Magdala, That other Mary and Mary the mother of Jesus. So common a name. Almost as though when the Gospel writers couldn’t remember a woman’s name they just automatically called her Mary. Like Jane Doe- Mary. it’s just this side of forgettable. So common – but yet now angelically deemed “favored”. So, when the angel called you favored, did you look to see if someone else was standing behind you? Mary; common and favored and from a nothing town.
The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.
You found favor with God? Why? I mean, here’s the thing, Mary, we aren’t given a litany of all the things you did and the personality traits you demonstrated that made you favor-able. So, I’ve always wondered if it was the fact that you were chosen by God that made you favored not that your favorableness made you chooseable. I mean, maybe you made yourself into a girl which God could favor because you listened to your youth rabbi and lived the right lifestyle. But if the way God seems to favor prostitutes and tax collectors and adulterous kings over the smug, righteous and powerful is any indication, then I think it’s safe to assume that it is God’s nature to look upon insignificant young peasant girls with favor. Because God’s just like that. At least that’s how we see God consistently acting in the Bible. So, was your favorableness about God’s nature or your nature or both? I’ve always wondered that.
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 forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.
So, Mary, you are a marginalized young Jew living in the midst of a land occupied by the Roman Empire and in your ears that night are the words “throne …reign … and kingdom” Did it feel like nothing less than cultural, political, and religious insurrection for the common to be favored and the favored to be common and for an angel to speak of thrones and kingdoms to a young peasant?
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.”
What was that like for you? Hearing that you will conceive by the Holy Spirit and that your elderly aunt was also knocked up in some way related to God. It’s always been like, one of God’s favorite stunts to pull off: violating our polite family values through the transgressive fecundity of God. Willing life where there is no life. Making a way where there is no way. Messing with all of us in the way that only true mercy can do. Elizabeth barren and pregnant. Mary common and favored.
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.
Here I am you say. Send me. “Here I am, the Servant of the Lord, let it be with me according to your word”. So beautiful. We try and domesticate you Mary like a trinket of docile, submissive womanhood but you are bolder than that, more defiant. Some try to hide from their calling (big name people like Moses, Jonah, Elisha) but you said Here I am. Sign me up. Did you know what this word was going to mean for you?
And Mary said, My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for you, Lord, have looked with favor on your lowly servant. From this day all generations will call me blessed;
So, Mary, is that was being blessed looks like? We usually use that word a bit differently. Like, you’re so blessed to have that new boat. So, how exactly are you using that word? Did you feel blessed as your unwed belly grew under the gaze of disapproving others. Did you feel blessed when laboring amongst sheep and straw? Mary, common and favored and from a nothing town…Did you feel blessed when your heart dropped realizing you left your 12 year old in Jerusalem? At his arrest did you feel blessed seeing rope dig into the wrists of both God made flesh and the flesh of your flesh? Did you feel blessed when they lifted him up? No one else was his mother. Just you. Blessed are you among women. Common and favored. And blessed is the fruit of your womb Jesus. God and Man. Maybe this is why Martin Luther said, “We hail Mary, Queen of Heaven, because in her we come to know that ours is the God who comes nearest to us in our brokenness.”
you, the Almighty, have done great things for me, and holy is your name. You have mercy on those who fear you, from generation to generation. You have shown strength with your arm; and scattered the proud in their conceit, casting down the mighty from their thrones and lifting up the lowly.You have filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.
Gosh, Mary. There’s nothing like a song about upturning the whole social order to warm the heart. That or scare the be-jesus out of you. So maybe that’s what God is up to here. Transgressing the boundaries of human society. Commerce City becomes Jerusalem. The favored become common and the common become favored. The barren are pregnant. The hungry filled. The rich, hungry. The proud leveled and the downtrodden lifted up until it’s all blurred past distinction.
The prophet Mary sings in the new inverted reality of God’s kingdom on earth and this is it’s fight song. It’s your song, people of God, all of you. And also a song for all the other women whose children die at the hands of others. A song for the mother of Tamir Rice, and the 141 mothers of those kids killed in Pakistan, the mothers of the 2 cops just killed in New York. Mary sings of God’s dream for us…she sings the song of this God who entered so fully into the muck of human existence and upturned our expectations and religiosity enough to usher in a new reality. And this reality is that God became one of us so that we might become children of God. Gregory of Nyssa writes, “What was achieved in the body of Mary will happen in the soul of everyone who receives the Word.” You, all of you, are also blessed and full of grace. So, may the God through whom nothing is impossible help you to be Marys….carrying the gospel into this hurt and broken and beautiful world. May it be with you all according to God’s Word. Because
It seems everyone (else) wants at least 3-5 years experience.
Except God, that is.
He looks for the one willing to try something new.
* poem written by Sam Gutierrez