Monday, December 18, 2017

What About Mary?

The Holy Gospel According to St. Luke, the 1st Chapter

And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor 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 forever.”

Today we have a chance to take a new look at Mary.  I say a NEW look, because Mary comes with a lot of old baggage.  There’s Roman Catholic reverence baggage.  Protestant overreaction to Catholic baggage and the baggage of a fundamentalist model for submissive, meek and mild women doing what they’re told.  But, in addition to needing a new look because of OLD baggage, there are a growing number of us who didn’t grow up thinking about Mary in ANY way whatsoever!  And so for all those reasons, it's time for a new look at Mary.

When we set all that baggage we’ve been told about Mary aside and look at the text found only in Luke, Mary doesn’t fit so neatly into ANY of the baggage she’s been crammed into in the past.  The story begins with the angel Gabriel saying, “Greetings favored one!  The Lord is with you.”  The angel continues with “Do not be afraid,” an understandably standard angel greeting.  (I know if an angel suddenly appeared I’D be afraid!)  But here’s the thing… the text doesn’t say Mary had MY reaction of fear, it says she was PERPLEXED.  That’s very different from afraid.  She wasn’t cowering, meek or submissive here in any way.  Confused a bit, yes, BECAUSE THERE WAS AN ANGEL IN HER ROOM, but fully in control of her own mind and her own body.
It’s also clear in this encounter that the angel is not forcing anything onto Mary but is passing on the message that God has noticed Mary.  Noticed her NOT for her meekness, looks, or even her available uterus… but for her GRACE.  It was the courage and boldness she already possessed that found Gods favor.  It was her faith… her trust that the God of justice would act in her world… THAT’S what God saw.  Her own passion for lifting the lowly and scattering the proud is what God both noticed and honored that day. 

It’s also important, as we take this new look at Mary, to see what’s NOT in the text.  The text has no mention of Mary’s age and the word we translate as a “virgin” is a very peculiar word in the original Greek.  It refers ONLY to a person who has not yet had a child.  Nothing more than that.  All the rest of Mary’s intimate life details we've heard over the years are bits of baggage that people (mostly men if we're honest) have added to the story for reasons beyond what’s in the text.

As the encounter with the angel draws to a close, it’s VERY important to see that agreeing to carry the Christ child, ONLY happens with Mary’s informed consent.  She doesn’t start with a cowering yes.  She starts with questions.  She doesn’t just go along submissively.  She was an active, informed participant in God’s work, just as she had been before the angel arrived.  In the end it was HER decision to say, “let it be with me according to your word.”  It was only Mary’s “YES” that moved things along and I am quite sure that if Mary had said “NO” God would have honored that choice as well, because THIS is a God of justice!  These things are why using Mary’s story as justification to date underage girls or permission to ignore a woman’s choice is not only an abuse of the text, but is also blaspheming the genuine nature of this God of justice!  

And it's in The Magnificat where we so clearly hear Mary proclaim that genuine nature of God!  It’s in that Magnificat where see how God’s nature matches the independent, strong willed, revolutionary nature of Mary.  When Elizabeth proclaimed Mary “blessed” it wasn’t just because of who was in her womb, but because, as the text tells us, Mary was one who doggedly believed God would fulfill God’s promise of justice for the world!

It was in that spirit that Mary let loose with The Magnificat… which is nothing less than the ultimate political manifesto, proclaiming the fall of the wealthy, proud and powerful and the rise of the poor, hungry, and forgotten of the world.  It has remained such a perfect insistence on JUSTICE as the will of God, that The Magnificat has been banned by three governments over the years for being too revolutionary.  I suspect Mary would say it's not TOO revolutionary, but exactly the kind of revolutionary song to which God shouts AMEN! 

Over the centuries, we've attempted to tame Mary and fit her into one piece of baggage or another, but Mary isn’t anyone who will be tamed!  She’s an independent, clear thinking, justice-oriented woman in charge of her own comings and goings, in charge of her own mind and in charge of her own body.  She’s clear about what she values and was willing to collaborate with God in a unique, new, way to move the world toward God’s values of justice, compassion and peace.  

She’s a powerful model for ministry, demonstrating a faithfulness so strong it drew God’s favor.  She's also a powerful model for discerning God’s call.  She shows us the importance of not simply accepting any new idea that just happens to fly into your room without question, but also the importance of being open to God doing a new thing… both of which require listening, questioning, and reflecting.  

She was neither tricked nor intimidated into bringing Christ into the world.  She saw, after genuine discernment, bringing Christ into the world to be her next opportunity to collaborate with God to bend the arc of the moral universe toward the justice God intends for the world... the same justice she had embraced long before any angel came around.  In spite of the baggage we’ve tried to pile on her over the years, she’s remained blessed!  Blessed with an open mind and a heart for compassion.  Blessed for being willing to bring God’s light into the darkness in a new way.  Blessed for her powerful witness to God’s desire for justice which, even today, continues to humble the proud, bring down the powerful, fill the hungry and lift up the lowly. 

May you and I be blessed, as Mary is blessed.  May we embrace God's desire for justice as Mary did.  May we bring the light of Christ into the world's darkness.  May we be just as confident, even in the midst of horrible oppression, that God's will for justice and peace will reign and may we, with discernment, find our part in bringing that reign to earth as it is in heaven.  Amen.  

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