A Sermon for Advent 4: Mary

The author sporting her Magnificat t-shirt

It was one of those years where the Sunday of Advent also happened to be Christmas Eve and so we had a mere 5 services at St John’s. Fortunately, I was only required to be at three of them: preaching in the morning at 10am and presiding in the evening at 7 and 11pm. I had the great idea of re-using a sermon I preached on these same readings on this same Sunday three years ago, thus giving me a little bit more brain space for all of the other things that needed to happen before Christmas Eve and Christmas Day services. It was a really good sermon too, one that I was really proud of and quite happy with and was actually excited about using again. However, the Spirit had other ideas, as I alluded in my previous post. I began to feel really strongly that I needed to preach something different, something that addressed #metoo and the stories in the news of strong men being brought down by the world finally listening to the voices of vulnerable women and something that acknowledged that St John’s has had a complicated relationship with some of these issues as well. So, in a matter of hours, I sat down and this is the sermon that the Spirit gave.

Preached December 24, 2017 at St John the Divine, Victoria

Find the audio recording here:

“Yes”

The gospel of Luke tells the story of the Annunciation – the angel Gabriel appearing to Mary to ask her to bear God’s son into the world. Mary knows that this is a dangerous and subversive call, yet still says yes, giving her consent to bear God. In doing so, she is proclaiming the greatness of the Mighty One who turns the world upside down and reminding us that listening to and believing women has always been a foundational part of our our faith.

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Gentle Mary?

Gentle Mary, meek and mild. We like to sing about it every Christmas. We look at pictures of meek and retiring Mary. She always looks to pure, so innocent.

I call bullshit.

Image by Ben Wildflower. It is one of my favourite depictions of the Magnificat. I have the tshirt.

Where on earth did we get the idea that a woman who sings about God scattering the proud, who calls on God to bring down the powerful from their thrones and lift up the oppressed, who demands that God fill the hungry with good things and send the rich away with empty hands – where on earth did we get the idea that this woman is anything but a strong, feisty, courageous woman with agency?

When I read the gospel accounts of Mary the mother of Jesus, I do not see some mild-mannered girl quietly acquiescing to God’s demand of her to carry his son.

Rather I read about a woman who joins a long line of people throughout Scriptures and throughout history who question God. What if her “How can this be?” in Luke’s story of the Annunciation is less about doubt and more about wrestling with what God is asking of her? And what if in wrestling with it, she decides to agree to the vocation of being the mother of Christ? “Here am I.”

Just as Moses said “But suppose they do not believe me… O my Lord, I have never been eloquent” but went with God’s words.

Just as Isaiah said “Woe is me! I am a man of unclean lips” and then said “Here am I; send me.” And God sent him.

Just as Jeremiah said, “Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak!” but then went and prophesied the message God gave him.

Just as Esther hesitated because of the strong possibility of death, but then spoke out at great risk and saved the Jewish people.

Just as “ordinary” folks like you and I wrestle with the tasks – big and small – and vocations that God sets before us; wondering if we are really being called, debating whether we actually want to do that, and eventually finding that God really is with us and we want to say yes.

Mary’s agency is at the heart of this story, and it is this strong and courageous woman who answered God’s call and brought God into the world.

Amen.

 

With thanks to my Young Clergy Women International (YCWI) sisters for some inspiration, and who, through our conversations on Mary and consent, provided more links for thought:

The Mary Who Said No

Mary’s Choice: What the Annunciation Story Tells Us About Moral Agency

Did Mary Say “Me Too”?