Mary’s Song, by Pastor Noel

  • December 11, 2016

December 11, 2016    3d Sunday of Advent A


      “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my savior.”

      Isn’t that lovely? Mary’s Song. It’s so familiar, so soothing, almost like a lullaby.

      But that’s true only if we don’t really hear what Mary is singing.

      It is easy to forget that Mary is a young, unmarried woman—a girl to us. She risks being stoned to death if she is caught in public. This is not a lullaby.

      Luke gives us four songs at the beginning of his gospel—songs that set out the message he will be giving us through the rest of his book.

      Mary’s Song that we just heard.

      The song of Zechariah who was the father of John the Baptizer. We have that as Canticle 16, “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel; he has come to his people and set them free.”

      The song of the angels that we sing or say most Sundays, “Glory to God in the highest.”

      And the song of Simeon who knows that he can die content having seen Jesus, his savior. We have this as Canticle 17, “Lord, you now have set your servant free, to go in peace as you have promised; for these eyes of mine have seen the savior…”

      These are songs of the inbreaking of God’s kingdom, the manifestation of God’s purposes, God’s ideas of life for us all.

      They may be familiar, they may make us feel good, but when we really hear them, they are not pretty or comforting.

      Mary’s song turns everything upside down. It is as revolutionary as anything we might hear from, say, Bernie Sanders. I know that I have said often that Jesus was a revolutionary. I guess he comes by that naturally!

      What is it about this Song of Mary that is so revolutionary?

      First, think of all that Mary has been through before she sings these words. She is a young woman, engaged to be married, when she encounters an angel who tells her that she will be pregnant.    

      And, if that’s not shocking enough, Mary is told by an angel, a messenger of God, that the baby will be holy, the Son of God.

      This pregnancy is a sentence of death for her, and yet she sings of God’s favor and mercy.

      Mary obviously has a deep relationship with God based on trust and promise.

      She is told that her baby will save God’s people (that’s what “Jesus” means); he will be the Son of the Most High; he will reign over the house of David; and his kingdom will not end.

      Pretty heavy duty news—yet Mary says yes to this, and praises God.

      Clearly she has more trust than the average person, more than I think I could find if I had that kind of message from God.

      But Mary’s joy and thanks are not just for herself, even though that might be enough.

      Mary’s joy and thanks are for God’s working in the world to bring about the kingdom for us to experience now.

      We hear about this kingdom from the Prophet Isaiah: “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.”

      God will bring about this healing for all who trust in him—not always healing as we know it, but healing that leads to deeper trust and love of God and brings hope and peace to our lives.

      All creation will rejoice at this.

      Mary says that it is already happening. It is not just future promises or hopes, it is reality.

      As she sings, she introduces themes in Luke that Jesus will repeat and live over and over.

      “He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.”

      This probably doesn’t sound like the world we live in. It sounds like the opposite of what we experience as life.

      Mary sings that God favors the lowly and hungry — these are not usually at the top of the celebrity list.

      Mary sings that God casts down the mighty and sends the rich away empty.

      If we are hungry and there is no food in the fridge, we probably find these promises a lie.

      If we are rich and feel filled, we may also fail to find God’s truth, God’s kingdom in Mary’s song.

      But the kingdom IS here and God’s truth, God’s promises of mercy and justice are reality.

      And, with God’s help, we get to make sure that this is so.

      Mary could have said “NO WAY!’ when the angel told her of God’s plan. She could have walked away, gone home, married Joseph and lived a dull and “normal” life.

      We, too, can say no to God and walk away. But if we call ourselves Christian, “Christ followers” then we need to see where Jesus went, what Jesus did. And, as followers of Christ, we are called to go and do the same, however we can, with God’s help.

      Soup to the Docks, and the free Sunday Suppers at Ascension, are two glimpses into life in the kingdom. Food is prepared and offered to anyone who wants it.  It is offered freely to anyone who comes for it.

      “The hungry are filled with good things.”          

      Mary sings that “the rich are sent away empty.” In offering these meals, whether we eat or not, we are not empty. I hope each of you knows the feeling of being filled with God’s love as we reach out to those we can help.

      There are many other ways through which we can help to show God’s kingdom to the community and the world.

      Many of us are helping through agencies other than the church.  All of creation is God’s kingdom. All that we do to keep the kingdom healthy is Godly work.

      Say a prayer of thanks as you send support to The Nature Conservancy, the Red Cross, the local food banks or other agencies that help our neighbors.

      That is helping to make Mary’s song a reality.

      Sometimes it helps to see familiar things in a new light, get a new slant on what we think we know so well.

      A few years ago I heard two new takes on familiar Christmas favorites.

      One was a song to the tune of the theme from the Brady Bunch: “Here’s a story, of a girl named Mary.” It goes on in a lighthearted, but respectful way, to tell Mary’s story—lightly and powerfully and fun.

      Another new take on the old is an updating of the Nutcracker story called “Nutcracker Sweetie.” In this farcical production, Clara is an undocumented worker, the Sugar Plum Fairy is homeless, and the Snow Queen laments the melting ice caps.

      It may not replace the original ballet, but it makes me think.

      Whether we want an updated version or the original, Mary’s Song is meant to make us think, and to act. 

      Mary didn’t sing about God’s mercy and justice and Jesus didn’t live it so that we could say “ho hum.” Their lives are calls to action for us to be kingdom people.

      In the letter of James we are called to be patient—not to sit calmly and let the world go by, but to patiently take God’s mercy and justice into our hearts and live them in our lives.

      The letter calls us to take our example from the prophets who “spoke in the name of the Lord.” Prophets didn’t just speak. They lived.

      We are invited to look at their lives, as we also look at Mary, and Jesus, and others. We are invited to see how their lives show the reality of God’s kingdom, God’s presence.

      We are invited to patiently bring them to reality in our lives.

      This is how we bring the promises of Advent and Christmas to the world and show them that what seems to be upside down is really God-side up. God’s reality of mercy and justice, peace and healing.

      May we be the ones to show that Jesus Is the One the world has been waiting for, there is no need to wait for another. This is how we can turn our lives into Mary’s Song and “proclaim the greatness of the Lord.”

The Rev. Noel Bailey

The Reverend Noel Bailey was born in Providence, is now back in RI for the 4th time, and hopes that this stay is longer than some of the others. She was ordained Priest at St. Michael's, Bristol, in May 1988, More details