I wish you a blessed last Sunday in Advent. We lit the last of the blue candles on the advent wreath today, and I hope you’ll be back when we light the last white one in the center. In this Christ candle the other four candles of hope, peace, joy, and love come together in the light and life of Christ.
The gospel reading today comes to us in two parts; the story of Mary going off to see her cousin Elizabeth who is also pregnant – that’s the part that Deacon Margaret read. And then there’s the poem or the Canticle that we read together; it’s often referred to as the Magnificat. These are the words Mary says when she arrives at Elizabeth’s house – when Elizabeth senses the great significance and blessing of Mary’s pregnancy . . . I want to say a few words about Mary’s song – the Magnificat – but first let’s take a moment to ponder a bit. Ponder – meaning to think quietly for a time about something . . . Let’s ponder the Nativity scene – the birth of Jesus in a stable on a quiet night . . . ponder the image you have of Mary . . .ponder the person and character of Mary. . . The bible tells us that Mary treasured all “these things and pondered them in her heart.” . . .
Now I want to ask you a question: is this image of the quiet, pondering Mary familiar to you – is that how you think about Mary? Has it even, perhaps, become a stereotype?
Now, I’m not at all opposed to pondering, as a matter of fact I think pondering is entirely good for the soul! And the image of Mary as a quiet, pondering, contemplative spirit is very probably accurate. But I wonder if, on occasion, the Church fathers and mothers may have pandered to the ponderersamong us – perhaps reinforcing the image of Mary as basically meek and mild and by extension, voiceless, even timid.
The good news of the gospel is that it takes no time at all in pondering Mary’s words in the Magnificat to encounter a radically different side of Mary. In the Magnificat we hear a prelude to the radical, counter-cultural message that Jesus himself will teach and preach. In the Magnificat Mary speaks as a woman of transformative vision. We see Mary in three pioneering roles: first as a radical Christian disciple; second as a New Testament prophet; and third, as a mother – mother not only of Jesus, but of all the sons and daughters of every generation who will become the Church.
In the words of the Magnificat we get an insight into Mary’s identity – Mary in her fullness, in her wisdom – a reflection of her entire journey starting with the Christmas stories, continuing on through the agony of Gethsemene and the Cross, on through to the day of Pentecost. Many bible scholars have said that the Magnificat contains in its few verses the entire substance and meaning of the Gospel.
“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.”
Mary has met God – she’s interacted directly with God – and her response is the highest level praise. Mary knows herself in relationship to God. She knows herself as truly humble and lowly – and in her relationship with God, Mary also knows that she is a beloved child. She knows she is fully embraced in God’s love. It’s because Mary totally knows herself as Beloved, that sheis free to love others as fully human and gifted. She sees the Divine image in everyone. And she is open and aware of the plight of the poor and marginalized. Mary speaks as a prophet on behalf of the poor — and she speaks for social justice, when she says these words:
“God’s 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.”
As a Christian disciple, Mary herself is proclaiming the gospel by painting a picture of the coming kingdom of God; a world turned upside down, a world where the playing field is totally leveled. Do you hear the foreshadowing of the Sermon on the Mount here? Jesus will say: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied” . . . and “Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.”
When Mary says “yes” to God’s call to give birth to Jesus, she also will give birth to a whole family, the renewed family of God. Mary becomes not only the mother of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, she also becomes the mother of all believers, mother of the Church.
Mary points us, her family, to the mercy and grace of God our Father in the closing lines of the Magnificat as she says:
”God 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.”
In the Magnificat we see many aspects of Mary’s character. Obedience is one of her virtues. But in the Magnificat we quickly learn that she is not just the meek and mild virgin of the quiet, peaceful nativity scene – she is a woman of powerful faith and vision.
If we take the time to ponder Mary – her life, her commitment – her faith and obedience – her vision – perhaps we can begin to relate to Mary as a mother and as a role model who can help us to see and accept God’s will for our lives: first by claiming our identity as beloved children of God, and then by responding, acting and serving others, always in and through God’s love.
In these last few days of Advent, we come to the end of the season of waiting. The expectation that something new, something exciting is about to happen fills the Church worldwide – fills individual Christian hearts, as well. We’ve been waiting to celebrate the birth of Christ, and that time is now coming very near. In the same way, I wonder if new and exciting things are about to happen here at St. Nathaniel’s. Do you sense the possibility of renewed vitality about to be born?
If so, why not join Mary: Treasure these things and ponder them in your heart.
“For blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord . . .”