Mary models for us the dropping of all boundaries with God, and shows us a path of union with God that brings us life and the world healing.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The feast of Mary, Mother of Our Lord
Texts: Luke 1:46-55
Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
She could have said “No.”
God’s intention to join with humanity and bring us into the life of God in the flesh was never going to be forced. Mary’s yes, which utterly changed her life, was needed.
Sometimes we sentimentally imagine that the desire for God’s Messiah was so great among the Jewish people that young women dreamed of being the mother of Christ. That’s highly doubtful. Even if Christ’s coming was longed for, for everyday people in those days it would be as it is for everyday people of our day. You live your life, you make your plans. You sleep, work, eat, love. They knew God promised to come, but it’s not likely that Mary, or any girls of her time, daydreamed about this role.
Because it would be for anyone in this position a loss of everything she had hoped and planned for her life. Facing her parents and her fiancé with the news, risking ostracism and possible death, was just the start. From this moment, her life wasn’t wholly her own anymore. She welcomed God into her own body, she committed her life and her heart to loving this child and teaching him, she put herself on a path that would lead to a place at the foot of a Roman cross.
She could have said “no.” God would have moved on. But she didn’t.
Mary’s “yes” is hard for us to say. It means letting down all sorts of boundaries with God, and we’re not comfortable with that.
Maybe only a pregnant woman can teach us this. From the moment of conception, a pregnant mother shares her body with another being. There isn’t a breath taken that isn’t shared. Blood runs between the two. Food eaten, physical movement, all affect both. There is distinction between the two, but the boundaries are almost non-existent.
This is what God asked of Mary: to let down all boundaries and join with God for the healing of the world. To say, “let it be as you will,” and let God into her life wherever God needed to be.
That’s not something we’re eager to do. As much as we desire God’s presence in our lives, God’s grace in our hearts, there are often places inside us where we have a “no admittance” sign, places where we say to God, “this far, and no further.”
I don’t want you to challenge that preconception, that way of thinking. It’s mine to keep.
I don’t want you to prod at that sin, that habit that hurts me or others. It’s comfortable to me.
I’m not ready for you to change me fully into Christ, to set aside my ego needs. I like being number one in my plans.
I don’t want you to open my heart fully to love you and love others. So much vulnerability terrifies me, and I’d rather limit my love, protect myself.
These are the answers we often give to God. And God will let us say them.
But if Mary could have said “no,” if God allows that, what does that suggest about the Magnificat?
This powerful, brave, joyful song to God’s overturning of the world pours out of this young woman and still thrills us. God will cast down the mighty from their thrones. God will send the rich away empty and scatter the proud. God will lift up the lowly, fill the hungry with good things. God will bring healing and wholeness to the entire creation.
But if God inspires this song of praise by inviting a teenage girl to bear Christ into the world, and if God waits for her “yes” before proceeding, is it possible this is how God intends to fulfill Magnificat’s promise?
Mary wasn’t forced into her “let it be.” Why would she sing a song that envisioned God forcing anyone else, either? When Mary’s child grew to an adult, Jesus invited people into God’s realm, called people to lose everything to find God’s life. The Son of God was so committed to not forcing humanity to follow, so committed to invitation rather than coercion, that he let us torture and kill him, rather than take up force against us.
The Magnificat isn’t a manifesto for God’s forcing the world upside down. God’s approach to Mary, the Son of God’s consistent approach in preaching and teaching, dying and rising, suggest this is also the only way God will accomplish Magnificat.
So this song is God’s invitation to us to say “yes,” God’s invitation to us to bear Christ in the world.
We who are mighty, powerful, aren’t threatened by God’s armies. We’re invited by God’s sacrificial love to step down from our thrones of privilege and lift up those who are trodden down. We who are full, rich, sated with plenty, are invited to empty ourselves, to step away from the buffet table, so that all can feast, all are fed and housed and clothed. We who are proud, self-centered, who act consciously and unconsciously more out of self-interest than we care to admit, are invited to scatter all that pride, all those self-satisfied thoughts, and let go of our ego. So we can truly become Christ.
This won’t be easy. That’s why we hesitate. Mary’s “yes” led her to great joys, but also pain and suffering. Dropping all boundaries and letting God enter in, for the healing of our world, and for the healing of our own souls, always has risk, cost, loss. A world turned upside down means we move down. God will not force that on us.
But Mary shows us that in spite of all we fear losing, what we gain is life and love in the heart of God. And we join God’s healing of all things.
Today we learn to model Mary, not marvel at her.
Mary doesn’t stand before us to be worshipped, she stands alongside us, urging us to join her in answering God’s invitation. Her willingness to open herself completely to God’s work, even if it meant her world turned upside down, is our model and our hope.
There is grace for us in her experience, too. This turning, this becoming Christ, doesn’t happen in a moment. Neither the fullness of the sacrifice nor the fullness of Christ in us arrives at once. Mary didn’t stand at the cross on the day she said, “Let it be.” She had time to get used to the child inside her. She had morning sickness before she had the backache of the ninth month. She had scraped knees to kiss before she had to face nails pounded into her son. She had time with God to learn this path.
So we can join her in “yes” today and take the path, as she did, a day at a time. Trusting that the Triune God will give us, as God gave her, the grace and courage we need to live into our “let it be with me according to your will.”
And Mary’s path didn’t end at that cross, either.
She was there in those confusing, glorious days after Easter, able to take her beloved son into her arms again. She saw him ascend to his Father. And she was there with about 120 women and men on that day, fifty days after he rose, when the Triune God came to all the believers with the same question Gabriel brought to Mary. She was there when the whole Church was invited to welcome the Holy Spirit into their hearts and lives, to drop all boundaries, to join with God, bearing Christ for the healing of the world.
Pentecost is our Annunciation. The Spirit will change us, if we say yes, but it will be a change for life and joy and hope. Whatever we let go, whatever we are asked to lose, be it power and privilege, wealth and lifestyle, pride and ego, we will soon come to realize they are nothing compared to the joy of bearing Christ. We will find life and love on this path.
And Mary will walk alongside us, holding out her hand, saying, “All will be well. Come, let’s walk together.”
In the name of Jesus. Amen