Mary faithfully and joyfully proclaims the justice of God’s reign as a reality, despite the conditions of the world around her and the complexities of her own life, because she knows and trusts God.
Vicar Bristol Reading
The Feast of Mary, Mother of Our Lord
Text: 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
I’m so grateful we don’t have to wait until December to hear this Gospel text, which we read every year in Advent, because we need to hear it now.
These days, the world feels heavy with injustice. We awake daily to news of more gun violence, more political conflict, more racial fear-mongering, more accounts of abuse, more people in desperate need. In the midst of all this, Mary’s pronouncement that God’s strength is on the side of the vulnerable shines like a beacon in darkness.
In God’s reign, the powers of the world are turned upside down.
The rich and proud, who seemed untouchable and unshakable, are brought down low. Their authority and money cannot protect them. It is the lowly, the poor, the forgotten people on the margins who are lifted up. Those who have gone wanting will find more than enough at the table of God’s banquet. This is the promise of an ever-faithful God that Mary declares.
And yet, the same heaviness of the world that makes me so eager to hear this message now is also what makes it difficult to trust that promise.
The reality we see around us doesn’t match the vision that Mary describes. We feel overwhelmed, exhausted, doubtful that justice will come. We cry out: When will God’s might tear the tyrants from their thrones? When will God’s strong arm scatter the proud of heart? When will God’s goodness satisfy the hungry? Our context can convince us that these things are impossible.
But if we think that Mary’s context made it any easier to believe in God’s world-changing justice, then we are underestimating the reality she faced.
In the words of this Gospel passage, we hear the voice of a young woman speaking to us across centuries and continents. We cannot know much about what her life was like. But we do know that she was not a person of great wealth or means. She would have held little power in her culture, and when she found herself pregnant, but unmarried, her options would have become even more limited.
Why did she claim so confidently that God was paying attention to the people society ignored? How did a woman whose future looked so bleak declare such a bold vision of God’s righteous power in the world?
She experienced it personally.
Mary might have been marginal and unimportant according to the world’s standards, but not according to God’s.
Her situation may have endangered her future in her community, but not her favor in God’s sight. God noticed her. God knew her. Loved her. Chose her. It is she who will be the one to bear the incarnate presence of God among humanity. Can you imagine? Not a woman who is royal, or wealthy, or famous… but Mary, a Jew from a small town in the corner of the Roman occupation.
Mary’s very body bears witness to God’s regard for the those whom the world undervalues. She knows that God is with her and that God is for her, as God is for any who are vulnerable. She trusts that God’s spirit is transforming her and transforming the world.
And for that, she rejoices.
When she hears the news of her unexpected and inexplicable pregnancy, Mary holds fast to her faith and accepts the life that comes to her. Despite the complexity of her circumstances, she is overjoyed.
And she expects that everyone else will be, too. Mary seems completely unconcerned with what other people might think of her situation. She confidently declares that people for generations and generations to come will see that this pregnancy, this thing that has happened to her – is a complete blessing.
God is coming into the world.
And Mary just cannot keep that to herself. Her soul is bursting with this good news; she cannot contain it!
Mary doesn’t just share a word of God’s goodness – she proclaims it!
“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my savior!” No wonder her words are so well set to music – she is singing with wonder at this event that is not only about her, but about all people. God’s righteousness is for all humanity.
None of this is theoretical or contingent for Mary – it’s already a reality. She doesn’t say God might fill the hungry with good things, or God will eventually, someday lift up the lowly. She says God has done this. That is proclamation.
Of course, Mary’s pregnancy doesn’t suddenly solve all the suffering and injustice of the world. It doesn’t even solve her own struggles. She’s still a Jewish woman living under Roman occupation. Her life as the mother of Jesus will not be easy, and she will be at foot of the cross when her son, the Light of the world, dies as a criminal.
The complete fulfillment of God’s kingdom is beyond Mary’s lifetime, as it is beyond the lives of all the saints who came after her.
The spirit of God who is at work in Mary’s life was at work in the world long before Jesus was born and will be at work in the world long after Jesus dies. Mary doesn’t know how everything will work out, and yet she proclaims God’s justice as a reality. Because she knows who God is. She knows God is faithful, merciful, and intimately present with her in the midst of her life’s joy and pain. We know that God, too, the same God that Mary, the mother of our Lord, our ancestor in faith, trusted with all her heart, with all her life.
From Mary, we learn to be attentive to where God’s spirit is moving in a hurting world.
We learn to respond with joy and gratitude when we experience God’s blessing in our lives, and to have faith that God still sees us, still knows us, still loves us when we experience suffering.
We, like Mary, can say ‘yes’ to participating in God’s reign on earth in all its compassionate justice, knowing that God is working even through us, knowing that we cannot grow weary of doing good, even when the fruits of our labor are beyond our lifetimes. When we look at the world and feel overwhelmed by pain and need and violence, we still trust in the God we know because that is an act of strong, subversive faith.
And we don’t keep it to ourselves. We proclaim the good news that never stops being an astounding message of hope: God is coming into the world!