Mary sees it; Isaiah sees it; Jesus sees it. God wants to overturn the world and bring about a new creation. This causes Mary to rejoice. What will it do to you?
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The feast of St. Mary, Mother of Our Lord
Texts: Isaiah 61:7-11; Luke 1:46-55
Beloved in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Some of us have a problem of self-deception. We praise people while living in opposition to what we praise.
We honor Martin Luther King, Jr., even have a federal holiday to remember him. His vision of a just society where all are treated with dignity and respect and have equality is a beautiful thing. Wouldn’t it be wonderful, we muse, if his vision was reality? But we keep living in ways that make it impossible to exist.
We say we follow Jesus, the Christ, the Son of the living God. His call to love of God and neighbor, to be non-violent peacemakers, to live lives of reconciliation and forgiveness, is a beautiful thing. Wouldn’t it be wonderful, we muse, if Jesus’ vision was reality? But we keep living in ways that make it impossible to exist.
Each year, Mount Olive celebrates Eucharist on August 15, remembering Jesus’ mother, Mary, on her feast day, and we sing her Magnificat. We delight to sing of God scattering the proud, filling the hungry, sending the rich away empty, bringing down the powerful. Wouldn’t it be wonderful, we muse, if Mary’s beautiful vision really happened? But we cling to our lives of comfort and ease, deny our power over so many who suffer, forget we’re the rich who keep others from eating, protect our place on the top of the very pile Mary says God is going to overturn.
One of the ways we fool ourselves is by claiming what they taught was unique, far beyond what the average person can think or do.
Church fathers have long praised Mary for her theological wisdom in Magnificat, that she had this brilliant insight into God. Well, Mary was amazing. Her courage to say yes to God, her willingness to be a part of God’s turning the world upside down, is admirable and wondrous.
But she wasn’t a theological genius. She just knew her Bible. She heard the prophets, knew the law of Moses. Mary simply took God seriously, and when this invitation to bear a child for God came, she realized this was part of what God had long promised. Everything Mary sings is self-evident to anyone who actually reads the Bible.
And she isn’t alone. Her son didn’t invent a new way. Jesus lived what his Hebrew forebears had heard from God, modeled, taught, embodied. Today we heard Isaiah rejoice at the same kind of overturning justice of God that Mary proclaims, and Jesus himself claims as his mission. Mary wasn’t even the first mother to sing something like this. Hannah, the mother of the prophet Samuel, sings a nearly identical song to Magnificat as she rejoices in her coming child and God’s work through him.
But if it’s so obviously God’s dream in Scripture, why do we avoid it?
Is it because some of us have more to lose? Mary was Jewish in a Roman-controlled province, female in a patriarchal culture, poor in a world that always honors the wealthy. Ethnically, biologically, economically, she was in the back row, the bottom of society’s pile.
From that place, as she listened to God’s prophets, heard the stories of God’s acts for her people, she believed them. God does liberate, make gardens in the desert, bring justice, desire peace. God does care for the widows and orphans, those who are oppressed, those who are pushed to the margins. This was good news for Mary and most of the folks she knew.
But if you have power and wealth, if you build an institution like the Church, or even a congregation like Mount Olive, if your society protects you and benefits you, if armies and police forces kill to keep you safe, if you are rewarded for your gender identity, maybe you don’t want to hear God’s priorities.
If we treat Scripture’s consistent witness as a nice but unrealistic dream, maybe it’s because we’re afraid of what’ll happen if God’s priorities actually come to pass.
If Isaiah’s right and God is about freeing captives and setting oppressed free, about loving justice, we who have none of those problems are at risk of losing something. If Mary’s right and God intends taking down the powerful and sending the rich away empty, feeding the hungry and scattering the proud, to the degree you or I are powerful or rich or proud, we’re going to be affected.
So we put Mary’s vision, and the clear witnesses of Scripture, into beautiful cases to admire and adore, where they can’t actually affect my daily life, or your choices. We limit following Jesus to just ensuring life after death, not seeking God’s transformation of the world into God’s new creation.
But then what’s the point of our faith? Why admire Mary and Jesus and all these others but actively live against what they dreamed and lived and called for? How long can we persist in praising those who call us to align with God’s priorities while resisting that alignment, and still deceive ourselves that we’re being faithful?
Here’s a possible hope: Mary didn’t fear what God wants to do. She rejoiced in it.
My spirit rejoices in God who heals, she sings. I will greatly rejoice in God, Isaiah sings. This overturning, this radical change of society – all things we know need to happen, but fear – Mary and Isaiah saw as a reason for joy.
Joy overcomes fear of change, fear of losing status, fear of unsettling realities. When we can see God’s way as Mary sees it, we can stop fearing what we’ll lose and see the joy of God’s world as God intends it.
A world where all systems we’ve built that crush and oppress are broken apart. Where we stop dividing and harming people based on skin color or gender or whatever arbitrary categories we invent. Where peace between peoples exists alongside justice between them, where we solve our problems without violence or power over others. Where all cultures and languages and viewpoints and ethnic songs and heritage and story and faith aren’t melted together in a homogenous pot, but woven together in a colorful, joyful quilt of God’s humanity.
What if, instead of holding this vision at arm’s length, framed in a beautiful case so we can’t touch it, we embraced it fully into our hearts, no matter the cost?
That’s what God’s been calling us to through Scripture for over 3,000 years. Mary knew it. Jesus knew it. Isaiah knew it. Hannah knew it. Martin knew it. Paul knew it. And all rejoiced at this new creation God wants to make in humanity.
Because it sounds pretty wonderful. It sounds like the answer to all the problems we care about and want changed in our world.
My spirit rejoices in the God who heals me and all people, Mary sang. Your spirit could rejoice, too. Let Mary help you find that joy and set aside your fear and actually live into this new way God is making.
In the name of Jesus. Amen