Honoring Mary

Sermon for Sunday, December 20th, 2015 ||  The Fourth Sunday of Advent, Year C ||  Micah 5: 2-5a; Canticle 15; Hebrews 10: 5-10; Luke 1: 39-55 ||  The Rev. Margot D. Critchfield

She is somewhere between the ages of 12 and 14, well within the normal range for a girl in her culture to be betrothed. Now that she is biologically capable of bearing children, her primary value as a female might finally be realized. This is, after all, what she was born for, raised for, groomed for.

But she was also born into, raised among, and groomed by, a poor Jewish family in a tiny Jewish settlement of no more than 500 people—a poor, yet faithful family, scratching out a living under Roman occupation in a world of soul-crushing cruelty, classism, and corruption…a world nearly grown numb to violence, oppression and injustice…a world in which a girl who was already betrothed and discovered pregnant could be stoned to death…or simply tossed out by her father or her fiancé like spoiled, worthless goods…

Yet when the angel Gabriel appears and calls this seemingly unlikely candidate “God’s favored one”… when he tells her she is soon to bear “the Son of the Most High” whose kingdom will have no end, this mere woman-child whose future as she knows it has just been destroyed replies, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

Do you see what we’re dealing with here? This is a girl who at thirteen years of age is told that God is about to do something with her life for which she could be ostracized at best —and more likely be killed—but who fearlessly responds, “So be it. Thy will, not mine, be done.”

This is a girl whose life as she knew it has just been shattered, but who pulls it together, leaves everything behind, and sets out on a very long and very dangerous journey to see her older cousin, Elizabeth, who the angel has told her is also pregnant.

This is a girl who– miles from home now, with very little hope, if any, of ever returning to the life she knew before— confidently proclaims the greatness of the Lord…says she rejoices in God her Savior, and claims the Almighty has done great things for her!

This girl is either delusional, or incredibly faithful—and I’m going to go with faithful. But she is anything but meek and mild! She is fearless, strong, bold, and what’s more—she is prophetic: In the midst of a death-dealing world that is almost too ugly to bear, she defiantly proclaims the “already/not yet” beauty of God’s radically upside down and mercy-filled Kingdom:

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

Where, without her faith, would this young girl be? In defiance of all evidence to the contrary, she insists on God’s goodness and mercy; she affirms his justice and righteousness; she maintains his fidelity and trustworthiness; she believes in, hopes for, and proclaims the fulfillment of his divine promise.

This, I think, is where Mary speaks to us today. Just as when the angel Gabriel came and assured her that “nothing will be impossible with God,” now Mary comes to us and assures us that nothing will be impossible with faith in God and God’s mercy. From her son’s conception and birth to his death and resurrection, Mary gives witness to the power of a faith with which not only are all blessings possible, but all suffering is bearable and redeemable …a faith with which truth is spoken boldly and with confidence…a faith with which hope is eternally stubborn and defiant.

On this fourth Sunday of Advent, as we prepare for the birth of the Christ-child, may we honor the woman-child who bore him. Because just as Julie Clawson wrote in The Christian Century a number of years ago, “Mary wasn’t crazy. She was carrying the hope of the world inside her…[and that] hope had to be proclaimed with assurance.”

It still does, now more than ever. May God grace us with the courage to proclaim it! Because the Mighty One has done great things for us, and holy is His name! Amen.

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