Magnifying a Pregnant Moment

Magnifying a Pregnant Moment

Isaiah 61: 1-4, 8-11 and Luke 1:46b-55.

Early last the week, when I titled the sermon, I came up with
“Magnificat for a Pregnant Moment,”
a take-off on an article I read in the Huffington Post a few years ago.

Having prepared the sermon; now ready to preach it,
It occurs to me,
“Magnifying a Pregnant Moment”
might be a closer lead for what I am to say.

This year, Mary’s song
takes on a more explicit revolutionary tone.

Maybe in a season of protests, even political unrest,
…When the streets of New York
and D.C.
and Boston
and the Bay area are filling with protesters….

When one of our own was telling
about how cold the pavement was last Sunday night
when she took part in the die-in,
…How she was shivering and not sure she could make it,
but just kept saying to herself,
“It’s only 4 and ½ minutes, and the least I can do.”

…Perhaps with all this going on around us and inside us,
it’s just easier to hear the prophetic notes
that are always implicit
in the young women’s biblical song of hope and faith
(even if our tradition has sometimes tried studiously to ignore and avoid them!)

Mary’s is a testimony to impossible realities.

A witness to committing ourselves
to participating in and living our lives out
according to a vision that’s almost too good to be true
And certainly better than our world as it is.

Mary has a faith and a life that are deliberately leaning into
how God means for the world.
Do you?

That commitment certainly doesn’t spare
her or her loved ones loss and heartbreak,
but it does pose us with a basic faith question
a challenge really
…for those of us who say we are people of faith:

What does it mean to encounter God in a broken world?
What’s it like to live for God in a broken world?

What could God’s promise of redemption mean
When it must be spoken and heard and interpreted
With the sounds or gunshots and sirens and helicopters overhead,
And people shouting “I Can’t Breathe.”

What’s could such a promise mean in the depressing glow of the nightly news
of another unarmed Black man gunned down?

What’s Advent and the promise of a Savior mean
in the face of despair over the continued struggle fr or — and failures at — racial justice?
… and the public unmasking our our government’s employing the techniques of torture?

And the apparent acceptance,
disregard
or even celebration of such by so many.

What could an encounter with God
And living with God
mean for those who find ourselves saying:

“Enough, we must do better.
We can’t lose another brother, father, son.
We can employ the techniques we claim give us reason to be taking up arms against someone else.
We could do better.
We are better than this…”

How is our prophetic religious tradition,
–Mostly more implicitly than explicitly
ss it’s been subsumed and assimilated by our secularized culture–

…How’s the tradition of the prophets,
Reaffirmed by the church in successive generations
And memorialized by the Protestant Reformers…

How’s all this come to the intersection of
a few years ago’s Occupy movements
And the much more racially diverse protests happening today?

Does our religious tradition have anything to add
to the efforts to effect greater justice
in St. Louis
and NYC
and Cleveland
and Philadelphia?

Church, Mary’s one of the Gospel’s first prophets.
Her Magnificat is a power poem, the song of a protester, the outrage of one harmed,
…that holds together the injuries and hurt of life’s outskirts…
…holds those indignities right up against a resilient hope
that God not only cares,
But is walking beside those who are wronged and those who are working for justice.

Mary found herself pregnant and not yet married
in an ancient, patriarchal culture in which control and coercion of female sexuality
were yardsticks and instruments of masculine power and honor.

Mary faced an uncertain future at best;
devastating retribution from her community at worst.

Indeed, Matthew’s Gospel of Matthew carefully notes
that Joseph planned to dismiss her quietly
rather than expose her to public humiliation —
which is sort of a euphemistic retelling of the situation,
in as much as
the more threatening scenario of her reality…
she could theoretically have been, according to the Law, stoned for adultery.

I think we are missing something
important
and true
and incredibly powerful
when we accept the image of Mary
as often portrayed in our tradition:
a passive, yielding, humble young woman
who found a quiet peace, more like resignation
— and a halo—
in a deep and abiding personal faith
of acceptance and reconciliation.

I see a different Mary this year.
Rather than the perfect, obediant child,
she’s a girl who sings loudly and defiantly
as she rushes the barricades,
yelling through a bullhorn,
even to stand alone if necessary…
willing to go the whole distance
in a world where women weren’t afforded a voice,
or a say,
because the powers have no interest in hearing,
or responding,
or caring.

Mary, at the opening of the New Testament,
is just the latest in a long line of prophets who affirm God…
in her case, by standing up and refusing to be stilled,
over against the principalities of this world who would do her harm.

Hers is not so much a song of victory,
As a song of protest –

Through her tears for all that’s wrong with the world
And with her fists clenched
against the threats that mean to silence her,
her body strong and tight and unyielding
before the dangers of her own unknown future,
Mary’s witness is a radical resource
for anyone seeking to uncover
and to honor
and to uplift
the holy
and wholeness
and shalom
even in the midst of the shadowed valleys
of everyday suffering, conflict and injustice of our world.

And in this sense,
hers is a foreshadowing of
the life and ministry of the child she will bear.

Some worship Mary.

Others reduce her to a means to God’s end,
Even though God doesn’t play people like that.

But seeing Mary as an two-dimensional icon
Or only in her biological role,
Both perspectives miss how she may be most helpful for us.

This Advent, I offer you Mary,
a new Mary,
or at least a new image of Mary…

An example of what faith can do to normal people.
What can happen when God shows up
to touch and turn and take the likes of you and me.
How God can take us and transform us and use us.

This is the Mary we find in Luke’s Gospel,
Whose retelling of Jesus’ story is after all
the Good News related for the lost and the last and the least.

This is a grittier Mary.
No longer the painted pastels
bathed in a heavenly light.

This is a more strident Mary.
No more the motionless virgin fashioned from China for the crèche set.

This is a life-size and living Mary,
In the fullness of her real vulnerable humanity
and the loudness of her righteous anger
over a world that’s not yet grown enough
to honor or be worthy of her or the child she is to bear,
or many, many – too many – real daughters and son of God.

Mary who shows us a way
to give birth to,
to raise,
to walk beside,
to learn from,
to mourn
and eventually to follow her son Jesus.

Luke invites us to emulate her.

And that emulation begins first by listening enough…

Not to the voices telling us the cold hard facts about
How the world really is,
or how the world has to be

Emulation begins, instead, by listening enough
to hear how God and our faith reassure
the world should and could be.

And then speaking loud and unapologetically.
And marching onward even when you are told to stay back or turn around.

What makes Mary’s story so special,
if it’s not the miraculousness of the birth,
or God’s involvement in getting such a miracle to happen?

No, it’s not God’s side of the story that’s hard to imagine.
God’s a God of miracles. God is a God of the oppressed. What do we expect.

But where the story is really surprising,
almost incomprehensible,
when you stop and think of it
— in terms of the socio-political context of Mary’s situation,
how women we’re devalued and disempowered and treated like property then —
… Despite all of that,
Mary’s story is different.
A completely foreign and out of context surprise that testifies to her encounter with God.

In just two words,
because of Mary’s consent.

This is not all about what God can do.
Rather than some divine rape
(so popular in the religious mythologies of that time)
…Rather than something like that
which would have been all God’s decision
(whether carried out by force or deception),
…Rather, Mary is consulted.
And she consents.

She’s not a tool.
She’s a participant.
She’s a person.

Because this Gospel coming into the world
isn’t like any of our worldly Kingdoms and how they operate,
using and plow right through people as if they are of no matter.

It’s about finding the inherent dignity and value of people
That’s been buried
under all the abuse of those
who have been overlooked,
disregarded or used as objects.

It about finding the buried dignity – that image of God –
inside anyone and everyone and then raising it up.

Luke records Mary’s answer
to the strange invitation of the Angel Gabriel, like this:
“Let it be with me according to your word.”
It’s a good line,
Sounds so faithful and all.
But really,
unless Mary or the Angel told Luke what she said,
How could the Gospel writer really know exactly what she replied?

I bet that’s not what she said.
That sounds a bit too literary and reflective
for a shocked, scared, maybe starting to feel angry 12 year old peasant girl.

I imagine something simpler came out of the young girl’s mouth.
Something more like a bewildered or halting “O-o-o-k???”

But let’s give Luke the benefit of the doubt,
And concede Mary might have gotten out something simple,
and unambiguously affirmative:
perhaps a single, steely, defiant “yes”.

Yes to God.
Yes to her role in the work that God wanted done in the world.
Yes to the difference she could make.

Beloved, can we say yes?

Yes to a incredible promise
over against every harsh reality
the world would have us believe?

Yes to the testimony of impossible realities?

Yes to committing ourselves
to participating and living our lives out
according to a vision that’s almost too good to be true
And certainly better than our world as it is?

I’m almost done now,
but I’ve got another poem or song or protest to share.

It’s one that might have come after Mary’s.
It was composed by a United Methodist clergy woman
named Jan Richardson.

She calls her song “A Blessing for After.”

“The blessing
is for the moment
after clarity has come,

after inspiration,

after you have agreed
to what seemed
impossible.

This blessing
is what follows
after illumination departs

and you realize
there is no map
for the path
you have chosen,

no one to serve
as guide,

nothing to do
but gather up
your gumption
and set out.

(sounds kind of like the mothering
I was speaking of this morning in the Children’s story,
parenting in general I guess.)

…nothing to do
but gather up
your gumption
and set out.

This blessing
will go with you.

It carries no answers,
no charts,
no plans.

It carries no source
of light
within itself.

But in its pocket
is tucked a mirror
that from time to time
it will hold up to you

to remind you
of the radiance
that came
when you gave
your awful and wondrous
yes.
Amen.