Sermon 12-13-2015; ‘Mary’s Song’
“Mary, Did You Know?” http://www.metrolyrics.com/mary-did-you-know-lyrics-christmas-song.html
Kathleen Norris, ‘Annunciation’ , Watch for the Light – Readings for Advent and Christmas, Plough Publishing Company, 2001.
What did Mary know? We heard a beautiful song this morning, as our Prelude, asking Mary over and over again what she knew about the child she was carrying. The baby boy she was holding in her womb. She, like Katie today, knew that she would have a son. But did she know he would walk on water? He would calm a storm?
The blind will see.
The deaf will hear.
The dead will live again.
The lame will leap.
The dumb will speak.
Did Mary know? When the angel Gabriel came to speak to Mary, there in her home in Nazareth, the first thing she heard – once she recovered from her startled fear at seeing and hearing an angel of God – was that she was ‘highly favored’. To be favored is to be preferred – to be chosen. You are ‘the favorite’. The angel told Mary, the Lord was with her. There were many other young women God could have chosen, but God chose Mary. God’s choice was purposeful.
What do we know of Mary? She was a young woman, already promised in marriage to a man named Joseph. She would have received a gift from Joseph while he said, ‘By this, thou art set apart for me, according to the laws of Moses and of Israel.” The betrothal was binding, and could only be broken legally, as in a divorce. Their betrothal would have lasted for a year, while Joseph prepared their home, and Mary prepared her wedding clothes (what we used to call a trousseau), and for the wedding celebration itself. Joseph and Mary lived in the region of Galilee, in a town called Nazareth, where Joseph worked as a carpenter. Each of them – Joseph and Mary – descended from the kingly line of David – depending on the genealogy you study – Matthew’s or Luke’s. Mary’s cousin Elizabeth was a daughter of the Aaronic priesthood. Mary, and Joseph too, were very familiar with Jewish customs, and Jewish faith.
What did Mary know? Not only was she favored, but she would give birth to a son. He would be great and would be called the Son of the Most High. He would be given David’s throne, and would reign over the house of Jacob forever. Not just for a generation – but forever. Her son’s kingdom would never end. She was to name him Jesus. And she knew that all of this would happen through the power of the Holy Spirit.
What do we know about Mary? Mary was a virgin, a young person who had not yet learned to doubt her capacity for wonder. Everything – anything – was possible. What was it the angel Gabriel had told her? Nothing is impossible with God! She knew, as only young people do, that so much of life is beyond our control. We may act like we control our lives, but much of it is beyond us. Thomas Merton describes this when he speaks of the true identity he seeks in prayer – “a point untouched by illusion, a point of pure truth… which belongs entirely to God, which is inaccessible to the fantasies of our own mind or the brutalities of our own will. This little point… of absolute poverty is the pure glory of God in us.”
Author Kathleen Norris writes: ‘It is only when we stop idolizing the illusion of our control over the events of life and recognize our poverty that we become virgin, in the sense that Merton means. Adolescents tend to be better at this than grown-ups, because they are continually told that they don’t know enough, and they lack the means to hide behind professional credentials. The whole world confirms to them that they are indeed poor, regrettably laboring through what is called “the awkward age”. It is no wonder that teenagers like to run in packs, that they surround themselves with people as gawky and unformed as themselves. But it is in adolescence that the fully formed adult self begins to emerge, and if a person has been fortunate, allowed to develop at his or her own pace, this self is a liberating force, and it is virgin. That is, it is one-in-itself, better able to cope with peer pressure, as it can more readily measure what is true to one’s self, and what would violate it. Even adolescent self-absorption recedes as one’s capacity for the mystery of hospitality grows; it is only as one is at home in oneself that one may be truly hospitable to others – welcoming, but not overbearing, affably pliant but not subject to crass manipulation. This difficult balance is maintained only as one remains virgin, cognizant of oneself as valuable, unique and undiminshable at the core…’
What does Mary do? She sings! She SINGS! She sings of her own poverty, her own humility. But she knows her inner self well, and she recognizes the strength of her choosing by God. She is favored, she was chosen, she is valued. God was mindful, was attentive to her. God has done great things for her. Poverty and wealth all wrapped up in one line – one lyric – one voice. ‘God has done great things for me.’
Friends, we are virgin. We are virgin when we open ourselves to the newness, to the wonder of God in us. And we can sing from our poverty, when we are blest with the wealth of God’s love for us. ‘God has done great things for me.’ ‘God has done great things for me.’
Then, with the cocky assurance of youth, and the clear faith of one stepping out into the ‘known unknown’, Mary speaks rebellion: mercy to those who fear God; the scattering of the secretly proud; the uncompromised strength of God; the destruction of arrogant rulers and the rise of the humble; the hungry filled with good things, and the rich sent away from the table – empty.
This young woman, when making out her birth announcements, would write far more than the date, weight, and length of her son. Here she is writing a cautionary tale: get ready for this kid… make way for the coming of the Lord. My world, your world, our world, will never be the same.
Mary, did you know that your Baby Boy has come to make you new?
She knew. She knew.
What do we know?