"Mary's Song"

December 24, 2018

 

 

MARY’S SONG

 

39In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 40where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. 45And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” 46And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, 47and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 49for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. 50His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. 51He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. 52He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; 53he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. 54He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, 55according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.” 56And Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home.

                                     (Luke 1:39-56, NRSV)

My friend Robbie is a wine expert. He caught the bug in his twenties while traveling through France, and has never looked back. Robbie has hundreds of bottles, way too many to hide from his Southern Baptist father-in-law, a preacher and a seminary professor, who has never had a drink.  Because of Robbie, Colleen and I have watched the movies “Sideways” and “Bottle Shock,” as well as “Somm,” the documentary about 4 wine stewards preparing to take the Master Sommelier Exam. When a waiter asks Robbie if he’d like to speak to the sommelier, the answer is always yes. 

 

Even I, with my limited wine knowledge, enjoy listening to sommeliers. They’re great storytellers. One night at The Gramercy Tavern, we got a sommelier whose descriptions were captivating, our whole table fell a little bit in love with her.  She spoke so beautifully of the vineyards, the generations of families…The woman even made soil interesting.  Naturally, we ordered several bottles that night from the woman we all now *reverently* call “The Wine Babe.”

 

            The Christmas season is a good time to talk about another, somewhat less glamorous expert: mariologists.  Mariologists are experts on Mary, the mother of Jesus.  Some specialize in Mary’s portrayal in art during medieval times.   Others are well versed in the evolution of devotion to Mary through the centuries.  Some specialize in Mary’s first century portrayal, including in the Bible.  The scriptures don’t tell us a whole lot about Mary.  The Gospel of John never mentions her by name.  The Gospel of Mark skips over the birth of Christ entirely, instead starting with Jesus’ baptism at the age of 30.  The Gospel of Matthew features Joseph more prominently, which brings us to the Gospel of Luke which tells us most of what we know about Mary. 

 

            In the book of Luke, we learn about the angel Gabriel and the Annunciation, when he tells Mary she will bear a son, and she should name the baby Jesus.  The story follows Mary and Joseph traveling to Bethlehem to be counted in a national census and culminates in the stable where Mary gives birth to Jesus, God’s Son, surrounded by oxen and sheep, and visited by shepherds.  There’s a wonderful line at the end of the story where Mary “kept [or treasured] all these things, and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19 KJV/NRSV).

 

            The Rev. Dr. Casey Baggott, a UCC minister in Vero Beach, Florida explains that becoming a parent helped her better understand Mary as a mother.  She writes, Mary and I, “We've had our differences.  No angel announced the specialness of my children, though I had no trouble discovering their remarkable qualities myself.  No one put me on a donkey at nine months and carted me across the desert for a census-taking.  I went in a Volvo through a snowstorm, though.  And pregnant Mary never had the thrill of seeing an oh-so-tiny face and a little clenched hand on an ultrasound screen.  So, yes, our experiences were quite different.  And yet, being a parent, I think I can truly appreciate just how seriously Mary pondered things in her heart about her child, as the scripture puts it, because I've pondered, too.  I know what I've worried about and hoped for.  I know what's kept me awake nights.  If you are a parent, you've wondered, too, I bet.  But what ponderings, exactly, occupied Mary?  And how did she decide to accept the angel's offer of this pregnancy?  ‘Making the decision to have a child,’ Elizabeth Stone writes, ‘is momentous.  It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.’  Did Mary know that when she accepted the job of motherhood?  I don't think I did” Baggott concludes.[1] 

 

            Mary has only a few key lines in the Bible but within that small space she gives an amazing soliloquy offering insight in to her hopes and dreams, and let me tell you it is not all peaches and cream.  Scott McKnight, religion professor at North Park University writes, “There are two Marys. One wears a Carolina blue robe, exudes piety from a somber face, often holds her baby son in her arms, and barely makes eye contact with us. This is the familiar Blessed Virgin Mary, and she leads us to a Christmas celebration of quiet reflection.  Another Mary—the Blessed Valorous Mary [does not always wear that Carolina blue robe] and exudes hope from a confident face. This Mary utters poetry fit for a political rally, goes toe-to-toe with Herod the Great, musters her motherliness to reprimand her [12-year-old] Messiah-son for dallying at the temple, follows her faith to ask him to address a flagging wine supply at a wedding, and then finds the feistiness to take her children to Capernaum to rescue Jesus from death threats. This Mary followed Jesus all the way to the cross…She leads us to a Christmas marked by a yearning for justice and the courage to fight for it.”[2]

 

            Today’s scripture lesson reveals a side of Mary that many of us might find surprising.  Her words in Luke chapter 1 echoed the words from Hannah, mother of Samuel, centuries before.  Today’s passage from Luke, sometimes known as the Song of Mary, commonly called “the Magnificat” because the first word in Latin translates  as “magnifies,” are as tough and as fiery as any Old Testament prophet.  In the revolutionary words of Mary’s Magnificat we hear what McKnight calls “…the heartfelt release of a woman yearning for what God was—finally!—about to do in Israel and in historical context, we see it as a call to subvert unjust leaders. To turn this song into simple spirituality strips it of its meaning and leaves injustices—personified by Caesar Augustus and Herod the Great—on the throne…[King] Herod [who] had assassinated members of his own family for anything that even smelled of treachery.  [Does this remind you of a particular Saudi prince?] That same Herod had taxed Israel—felt more by the poor than by anyone else—beyond its means. Hear [Mary’s] words in that context. They are words of subversion…If you were a poor woman in the first century, if you were hungry, if you had experienced the injustices of Herod, and if you stood up in Jerusalem and announced that God would yank down the proud, the rulers, and the rich from their high places, you would likely be tried for subversion. If you were Herod…you would conclude that Mary was a rebel, a revolutionary, a social protester. And you would be right: The real Mary was a subversive.…Mary, before anyone else, sees and announces the radical nature of Jesus' mission.”[3]

 

            So what are we to make of these words today?  Does God really plan to bring down the powerful from their thrones just for being powerful?  Like the rest of us, powerful people must make a choice on how to use their power and influence.  Will they focus on gratifying their own selfish desires at the expense of others or will they use their abundant resources and influence for the good of others, especially those languishing in poverty with little power and influence?  Does God really want to send the rich away empty and why?  Is it because God does not love them?  Quite the opposite.  God loves us all and wants what is best for us, but God does not control our decisions.  The rich who leave empty do so by their own choice. 

 

            For me this Christmas, the best part of the Magnificat is its hope. It is Mary pouring out her heart.  The other day in my office, I was listening to a Motown Christmas album. I heard a song first recorded by Stevie Wonder in 1967, and covered many times since.   The lyrics stopped me in my tracks for they are as meaningful today as they were in 1967.  The dreams of this song parallel the dreams of Mary’s song.  This song is called “Someday At Christmas,” and the lyrics are printed in your order of service.  As we listen to our choir sing this song, may it fill our hearts with the hope of Christmas.

 

“Someday At Christmas”

(Ron Miller and Bryan Wells)

 

Someday at Christmas, men won't be boys

Playing with bombs like boys play with toys

One warm December, our hearts will see

A world where all are free.

 

Someday at Christmas, there'll be no wars

When we have learned what Christmas is for

When we have found what life’s really worth,

There’ll be peace on earth.

 

Someday all our dreams will come to be;

Someday in a world where all are free.

Maybe not in time for you and me,

But someday at Christmastime.

 

Someday at Christmas we’ll see a land

With no hungry children, no empty hand.

One happy morning people will share

A world where people care.

 

Someday at Christmas there’ll be no tears

When all are equal and no one has fears

One shining moment one prayer away

From our world today.

 

Someday all our dreams will come to be;

Someday in a world where people are free.

Maybe not in time for you and me,

But someday at Christmastime.

 

Someday at Christmas we will not fail,

Hate will be gone and love will prevail,

Someday a new world that we can start

With hope in ev’ry heart.

Someday all our dreams will come to be;

Someday in a world where people are free.

Maybe not in time for you and me,

But someday at Christmastime.

Someday at Christmastime.

AMEN.

(My favorite cover is an acoustic version by Jack Johnson.)

 

 

Written by Rev. Jimmy Only

Advent IV/Christmas Sunday

December 23, 2018

The Congregational Church of Manhasset, New York (UCC)

 

 

PASTORAL PRAYER

 

God of mystery and might, we praise and worship you.  We remember how you came in silence, while all the world lay sleeping, to enter our world as a child of humble birth.  We thank you for the hope of the prophets, the song of the angels, the wonder of the shepherds, and the gifts of the Magi.  Mostly we give thanks that in Jesus Christ you became flesh and dwelt among us, sharing human hurts and human joys.  Join our voices with the heavenly host that we may sing your glory on high. 

 

Thanks be to you eternal God for sending the greatest gift of all, your Son, Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us.  AMEN.

 

 

Adapted from the Book of Common Worship, pp. 184-185.

 

 

 

[1] http://day1.org/4401-learning_to_focus

 

[2] http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2006/december/8.26.html

 

[3] Ibid. 

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