Sunday 23 December 2012

Preaching on 'The Magnificat' (Mary's radical song)

Advent Sermon based on the Magnificat, preached 10am; 23rd Dec 2012 in Sunderland Minster:

My soul magnifies the Lord
And my spirit rejoices in God my Savior;
Because he has regarded the lowliness of his handmaid;
For behold, henceforth all generations shall call me blessed;
Because he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name;
And his mercy is from generation to generation
on those who fear him.
He has shown might with his arm,
He has scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart.
He has put down the mighty from their thrones,
and has exalted the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has given help to Israel, his servant, mindful of his mercy
Even as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.

In a few short days it will be Christmas itself – not Advent, the season of waiting, but the big day where we focus on the incarnation of God in the person of Jesus. The Incarnation simply means; God becoming one of us, so that we are completely and utterly connected to God. No more is God a big thing up there or out there – but intimately, God becomes one of us.

And the passage we have just heard from Luke, makes it all a bit clearer how that actually happens. You know the old saying, behind every God Man, is an amazing woman – and here in Luke chapter 1 v 39-56, we have the scriptural evidence.

We have this coming together of these two great women, Elizabeth and Mary, at the time when God is being knitted together in the womb – both women are going to help bring up extraordinary people who will change the face of the earth.

Elizabeth, has already had the strange story of thinking that she wouldn't ever have kids, then suddenly becoming a mum late on in life. We know that she is a righteous woman, blameless, and that she is the one who perhaps most powerfully shapes the person of John the Baptist. John becomes the great revolutionary from the desert, who challenges the people with power and begins saying ground breaking things like 'whoever has two coats must give to the one who has none, and whoever has bread must share it with those who go without'. Behind John is his mother Elizabeth, with her trust in the Lord and her absolute love for God.

Mary and Elizabeth meet up and spend 3 months together. Mary, is quite obviously an incredible woman. I'm not interested in 'Mary' the woman of myth, depicted in such a saintly, virginal way in certain art and literature. I'm fascinated by the real, down to earth Mary who recognises that God is at work in her life, and then strives to do the best she can. A woman who may well have  had to bring up most of her children on her own, as her husband Joseph simply disappears from the story. According to some stories, Joseph was killed by the Roman's, as were thousands of his country folk at the hands of the occupying army.

And here in 'the Magnificat', in this most extraordinary of songs (the church calls them canticles because it needs a fancy name for everything) in this great song, we get some incredible hints at who this woman was, and what she really was about;

“My soul magnifies the Lord, my spirit rejoices in the Lord my Saviour”

Firstly we see that she is a great poet and mystic, these are intensely beautiful words, timeless and wonderful. She is a woman of great joy and she knows that God is at work in her and she rejoices. Her very being is one that tells of the great goodness of God, her very soul magnifies the Lord, she makes him known in the world and she rejoices in that.

We also know that she was someone who spent time listening to scripture and the holy words of her faith – she knows her traditions well – this song is based on the song of Hannah, the mother of Samuel – and she sings it to Elizabeth, knowing full well that it is also the story of another woman who didn't think she would have a child, but then goes on to be honoured by God with the responsibility of bringing up a great leader.

Mary is also a wise scholar. She adapts scripture to make sense of her situation, she updates it. This is not a copy of Hannah's song, but a modern retelling of it. Over the years, she will help Jesus to make sense of his traditions but help him to not be a slave to it, something that we all desperately need to be able to do!

In the song, we also see her humility as she talks of the lowliness of herself as his servant. She is humble, but not passive, she recognising that God has done amazing things for her and for all the 'lowly ones' of history.

Then we see the revolutionary words of a peasant women 2000 year ago. She reveals that God is the one who has brought down the mighty from their thrones and has lifted up the lowly, he has filled the hungry with good things and the rich he has sent away empty.

So from the very start of Jesus life – he is exposed to the radical teachings of this woman, who knows what life is really about, and will sing to Jesus radical songs as he grows, keeping him on the straight and narrow path of God's justice and peace.

Jesus knows from the very start that society is an unfair place, that it does not reveal the way that God wants the world to be. Hence his life is spent calling for revolution, repentance, a turning from the ways of this world and then building God's kingdom, where there will no hungry people any more, and an end to inequalities.

I think we often fall into the trap of believing that Jesus was born with super human powers, and that he already had within him the memories of the beginning of the universe and even the knowledge of the end of it. I don't think that that is what an incarnational God is all about. Jesus, has to grow up, has to learn wisdom, scripture, humility and what it is that God needs of him. And Mary is the one who does it.

It is up to each of us as parents, each of us as educators who deal with children, who have this great responsibility of bringing God into this world, one child at a time.

It is perhaps because of this that we feel the suffering of the parents of the 20 children of Sandy Hook Elementary School who were so brutally slain. We give thanks to the brave 6 women who died trying to protect these little ones. Dawn Hochsprung, the head teacher who rushed to the scene and tried to stop this man slaughtering the innocents. When the shooting started, it was another saintly Mary that jumped in to care for the little ones. The school psychologist, Mary Sherlach, ran to the scene and tried to rush the man with the gun, and died in a hail of bullets. She was a dedicated educator driven by her faith. Her husband William told the media “she considered what she was doing to be God's work – that is all you need to know about her.”

Our duty is to bring up our children and the children around us in a way that constantly reminds us that God's love is the only reason for our existence, and that everything in our bodies must yearn for God's kingdom of love, despite the horrors of this world. Mary Sherlach was willing to give her life for that belief.

The 'Magnificat' will help us to do this. We should long to be poets and mystics who rejoice in our souls, and tell of Gods love for us, and do so with humility and dedication. We should not shirk from saying that God is about changing this world completely. It must turn away from being a place of greed and hunger, where violence rains down on the little ones in Syria, in Pakistan, in the Democratic Republic of Congo. We must stop being nations that run by the strength of the barrel of a gun and put an end to a world where powerful people can do as they please.

This Christmas it all ends. Instead, we must turn to a God whose power is demonstrated not with a sword or a gun, but through a child, born in poverty, and raised by the radical songs and wisdom of a peasant woman 2000 years ago.

1 comment:

  1. Wow! I think for the 1st time ever I can say Amen to virtually everything you've said.

    I'm worried!