Saturday, August 14, 2010

Glorifying God

Luke 1:39-56

     Today, the 15th of August, is the traditional day to honor Mary, the Mother of Our Lord. In our gospel text today, we have a story we normally hear at Christmas time, during Advent.
In the story, two women come together to marvel at God’s intervention in the world. Elizabeth was old, and barren, unable to have children. There are few people in her culture with less honor than barren wives.
Even in our 21st century American culture, we question women who have no children. It’s not normal for young couples to be childless.  If they choose to not have children, we may think they are selfish. If they physically cannot have children, we may feel sorry for them, and urge them to adopt.
To make matters worse for Elizabeth, her husband Zechariah is a priest in the temple. He struggled to believe God would actually give him a son in his old age, so he has been made speechless. He was not even able to shout for joy when Elizabeth found out she was really going to have a child!
Mary seems to have come from a poor family, but one with true faith in God. When Elizabeth is about 6 months pregnant, Mary is told by an angel that she will have a special baby, the Messiah. According to Luke, these two women are somehow related, and news in families travels fast, so Mary knew about Elizabeth’s miraculous pregnancy. Who better for her to talk with than Elizabeth? So, Mary travels quickly to Judea to see her.
For expectant couples, the sensation of babies moving inside the mother is wonderful, almost magical. During both of my pregnancies, my husband Jim spent every spare moment with his hands on my belly, to feel the baby move.
Apparently, Elizabeth’s baby’s movement was something extra, more like a jump for joy. Elizabeth comments on it, and Mary sings a song.
When I was expecting my babies, I really enjoyed taking about the experience of being pregnant. I talked with anyone about being pregnant, and especially enjoyed talking with other pregnant women and new mothers. We spoke about how wonderful it was to be pregnant, and we spoke about morning sickness, and not fitting into our clothes, and what we would need to buy, how we would decorate the baby’s room, and so forth.
Probably, Mary and Elizabeth talked about these things. But Scripture doesn’t tell us about any of those conversations. What Luke does say, is that Elizabeth feels blessed to know that she will know the coming of the Lord, the Messiah. Mary is to be blessed, and so is the child she is to bear.
Mary sings a song we call the Magnificat, because that is how the song begins in Latin. Magnificat anima mea dominum. It means, as our English versions tell us, “My soul magnifies the Lord.” We might say, “My whole being gives glory to God.”
Mary goes on, then, to sing of the greatness and the mercy of God because of the child who is coming. The whole world will be turned upside down; the mighty and powerful will lose their places, and the powerless – like women and children and the disabled and the resident foreigner– will know that God loves them.
Mary would have known many of the songs in Scripture: Hannah’s song after she was finally pregnant in her old age, quite similar to the Magnificat. Miriam’s song, after the crossing of the Red Sea. Songs like many of the psalms, which sing of justice for God’s people. Mary most likely would have known these songs, and had her own song of praise to God.
At this moment, as she meets with Elizabeth, Mary, instead of focusing on the joy of having a child, focuses on the joy of loving God, and the mercy God will give to the world. Mary gives glory to God.
As parents, we all want to instill our own values in our children. We want them to be kind, helpful, generous, and so forth. As Christian parents, we want them to come to know and love God. We can only hope and pray that they will grow up to be faithful to Jesus, once they are able to decide for themselves how to live. We can tell our children and teenagers that as long as they put their feet under our tables, they will go to church with us. But once they have moved out of the house, we have little control over them.
Little is told of Jesus as a child, but if we imagine Mary as a mother, just think of the influence she would have had on her son. She must have taught him about being a poor person, and the oppression many people experience. She must have made sure he knew these songs, and her own song. She must have made sure he knew what God wanted him to do, and to be.
As a young adult, Jesus was at a wedding with Mary. [I’m making an assumption here, because it makes for a good story. J] Mary knew Jesus could fix the situation when the host ran out of wine. Jesus objected, “It’s not my time.” I think he was saying, “The host didn’t plan this party very well, did he? It’s not my job to do magic to fix his problem!” Even so, as his mother’s son, he obeyed. When the story is told in John, the action is linked to God’s goodness and mercy, and to Jesus giving God glory in the doing.
We never expect or want to have our children die before we do. It’s not the way things are supposed to be. There is nothing more heartbreaking than burying a child, even if that child is 60 years old and we are 80 or 90. Mary stood by the cross, and watched and wept as Jesus died. Perhaps she remembered Simeon’s prophecy that a sword would pierce her heart. I’m sure it felt that way to her, and I’m sure she wondered how his death gave glory to God, or how it fit into the divine plan.
The Magnificat is the theme song for Luke’s telling of Jesus’ birth, life, ministry, teaching, trial, death, and resurrection. Jesus’ coming into the world is intended to change everything, to upset the status quo, to bring into being the reign of God. At his birth, Jesus was visited by shepherds and magi, and witnessed to by angels. During his life he reached out to rich and poor, powerful and powerless, able and disabled, men and women, Jews and Gentiles, righteous and sinners. He called all to hear the true wishes of God, for justice and mercy for all people. He went humbly to his death, still a witness to God’s way. He was resurrected, to prove God has power over everything, including death. In his obedience to God’s plan, Jesus gave glory to God.
Mary was with the disciples in Jerusalem, as they made plans for the future, as they waited for the promised Holy Spirit. Afterwards, they fearlessly spread the good news of the resurrection, and what it meant and means for all people. Each time they told the story, they gave glory to God.
We can do no less, in our own lives. No matter what is happening, we can give glory to God. We do that by singing hymns of praise – which we do every week in worship. We give glory to God by praying, and trusting in God to hear and answer our prayers. We give glory to God by telling others about God’s love and mercy, and inviting them into God’s presence. We give glory to God by using the gifts God gave us in ministry. We give glory to God by working to bring into reality the new world order described in Mary’s song, seeking to change the balance of power so that people are freed from oppression, freed from hunger, freed from fear.
Please pray with me: Merciful One, we give you thanks for Jesus, and for his mother Mary. Both bear witness to your love for us, and for all creation. Help us to be like Mary and sing your praises, and like Jesus and give you glory in all things. Amen