Our story today is about Mary. We don’t read her whole story today, but we read a lot of it. We remember that one day when she was about 14 years old, and engaged to be married to Joseph, she has an encounter with an angel named Gabriel. The angel tells her she has found favor with God, and she will have a baby with the help of the Holy Spirit. This baby will be the long-awaited Messiah, sent to be the savior of the people. He will reign as the heir to Jacob, and as the Son of God forever.
I have always been intrigued by imagining the conversations Mary would have had with her parents and with Joseph about this conversation with Gabriel. What did she have to do to get them to believe her? Matthew tells us that Joseph isn’t so sure this is a good thing, but he too has a vision – another angel-encounter – assuring him that Mary is telling the truth.
In the part of the story we read today, Mary has gone to visit her cousin Elizabeth who is now six months pregnant with John – who will become the Baptist. At this moment, baby John somehow knows Mary is carrying Jesus, and jumps for joy in Elizabeth’s womb. And in response Mary sings a song which we now call the Magnificat. We’ll get back to her song in a few minutes.
I think Mary goes to spend time with Elizabeth because, like all pregnant women, she needs another woman with whom she can share stories, fears, and new discoveries. But, she probably doesn’t want to talk to the women in Nazareth. She has a strong emotional bond with Elizabeth, since she, too, is pregnant because of God’s action. As a younger woman, Mary can help Elizabeth during those difficult last three months of pregnancy and the delivery of the baby. In the meantime, Elizabeth can reassure Mary that all will be well because this is God’s plan.
Eventually, Mary returns home, and lives with Joseph, until almost time for the baby to be born. They take the trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem, according to Luke, but not according to Matthew, who tells us the baby was born in Nazareth. Wherever it happens, the baby is born and on the eighth day, he is circumcised and named Joshua, which means God saves. (Jesus is the Latin version of the Hebrew Joshua.)
A month or so later, the family goes to Jerusalem where Mary can have the ritual bath and be purified after giving birth. Interestingly, Joseph is also purified, although there is no tradition for men to do so. There, Mary and Joseph are met by two elder prophets, Simeon and Anna. Anna praises God for the salvation to come. Simeon predicts that Jesus will be a light to reveal God to the Gentiles and give glory to the people of Israel. He also warns Mary that a sword shall pierce her heart.
Twelve years later, the family goes to Jerusalem for the Passover. Since the folks travel in large groups, who all know each other, Mary and Joseph did not notice that Jesus was not traveling with them. They returned to search for him, and found him in the temple, arguing with the priests and rabbis. Mary and Joseph scold him for not letting them know where he was. Jesus is the typical middle school youth and responds that he was where he needed to be at that moment.
Once, when Jesus is grown up, as he is traveling and preaching, Mary tries to prevent Jesus from getting killed, and to just come home where he will be safe. But, he quickly rejects that idea and essentially scolds her for even suggesting it. In the end, Mary is one of the women at the cross, and in some gospels, also at the tomb. She was with the disciples in the upper room after the crucifixion, and in the group who chose Matthias to replace Judas. But this is about all Scripture says about her.
… As we turn our attention to the song Mary sings when she sees Elizabeth, I want to ask you a question. If you could change the world, what one thing would you do?
Bring peace; end war; end hunger; power to the people (not just the wealthy); homes for all; no abuse of elders, children,& spouses; healing for the sick, disabled, and mentally challenged – if they want it.
When Gabriel spoke with Mary, he announced that Jesus would be the Son of God and reign forever. He would redeem the people Israel, and be the savior of all people. Mary’s song and Jesus’ life and ministry give meaning to these promises.
· God is merciful
· God upsets the powerful and raises up the oppressed
· The hungry have enough to eat and those who have had an abundance know what it means to be hungry
· God remembers the promise God made thousands of years before, and still keeps that promise today
We can read in the Magnificat all those things we would change if we could. Especially, we can hear today the hope of the oppressed people for power to be shared and for oppression to cease. Yet, not much seems to have changed. There is still inequality in the distribution of power and wealth. There is still war, including in Israel. People are still sick, disabled, mentally challenged, and so forth.
So, what difference did Jesus’ coming make? … His life and ministry and death modeled for us another way. His life, ministry and death modeled for us a way of caring for one another that puts God and neighbor first. His life, ministry, and death modeled for us a way of servanthood, life-giving servanthood.
How much, I wonder, did Mary’s song influence Jesus’ life and ministry? Mothers sing songs and tell stories to their children that demonstrate the values they hope the children will embrace when they grow up. So, Jesus heard these words from his mother before he was born and while she was waiting for his birth, and while she was raising him.
God chose well in choosing Mary to be the mother of the Son. She did indeed find favor with God all her life.
Please pray with me: God of wonder, we give you thanks for the mystery of your birth as a baby and your life and your ministry and your death for our salvation. Help us to find favor in your eyes as Mary did. And teach us to make the vision in Mary’s song a little bit more true in our community. Amen