St. Catherine’s Episcopal Church
Sunday, December 23, 2018
The Fourth Sunday of Advent (Year C)
First Lesson: Micah 5:2-5a
Canticle 15: The Song of Mary
Second Lesson: Hebrews 10:5-10
Gospel: Luke 1:39-55
Now, O Lord, take my lips and speak with them. Take our minds and think through them. Take our hearts and set them on fire for your Gospel. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
If you’ll indulge me this morning, I’d like to begin my sermon by sharing with you a poem by one of my favorite contemporary poets, Malcolm Guite, who also serves as a priest in the Church of England. The title of this poem is “The Visitation.”
Here is a meeting made of hidden joys,
Of lightenings cloistered in a narrow place,
From quiet hearts the sudden flame of praise
And in the womb the quickening kick of grace.
Two women on the very edge of things
Unnoticed and unknown to men of power,
But in their flesh the hidden Spirit sings
And in their lives the buds of blessing flower
And Mary stands with all we call ‘too young’,
Elizabeth with all called ‘past their prime’.
They sing today for all the great unsung,
Women who turned eternity to time,
Favoured of heaven, outcast on the earth,
Prophets who bring the best in us to birth.
We have a lot of words and titles that we often use to describe Mary, especially during this time of year as we draw closer to our yearly celebration of Jesus’ birth, titles like: “Blessed Mother;” “Our Lady;” “Queen of Heaven;” and perhaps my favorite title of all- “God Bearer.” All of these titles beautifully capture our love for Mary and the qualities that we admire about her the most.
There’s one title, though, that we rarely use to describe Mary even though it’s perfectly appropriate, especially in light of our lesson this morning from the Gospel of Luke when Mary goes to visit her cousin, Elizabeth, soon after the announcement is made that she will bear and give birth to God’s only Son. We rarely use the title, “Prophet,” to describe Mary, and yet, that is exactly the role that she plays in our Gospel lesson this morning as she delivers to us the beautiful and poetic words of her Magnificat.
Mary sings, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,my spirit rejoices in God my Savior; for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant. From this day all generations will call me blessed: the Almighty has done great things for me,and holy is his Name. He has mercy on those who fear him in every generation. He has shown the strength of his arm, he has scattered the proud in their conceit. He has cast 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. He has come to the help of his servant Israel, for he has remembered his promise of mercy, the promise he made to our fathers, to Abraham and his children for ever.”
When we hear the term, “prophet,” we typically think about those monumental figures from the Hebrew Scriptures – people like Elijah, who we read about in First and Second Kings, and Isaiah, and Jeremiah, those who were called by God to serve as messengers, often foretelling the future and beckoning the people of Israel to repent and return to the Lord. John the Baptist, who we heard from in last week’s Gospel reading, would also fall into this category with his call to the people to repent and to make way for the coming of the Messiah.
But, what is it about Mary that makes her a prophet, and why is it important that we identify her in such a way?
In his book, The Prophetic Imagination, author Walter Brueggemann writes, “The task of prophetic ministry is to nurture, nourish, and evoke a consciousness and perception alternative to the consciousness and perception of the dominant culture around us.” Or, as another author writes, “The prophet…is somebody whose role is always to be challenging the community to be what it is meant to be – to live out the gift that God has given to it.”
The prophetic role of Mary challenges us to ask questions about the way things are in the world around us. Her role as prophet calls us to be critical of the status quo, to remember who we are and who we were created to be in the image and likeness of God. In the words of her Magnificat, Mary reminds us that it won’t be the privileged or the powerful or those who think they’re more important than others who inherit the Kingdom of God. It’ll be those who exhibit true humility and those who work to fulfill God’s dream for heaven on earth.
It’s all part of this idea of God’s “divine reversal,” a common theme found throughout the Gospel of Luke that will continue to be prevalent in our Gospel readings for weeks to come.
The Blessed Mother provides us with a perfect example of humility and modesty, and the words of her Magnificatreinforce Luke’s theme of the “divine reversal,” of a world turned upside down by the coming of the Messiah. Her words remind us that what we know to be true about the world will not be true about God’s Kingdom. The powerful have been brought down from their thrones, and the lowly have been lifted up. The hungry have been filled with good things, and the rich have been sent away empty-handed.
Mary and Elizabeth themselves also signify this upside down world inaugurated with the birth of Jesus. As one author comments, “Two marginalized, pregnant women carry the future and proclaim the Messiah.” Mary, a young, poor, and unmarried woman from Nazareth, and Elizabeth, a woman far too old and weak to conceive and give birth, carry in their wombs the herald of the Messiah and the salvation of the world.
Tomorrow is Christmas Eve and the perfect time for us to consider how we, like Mary, will carry the love of God into a world that’s in desperate need of a Savior. Tomorrow is the perfect time for us to consider how we, like Mary, will be “God Bearers” to those whom we encounter in our everyday lives and messengers of hope to those who have been cast down in our society. Tomorrow is the perfect time for us to consider how we, like Mary, are being called to challenge the way things are and to proclaim that the Kingdom of God belongs to the humble and meek, the poor and the lowly. Tomorrow is the perfect time for us to consider how we, like Mary, will give birth to the one who has come to save us all.
This Christmas, how is God calling you to bring Jesus into the world? How is God calling you to help bring to fulfillment this upside down world, which, in the words of our Presiding Bishop, is really “right side up”?
As we prepare to once again celebrate the birth of Jesus and welcome the newborn King lying in the manger, let us also prepare our hearts to give birth to the love of God in Christ Jesus so that those to whom we are sent may come to know that perfect love that knows no boundaries or limits. Amen.
Click here to listen to an audio recording of this sermon.