I’m going to be real honest with you, I don’t think I gave Mary enough credit in my early church years. I don’t think all the responsibility for that only on me. 1: when I was really young and she was just Jesus’ mom and what do moms know or do. And Jesus was God so she must really be unnecessary… I have learned better and repented of these ways of thinking. 2: I grew up in a protestant church and one of the things that has happened in protestant-ism is trying and working really hard to not be Catholic. There are those who suggest that there is too much focus on Mary, so many protestant churches decide not to talk about her at all. Neither seem to give her the credit, and the humanity, and the full person-hood she deserves.
Mary, a young woman, almost still a child, too young still to be living with the man she has been in a long-term contractual marriage with already—the kind of arrangement that you can’t back out of. Unless, of course, something terrible has happened like the woman broke the arrangement somehow… you know, like getting pregnant.
Mary was from nowhere. The back side of nowhere. Where people from far off would ask if anything good can come from it. North of Samaria there was a roman settlement that was so far away from the roman powers stationed in Jerusalem, that this city, Sepphoris was a very Jewish city. Today it is nothing but archeological excavations and ruins, but those archeologist think around the time Jesus was born it’s population was anywhere between 10 and 25 thousand people. And less than 4 miles away from this forgotten city, was where Mary lived, a village of 150. It was the kind of town where you’d know everyone and everyone knew your business.
We get no information in Luke about her heritage. We know Joseph is from the line of David, but at this point, even that seems like it would be Karin Vogel, a German therapist, who, it turns out, is the very last line of succession for the British throne, making the 4973rd in line. And at least in Britain there is still a throne, at this point in our story, the kingship in Israel had long been over.
And yet, this messenger for God shows up to Mary, calls her favored and blessed. And she’s confused, because apparently she’s very aware of who and where she is. Gabriel is like all of us at church on Christmas Eve saying “Good morning” out of habit. “Don’t be afraid,” because everyone is normally afraid, even though Mary is perplexed.
Gabriel gives her a message similar to the one he have to Zachariah and Elizabeth a few months ago, that Mary would have a baby, that the baby would be blessed, Holy, and fulfill the promises that were given to David for a unending kingdom.
We didn’t read the story of Zachariah meeting the angel, but he responds with prove it—show me a sign. That didn’t go over well which is why we don’t hear anything else from Zachariah. Mary asks “how can this happen?” It wasn’t about proof, it was about the next steps. How will this work? Did Gabriel know what he was asking her, really? That this could cost Mary her marriage and stability that would come with it, the honor of her family, her life because Mary’s small, intimate town that watched her grow could kill her. Asking how this would happen seems reasonable in the midst of this information.
The Holy Spirit—God will be with you and the Spirit will be with you. Which doesn’t seem much like a detailed plan, but it is one what says “God has got you.”
To be filled with the Spirit of God and Mary says: Here I am, Let it be. And while Luke was written in Greek, in the Scriptures written in Hebrew, Here I am is written in the mouths of Moses, Isaiah, Abraham, prophets, men. Perhaps there is something coming we should pay attention to…
Gabriel goes on to say Nothing is impossible with God. So much so, Mary, that your relative, Elizabeth, is pregnant!
Let’s talk about Elizabeth! Everything that Mary is, Elizabeth is the basically the opposite. Mary is at the beginning of her reproductive life, Elizabeth is at the end. Elizabeth’s husband is a priest, which means that their household has resources, is close to the only city that matters—Jerusalem, and it means that Elizabeth is the matriarch of the family as she would have the most honor due to Zachariah’s position and her age. Elizabeth has been praying for a child and had given up hope and Mary wasn’t even ready. Yet, there they both were.
Mary travels the 100 miles, hopefully not alone, to avoid enemy territory and, hopefully the bandit riddled lands to get to Elizabeth. Elizabeth’s baby has quickened, recognizes Mary’s voice, because Mary is favored and blessed and important, too. The world turns topsy-turvy, maybe even upside down, when Elizabeth, the matriarch of the family, honors Mary, a teenager, pregnant, without her husband, from nowhere.
I imagine this moment, like one of those moments where it seems like the world gets smaller, because the most important thing happening in it is right where you are, except in this case, maybe it was the most important thing happening in the world. These 2 women with eyes locked, creating life, filled with the Spirit, AND against generations of traditions, they prophesied the truth of God.
That is what the Magnificent is: speaking the truth of who God is, what God has done, and what God will continue to do. Mary is speaking into tradition. God’s ways are not changing, God is changing the world. God is raising up the underdog, on the side of the abused, setting free the captive, bring life where there was barrenness, bringing justice where there was oppression, remembering the forgotten, on the side of the marginalized. These are the stories we have been hearing all fall. The prophets cried out on behalf of the widow, orphan, and foreigner. This is what Mary is doing, crying out of how God is turning the world upside down. And it’s starting with Mary, prophet of the God. Nothing is impossible with God.
There is an apocryphal story that says at the end of the Battle of Yorktown, that as the British soldiers retreated, they played a drinking song whose refrain goes “Yet let’s be content, and let times lament, you see the world turn’d upside down.” The idea of the story made it into the musical Hamilton. But I imagine that is what that moment felt like—this ragtag group became an army and overthrew and empire. The powerful had fallen, at least in Yorktown.
The world is this NPR tweet: “The 120 foundations NPR identified are linked to some of the nation’s richest people: an oil magnate, a cable television tycoon, the families of Walt Disney and Warren Buffett. All took federal funds to cover shortfalls instead of tapping their own wealth.” In the spring of this year, when small businesses were desperate for funding that would be able to keep their companies afloat, there were foundations that received money from that same fund. Yes, they’re non-profits, yes, they have employees that should be able to keep their jobs and be paid, yes, receiving the money was legal. But, when the people behind the foundation, the benefactors, have billions, and their stocks is trading at 200,000 a share, is it right to take the shared money that went to small restaurants? Stores? Food banks? This is the world. The world turned upside down? That is one where medical bills are paid for those overwhelmed by the cost of being well. Today it would cost Mary $4-10,000 to have her baby, and that’s with insurance and no complications. “$20 forgives $200 of debt- because debt is bought and sold in huge portfolios as a commodity in the US for pennies on the dollar.”
That is turning the world upside down. Upsetting the systems that keep people oppressed, tied down, captive to a system they might never be able to get out of.
Nothing was impossible with God. And The world was turning upside down. The powerful will be brought low, the low honored will have the most privileged seats. The hungry and the poor will be filled. This is going to be the mission of Jesus. This is what he’s going to be about and it’s found in the words of his mother, the prophet, Mary. Because who else would he learn it from? Who else would shape this baby into the kind of person he would be come? And it’s all here, in Mary, in her song, in her heart, in the raising of her children. The world turned upside down when a girl is honored, when a woman is a prophet, when all are set free.
That is what we wait for at Advent, and Christmas. That is the expectation that we have, that December 25th will look different than it did on the 20th. That the world might be changed in the face of God, coming to earth, taking on flesh, being raised by Mary, a prophet of God. And our waiting isn’t passive. This is active waiting, this is participating, this is raising up the kin-dom of God in ourselves, by teaching our children and grandchildren, by caring for our neighbors, by loving our enemies, by raising up those in need and bringing the poor from their poverty. This is the song of Mary, the mission of Jesus, and the call to the church.
And we don’t do it on our own! We have a God who goes to extremes to remind us that there’s nothing that God Can’t do, and there’s no one unqualified to serve.