+ A sermon for Mary, Mother of Our Lord at Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Bellevue, WA on August 15, 2021 +
Text: Luke 1:46-55
“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”
So begins one of the oldest and most enduring songs in all of Christianity.
For two thousand years now, we have been repeating its refrain in all sorts of situations.
From the daily office of evening prayer to today’s hymn of the day; from great oratorios in beautiful cathedrals to the echoes of protest songs in the streets.
Mary’s song—Mary’s Magnificat, as we often call it—in many ways is the song of the church.
Her powerful and subversive lyrics have stayed on our lips giving voice to our deepest feelings.
Our devotion to our God of love and mercy.
Our wonder at the mysteries of faith.
Our impatient cries demanding a better world.
But what do we do with this Mary, the first singer of that song?
We Lutherans, we Protestants, aren’t always sure what to make of her, are we?
We often shy away from the “Hail Marys” of our Roman Catholic siblings.
We sometimes look with skepticism at the Marian devotion of our Orthodox siblings.
We frankly don’t talk all that much about her except during Advent and Christmas, do we?
And while I could go on about our own Martin Luther’s deep devotion to Blessed Mary or how it’s really very Lutheran to hold her in awe and reverence, I’ll just say that centuries on this day, August 15, the whole Church celebrates not only the life, but the bold and daring witness of Mary, the mother of Jesus Our Lord.
So, who is this Mary?
Well, if you read through the scriptures, it may be hard to tell sometimes which Mary we’re even talking about.
I mean, there aren’t that many women who are named in the New Testament, especially in the gospels, and at least six of them are named Mary.
In addition to Jesus’ mother Mary, we also have Mary Magdalene, Mary the sister of Martha and Lazarus, the three Marys at Jesus’ crucifixion and more.
And historically, this abundance of Marys kind of makes sense.
Scholars believe that during the time of Jesus around one in four women in Palestine were named Mary.
One scholar even suggests that the popularity of the name was a sign of how difficult the lives of ordinary women were in those days.
You see, at the root of Mary’s name is the Hebrew word mara, which means bitter.
This could be why Moses’ sister was named Miriam, another form of Mary—that her name described the bitterness of her people’s plight as she was born during the Israelites’ generations of slavery in Egypt.
This could also be why so many baby girls were named Mary during the Roman occupation and oppression of Palestine—their parents recognized that their children, especially their girls, had a bitter life ahead of them.
But there’s also a sense of defiance in the name Mary, because that same Hebrew word, mara, also suggests a strength, defiance, even rebellion against the bitterness.
Like Miriam who with her brothers would lead her people from slavery into freedom and would sing of God’s faithfulness and power in overcoming their Egyptian oppressors, there was a hope that a new generation of Marys might help liberate their people from their Roman oppressors.
So, who is this Mary we celebrate today?
In some ways, she’s the ordinary every-woman, bearing the most common name of her day.
We also believe she was young.
She has a rough life ahead of her.
Because like so many of her people, she’s living under the domination of a foreign empire.
She has no reason to hope anymore.
Her whole life has been shaped by the bitterness that surrounds her—the bitterness that named her.
But she also bears in her name a powerful resistance to the bitterness of her situation.
So, when the angel comes to this Mary and invites her to do something unthinkable and impossible, to conspire with God, to help bear something like the world has never seen before, Mary listens to him.
Gabriel tells her that God wants her to bear a child, but not just any child, the very Son of God.
God in the flesh.
God made human.
Love and possibility and hope made manifest.
And how does Mary respond?
She doesn’t just say yes, she sings her yes.
She refuses to let the impossibilities stand in her way:
That she is unmarried.
That she will be outcast for having a baby.
That she is just some ordinary girl living in some small backwater town of some distant, forgotten province of the empire.
That God could possibly choose to do the impossible through her of all people.
No, Mary sings her yes.
She sings a song born of bitterness and steeled by her inner strength.
She magnifies the God who from everlasting has shown mercy and faithfulness to her people.
She magnifies the God who casts down the mighty from their thrones and uplifts the lowly.
She magnifies the God who scatters the proud with divine might.
She magnifies the God who fills the hungry with wondrous food and sends the rich away hungry.
She magnifies the God who has chosen to partner with her to do the impossible, to bear love and hope and life into the world.
She magnifies the God who is again coming to save her people in the most intimate way possible.
She magnifies the God who will dwell within her and be born into the world.
And so today, on this day we celebrate Mary, the Mother of Our Lord, we sing Mary’s song.
We sing with Mary who I bet is also still singing those ancient words with us.
Because when you think about it, it’s kind of a strange song that we sing, isn’t it?
And not just because we are singing it, we who in all likelihood would not be the primary beneficiaries of this new world order considering our social and economic statuses in the global community.
It’s strange because the Magnificat tells of a world that God has upended, that God has reversed to create God’s desired commonwealth on earth, but implies that it has already happened.
It tells of a new reality that certainly wasn’t established when Mary first sang that song so long ago and I’m not sure is all that much more realized two thousand years later.
How could Mary possibly sing so confidently of these wondrous things that God is supposedly doing that seem to have no basis in reality?
Perhaps it’s the inner strength that is baked into her identity that allows Mary to look at the bitterness of the world and find an inner strength.
Perhaps it’s her ability to look past the impossibilities and peer something new.
Or perhaps Mary can see the true implications of Gabriel’s message to her—that she will bear within her Jesus the Christ.
That she will give birth to the Son of God.
That she will become the Mother of God as the fullness of God comes into this world in the body of a tiny baby.
That she will endure tremendous pains but help introduce an even greater joy.
Because despite the bitterly oppressive circumstances of her life, Mary bears the impossibility of hope into the world.
Despite her lowly status in life, Mary is chosen to bring Christ into the world.
God has promised to this ordinary, and blessedly extraordinary, that not only is a new world somehow possible, but it is promised to happen—and lowly Mary is invited to be an integral part of its realization.
And by her faithfulness, by her trust in the impossible, by her willingness to allow God to work within her and through her to recreate the world, I believe that Mary becomes a prototype of the Church, of who we are called to be—the embodied proclamation of the good news of God’s hope and life and love dwelling among us that will do far more than we could ever even imagine possible.
That when God is born into our world, the world will never be the same again.
The 13th Century mystic Meister Eckhart wrote that, “we are all meant to be mothers of God, for God is always needing to be born.”
Because we also know that just as the world was yearning for God to come among them two thousand years ago, just as the world was longing for God to come among them 800 years ago, so too is the world is crying for God to come among us today.
To come and console and uplift those, like Mary, who have been outcast and downtrodden by society and overthrow their oppressors.
To come and end the reign of tyrants and instill justice and peace throughout the earth.
To come and feed those who are hungry not only with food for their bellies but also with food for their souls.
To come and restore God’s good creation.
To come and help God’s people, fulfilling God’s ancient promises, with mercy beyond our deserving.
We can feel the need, deep within us, for Mother Mary to come to our aid, she who sees and understands our pains, but who also envisions a better world and lends us some of her mettle to pursue it.
Mary shows us how we too can be Mothers of God bearing impossible hope and promised love for the world.
On this day, this festival celebration, we will gather again around this table with Blessed Mary and with all the saints as we feast on this heavenly banquet—the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.
And in this mystical meal, we are reminded that we too have become Christ-bearers.
For just as Christ found a home in Mary’s womb, Christ resides within each one of us every time we celebrate this meal.
That when we eat this bread and drink this cup, we are transformed into what we have consumed, Christ’s body given for the sake of the world.
We ourselves become like Mary, mothers of God who are sent from this place to bear Christ into the world.
But this holy gift is not just meant for us, my friends, it is a holy calling to partner with God for the transformation of all creation and use all that we have until our world finally reflects God’s designs we hear in Mary’s song.
We may look at our ordinary selves and wonder if we are worthy or even capable of this calling, of changing the world.
But the same God who called ordinary Mary has called ordinary you and ordinary me.
The same God who chose Mary has called us together into this community.
The same God who chose Mary has transformed us into the body of her beloved son, the One Body of Christ.
The same God who gave Mary the vision of what the world could be has called and equipped us to be co-conspirators with God to combat the bitterness that surrounds us with the confident determination that we have been made an integral part of bringing that promised future into reality on earth as it is in heaven.
The same God who chose Mary has made us bearers of that same impossible hope that Mother Mary embodied, to bring to birth love and hope and life.
Because when we partner with each other and allow God to work through us, we have a God-given promise that not only is anything possible, but a new world order is assured, and it is coming soon.
And so, this morning we sing with Mary: Our soul magnifies the Lord whose power, working within and among us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine to make the impossible happen.
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