Monday, 24 September 2012

After Mary's song...

A sermon for St Mary's Patronal festival. Preached on 9th September 2012.
I always get the best reactions from a narrative sermon. 
What did Mary say after singing her song? How did she explain it to others, to herself?

Luke 1:46-55

My soul magnifies the Lord! My Spirit leaps for joy in the God who is my Saviour!

Why did I sing that song?! How? It came from my heart in an uncontrollable stream, as if the words were given to me by God himself. My joy in the Lord felt like it would burst from my body – and I suppose it did - in song. As I approached the house, I saw Elizabeth – obviously with child as my visitor had told me she would be.She cried out as she saw me, feeling her baby leap within her. It seems to me that we have both been richly blessed by God.
But why?

Elizabeth is I suppose the wife of a Temple priest so must have some importance in God’s eyes. But me. I’m no-one. Just a young woman, and only just a woman. Unmarried, living in a small country that was once great through God’s blessing but is now ruled by a foreign army. I’m completely insignificant. A bit of a dreamer of dreams perhaps. But nothing special.

And yet I had that visitor who came and said such strange things  - he told me that I have found favour with God. In spite of my being the least important person I know, God has come to me, chosen me even, to be the mother of a baby who will be a king forever.  A king, forever! This baby, the visitor told me, will grow up to be called the Son of God himself! He’ll be the fulfilment of all that God has promised to us since Abraham. Doesn’t that all sound a bit crazy to you? It does to me too. But I have never been more certain of anything in my whole life. That’s what makes it even more crazy!
I know in my heart and trust in God’s promise that this king will do great things. 
My son will do great things. 
His kingdom will not be like the ones we know now – not even like the great kingdom of David.  This new kingdom will be a place where those who are powerful become as powerless as me. This kingdom - my son’s kingdom will be a place where the thrones humans build are torn down and people who have nothing, and who think of themselves as insignificant nobodies will receive an abundant blessing from God. I know this for sure because God has started already – with me.

He has chosen me, such as I am, to take part in something that seems impossible. No, not impossible, for I know that cousin Elizabeth says, like our ancestors Sarah and Hannah, that nothing is impossible with God. So, not impossible.
But astonishing. Miraculous. Amazing, wonderful - and rather awkward and difficult to explain. Especially to your fiancé.

I can still see the hurt and anger on Joseph’s face when I told him the visitor’s news about the baby that I’ll have. The baby that will come directly from God, and not because of him or any other man. And that it’s already inside me beginning to grow. As crazy as it sounds, I know that it’s true, and I think Joseph wants to try to believe it too. He’s a good man who fears the Lord. But his good reputation will be damaged when my news gets out. And it will. I’m not going to be able to hide this pregnancy forever. Joseph has said he has to think about what he’s going to do. So I’ve come to Elizabeth.

I wish Joseph could share my joy in all this. But he is wise, and knows it’s not going to be easy for either of us. People won’t believe that the baby is from God, and if Joseph publicly says it’s not his, and sends me away, I don’t know what will happen. That scares me.
I do believe that this is all in God’s good plan – but I don’t know why his plan involves such pain, hurt and rejection. Must the fulfilment of God’s promise to Abraham and his family include such pain and disgrace for mine?

But then this new kingdom sounds like trouble. I don’t know much about anything, and nothing at all about powerful people - except it seems that those who have power want to hang on to it. And would not like having their thrones taken away from them – even by God.
I’ve never been rich – I can only imagine what it must be like, such comfort and luxury – no work, and servants to look after the household chores. That all sounds great. But God’s new kingdom will see rich people sent away with nothing. I do know what that’s like, and it’s not fun.
No. I’m guessing the rich and powerful might not like this new kingdom. This revolutionary kingdom can surely only come about at a price. And if the price of the birth of this new king is rejection, humiliation and pain so that God’s mercy will be shown to the poor and weak, then I will pay that price. And what’s more, I will teach my son to do the same.

For my joy in the Lord, my song, comes from knowing the stories of God’s love and mercy taught in the synagogues and in our families. I know that somehow I am a part of that story. That God’s mercy and salvation and the blessing promised to Abraham will be seen in a new way through the son I will have.
My job is to bring this new life, this precious, miraculous life into the world and nurture it so that God’s will can be done. My son is not just for me. In a way I can’t explain, I know he is for everyone. For God’s promise through Abraham is for all nations and generations.
Perhaps some people will think that they’re not important enough to be part of this kingdom. But that’s not true. God will use the least important person I know to do an important job for him. That’s me.

You know, He could be asking you to do something important too. You’re not too insignificant. Do you want to be a part of God’s new kingdom of mercy, love and justice? 
Yes, it’s possible for this kingdom to exist.

For nothing is impossible with God. And that’s why I sing!

The photograph is of a window in the Church at Taizé.

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