Bible Study December 10 for Worship December 23

Bible Study December 10 for Worship December 23

Luke 1: 39 In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a city of Judah,
40 and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.
41 And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit
42 and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!
43 And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?
44 For behold, when the voice of your greeting came to my ears, the babe in my womb leaped for joy.
45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”
46 And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord,
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden. For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed;
49 for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.
50 And his mercy is on those who fear him from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm, he has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts,
52 he has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted those of low degree;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent empty away.
54 He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy,
55 as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his posterity forever.”

COMMENTARY

A poor, unmarried, pregnant teenager in an occupied country is about as unlikely a candidate for the mother of the messiah as we could imagine. God does indeed show up in unlikely places (like feed troughs for animals?) The figure of Mary really does emphasize both the humanity of the messiah and the incarnation. Pregnancy, childbirth, diapers and nursing are all very fleshy. Babies are messy. And Jesus entered the world the same way everyone else does with a cry and whimper, and a need for unconditional love. We all enter the world through the trauma of birth.

Mary had a right to be nervous. If she were indeed carrying the messiah, Herod the Great would think nothing of murdering her to eliminate any rival to his throne. He even killed his wife and some of his own children, because he believed they were plotting against him. Jewish culture also did not look kindly on unwed mothers. Unless Joseph followed through and married her, at best her child was a bastard, and at worst she could have been accused of adultery and both she and her child could have been stoned to death.

According to Luke Mary decided she needed to get away for a while, so she went to visit a cousin in the hill country of Judah, none other than Elizabeth, who after having been barren for many years was pregnant with John the Baptist. In all likelihood the connection between Elizabeth and Mary was made up by the early church in an attempt to win over followers of John the Baptist. But the desire to establish the connection represented the early church’s faith that somehow John had indeed prepared the way for the ministry of Jesus. As we said in last Sunday’s sermon, however, John certainly would not have understood he was preparing the way for Jesus. But we think at least third of Jesus’ disciples had been followers of John, so clearly in their minds there was a relationship and perhaps a kinship – synchronicity.

The Catholic Church has created an exalted theology around the person of Mary. Mary was immaculately conceived — Mary Queen of Heaven. Mary the perpetual virgin. Mary becomes the goddess. In many ways this kind of imaging of Mary parallels the exaltation of Jesus that makes him more than human and in so many ways has destroyed Jesus as an example for us. Jesus could forgive his enemies, because he was more than human. Jesus reached out to love everyone, because he was more than human. The unspoken caveat is that you and I don’t have to be held to the same standard, because we are only human. Jesus preached non-violence, but we can go ahead and support the Pentagon, because we are only human.

I think there is another way to read verse 42 in our passage, all women are blessed who help bring life into the world. For that matter, maybe men are blessed too. Father can be an important contribution to the life or children and the culture in general. If only men understood their role in that process differently. But then life is messy. Maybe the whole cycle of sexuality and reproduction is blessed and sacred, and it is time to embrace our sexuality as part of the goodness of God’s creation.

Mary’s “magnificat” in verses 46-55 is an echo of the Song of Hannah in I Samuel 2:1 Hannah also prayed and said, “My heart exults in the LORD; my strength is exalted in the LORD. My mouth derides my enemies, because I rejoice in thy salvation.
2 “There is none holy like the LORD, there is none besides thee; there is no rock like our God.
3 Talk no more so very proudly, let not arrogance come from your mouth; for the LORD is a God of knowledge, and by him actions are weighed.
4 The bows of the mighty are broken, but the feeble gird on strength.
5 Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread, but those who were hungry have ceased to hunger. The barren has borne seven, but she who has many children is forlorn.
6 The LORD kills and brings to life; he brings down to Sheol and raises up.
7 The LORD makes poor and makes rich; he brings low, he also exalts.
8 He raises up the poor from the dust; he lifts the needy from the ash heap, to make them sit with princes and inherit a seat of honor. For the pillars of the earth are the LORD’S, and on them he has set the world.
9 “He will guard the feet of his faithful ones; but the wicked shall be cut off in darkness; for not by might shall a man prevail.
10 The adversaries of the LORD shall be broken to pieces; against them he will thunder in heaven. The LORD will judge the ends of the earth; he will give strength to his king, and exalt the power of his anointed.”

Some commentators speculate that the “Song of Hannah” may have been a popular liturgy set to music, and so it was a song that Mary may have know, when she broke into her “magnificat.” Quinn Caldwell in a recent Still Speaking Devotional asks us to think about the Song of Hannah, Mary’s Song, and what songs we sing:

Something you probably already know: after Mary found out she was pregnant, she sang the revolutionary song we know as the Magnificat. Something you might not know: she didn’t make it up. Hannah sang it first, way back when she found out she was pregnant with Samuel. Much later, Mary did her own cover of the song.

How it got from Hannah to Mary we don’t know. Most scholars think it was a piece of liturgy, some prayer or song that was used regularly in Jewish worship and which Mary had learned. When worship is at its best, it doesn’t just give people words to say while they’re in the room together, it gives them words to take home. You don’t sing “It is Well With My Soul” in church for fun; you sing it to learn it, so that you’ll have a song when sorrows like sea billows roll. You don’t sing “For All the Saints” for nothing, but so that you’ll have a way to sing to your grandparents’ grandparents when you feel overcome by the legacy they’ve left you. You don’t sing “Amazing Grace” just because it’s a good song, but so that you’ll have an anthem to belt whenever you realized you’ve been saved.

When big stuff started happening to Mary, she didn’t have to make up the right words for the occasion. Worship had already written them on her heart. Will it have done the same for you?

What songs have we learned in worship that help to carry us through the vicissitudes of life? Let’s sing to bring in the Advent!

Week of December 17 – December 23: Fourth Sunday of Advent – Luke 1:39-45, (46-55) -Moving with Mary’s Song – Micah 5:2-5a, Luke 1:46b-55, Psalm 80:1-7, Hebrews 10:5-10.

LET’S ASK SOME QUESTIONS OF THE TEXT

1. Where did Mary go, when she discovered she was pregnant?

2. Whom did Mary visit?

3. What greeting did Mary receive, when she arrived?

4. What relationship did Mary share with the person she was visiting?

5. What special blessing had been granted to the person Mary was visiting?

6. In Mary’s song, what legacy does she expect as a result of her pregnancy?

7. According to Mary’s song upon whom does the Lord have mercy?

8. According to Mary’s song what is the fate of the proud?

9. According to Mary’s song who is exalted?

10. According to Mary’s song what is the fate of the rich?

LET’S ALLOW THE TEXT TO ASK QUESTIONS OF US

1. Why do you think it is important that Jesus is born like everyone else?

2. How do you interpret the phrase: “Bless are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb?”

3. What do you think are the positive and negative aspects of the Catholic Church’s exaltation of Mary?

4. Do you think the church can do a better job of affirming the specialness of Jesus without losing his humanity?

5. Do you think we can better appreciate mothering and fathering as a result of the Christmas Story?

6. How do you think the church can recover a more positive interpretation and appreciation of our sexuality?

7. Do you think we need to help men find a better spiritual understanding of their manhood?

8. What songs have you learned in worship that have helped you the most in facing the vicissitudes of life?

9. What “secular” songs have helped you on your spiritual journey?

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