Moving with Mary’s SongPosted: December 20, 2015
Moving with Mary’s Song
SLIDE 3: WHEN WOMEN HAVE OPPORTUNITY BIRTH RATE DECLINES
In recent years population growth has begun to slow. In the developed world families have figured out they can give a better life to themselves and their children, if they have fewer kids. The advent of social security programs has meant that parents do not have to produce as many children in order to provide for their care in old age. In economies where opportunities for women have flourished birth rates have dropped dramatically. I was struck by all of the women going to work in the morning in Bangladesh one of the most over populated countries in the world, that has finally managed to curb its birth rate. Many countries in Europe have experienced such a drop in births that their populations are even on the decline.
SLIDE 4: MARY & ELIZABETH GAVE BIRTH TO THE FUTURE
In the United States as women delay the age of marriage, and many couples choose not to have children, our birth rate has declined to 1.86 below the 2.1 children needed for population replacement. And so we may not appreciate the importance of our scripture. In the ancient world children were considered an unmitigated blessing, because they represented the future. War, plague, pestilence, famine might wipe out entire generations and populations. The only guarantee for the future of a community was the birth of children. Literally in our story Mary and Elizabeth were giving birth to the future of the Jewish people. The children they were carrying in their wombs were special, because John and Jesus would point the way to a new understanding of the faith of the prophets.
SLIDE 5: SHARE
As John would proclaim it is not enough to be born a descendant of Abraham. The way of faith is a conscious choice to share. He who has two coats give one to him who has none, and she who has food, let her share with anyone who is hungry. Faith is not a set of belief statements, or a prescribed liturgy, or a specific form of prayer or meditation, praise and worship in a particular, church, synagogue or even the Temple in Jerusalem. No, what does the Lord require of us? But to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God.
SLIDE 6: DANCING THE SONG OF GOD
In our scripture Mary sings a song of triumph:
I’m bursting with God-news; I’m dancing the song of my Savior God. God took one good look at me, and look what happened— I’m the most fortunate woman on earth! What God has done for me will never be forgotten, the God whose very name is holy, set apart from all others. His mercy flows in wave after wave on those who are in awe before him. He bared his arm and showed his strength, scattered the bluffing braggarts. He knocked tyrants off their high horses, pulled the down trodden out of the mud. The starving poor sat down to a banquet; the callous rich were left out in the cold. He embraced his chosen child, Israel; he remembered and piled on the mercies, piled them high. It’s exactly what he promised, beginning with Abraham and right up to now.
SLIDE 7: MARY’S GOD SIDES WITH THE OPPRESSED
The God to whom Mary sang and danced was on the side of the oppressed. “He knocked tyrants off their high horses, and pulled the down trodden out of the mud. The starving poor sat down to a banquet; while the callous rich were left out in the cold.” Mary’s God was not vaguely neutral. He took the side of the down trodden. She promised, liberation to the captives, healing of the sick and recovery of sight to the blind.
SLIDE 8: MARY’S GOD RESPECTS WOMEN
Mary’s God also respected and valued women. The Greek and Roman gods were forever coming down to earth and seducing or raping young mortal females, leaving a string of half mortal, half human offspring behind – Cychreus, Cymopoleia, Dionysius, Eirene, Endymion, Helen of Troy, Hercules, Perseus, Theseus, and the list goes on. Gods can sort of do what they want – and in Greek mythology they did.
SLIDE 9: GOD WAITS FOR MARY’S ANSWER
But the God of the Hebrews, Mary’s Lord, was different. In the story of the Enunciation of Mary, God sent an angel to explain the divine purpose to the young maiden. Mary expressed her innocence by asking, “but how can this be since I have no husband?” Then the angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born* will be holy; he will be called Son of God. For nothing will be impossible with God.”
And there was a pause, while the angel waited for the young woman’s answer. The whole universe stopped and waited for a fourteen year old girl to make up her mind. It was a pregnant pause, pardon the pun, for all of the divine intentions waited at the cross roads of history for Mary’s answer.
SLIDE 10: GIVING BIRTH TO A MESSIAH WAS DANGEROUS
And Mary had much to ponder. An unmarried woman found pregnant could be accused of adultery and stoned to death. Giving birth to a Messiah was dangerous. Herod had already killed several rivals for his throne including his brother-law, Aristobulus, his wife, Marimamne, and two of his children, Alexander and Aristobulus. It was not without irony that August Caesar said, he would rather be Herod’s pig than his son. Mary had much to ponder. If she said, “Yes,” to God her life would be in danger, and the life of her child would be anything but secure. According to tradition she lived to witness the execution of her son.
SLIDE 11: GOD ASKS US TO GIVE BIRTH TO THE FUTURE
How long Mary waited before giving an answer to the angel, we do not know. Heaven held its breath, and finally the teen-aged girl from Nazareth said, “I am the servant of the Lord. Let it be to me as you have said.” Mary was given a choice and she chose to give birth to the future. God gives similar choices to us, maybe not literally pregnancy and childbirth, but God calls upon us to become part of giving birth to the future.
SLIDE 12: ADVENT OF GOD’S LOVE THORUGH US
I talk about giving birth to the future rather than creating the future, because our mission is to embody the love of God in the world in the same way that Jesus was God’s love in the flesh. The love of God is supposed to come into the world through us, we are the hands and feet of Jesus in the world. Thus as we love one another as Christ has loved us, the Commonwealth of God is born in the world. We do not celebrate the Advent of Christ only in the past, but the Advent of God’s love in and through us in the present.
Are we ready to become the love of God now? Are we willing to embody God’s love in our world? Like with Mary, God is awaiting our answer. And our answer today is as important as Mary’s answer 2,000 years ago.
SLIDE 13: IT WAS BAD MANNERS
We have launched ourselves into an election cycle that is filled with fear and hate. And maybe the fear and hate are just more obvious today than in much of our past. Our culture has become ruder and cruder, and people are willing to say things out loud today that before just went unsaid. I remember Linda Roebuck commenting upon the racism that surrounded her growing up in the South, and how her mother would say that certain hateful expressions were just bad manners. Apparently not any more.
SLIDE 14: FEAR LEADS TO ANGER LEADS TO HATE & SUFFERING
We seem to have given permission to a level of hate speech that for me is shocking. And one of the problems is that openly expressed hate speech encourages fear, and as Yoda so wisely told us fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate and hate leads to suffering. In the 1930’s in Germany the fears and frustrations of ordinary people were focused on the Jews. Wild and hateful allegations against Jews were allowed to multiply, and then pretty soon wild and hateful actions were perpetrated against the Jews.
SLIDE 15: NEW TARGETS
This political season in America is similar to Germany at the beginning of the 1930’s, only instead of Jews we have new targets of fear and hate – Muslims, Hispanics, Immigrants of all shades, Feminists, Gays and Lesbians. As followers of the way of Jesus we are called upon to stand up for love. Love wins! Fear and hate lead to the dark side. We are called by God to be messengers of the light. God is calling us to become love in the flesh. How will we respond?
SLIDE 16: I WAIT FOR YOU
Remember the old story about the young man who finds the Messiah and asks, “Why aren’t you eliminating war and hunger. Why aren’t you healing the sick and bringing economic justice to the poor? What are you waiting for?”
And remember the answer of the Messiah is God’s answer to us, “I wait for you.”