For [God] has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. (Luke 1:48a)
It must amuse God—and certainly Mary—to no end, that she has been a source of some controversy in the church’s life for the last 500 or more years. I can hear, I think, God saying something like, “My children will fight about anything in order not to pay attention to the actual message.”
So what is the actual message of Mary? Who is she for those of us who might be inclined to honor her, but want to avoid the excessive devotion we perceive among some of our Roman Catholic sisters and brothers? On the other hand how can we treat her better than our Protestant sisters and brothers who at her mention seem to act as if a crazy aunt has been let out of the closet.
Full disclosure: I am one of those Anglicans who has a deep devotion to Mary. And this sermon is simply explaining why.
The bottom line for me is that Mary knew what God was doing in Jesus before Jesus did himself. It was she who actually began the revolution, so I assume it was she who taught it to her child. Because of this, our gratitude to her should know no bounds. She is, truly, the Mother of our faith.
My sense of this is summed up in a phrase from Jeremy Taylor, a seventeenth century Anglican, who at the end of his life was a bishop of the Church of Ireland. In writing about her reaction to the Angel Gabriel’s announcement to her that she would bear the Son of God, he speaks of “the extraordinariness of an exaltation.”
In her response to this annunciation, Mary is anticipating the joy of every Christian. She is anticipating the heart of the good news itself, for the reconciling love of God for each one of us, and our “yes” to this love, combine in our lives to the extraordinariness of an exaltation.
When I first began hearing Mary’s Song, what we call the Magnificat, when as a college student I was taught to read the Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer by Dennis Wienk, I was somewhat puzzled by the opening lines of Mary’s song. The words about looking with “favor,” and calling “me blessed” and God doing “great things for me.” Hearing them every day at Evening Prayer, I thought they were a little bit like bragging.
But as they grew on me I came to understand that they were words of gratitude in a renewed relationship with God, and a new assurance of her place among God’s people. And this, it occurred to me, is what God wants for all of us. God wants each of us to sing our own Magnificat, our own song of praise and thanks for the God who has lifted us up, the God who has gifted us with an extraordinary exaltation.
This is only the beginning of Mary’s revolution, however, the revolution she will pass on to her son. The extraordinary exaltation is not to begin and end with us. Once we have experienced it, we must join God in the project of the extraordinary exaltation of all creation, in a great reversal of fortunes.
Scattering the proud in their conceit…
Bringing down the powerful from their thrones…
Lifting up the lowly…
Filling the hungry with good things…
Sending the rich away empty…
Helping God’s people to remember mercy…
This revolution did not spring forth from Mary’s head all by itself. The seeds were placed there by her ancestors and their stories of God. In particular, I believe, she had listened long to the sisters who had gone before her, all of whom are clear, in the biblical record, that God is on the side of the oppressed and those brought low by the circumstances of their lives. I’m talking about women like Hannah, who sings a song similar to Mary’s, Ruth and Naomi, Esther, Judith, Miriam, and Shiphrah and Puah, the midwife saviors of Hebrew babies at the time of Moses’ birth. All these could just have easily sung Mary’s song.
Our acts of Service in the name of Jesus are also acts in the name of his Mother. Each time we serve another, in any capacity, we participate in God’s gift of the extraordinariness of an exaltation.
Mary received and gave good news. In that she is the forerunner of every follower of her Son, for that is our task, to receive and give good news, to continue to participate in God’s revolution.
So we may rightfully join the angel Gabriel and our sister Elizabeth and say
Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you.
Blessed are you among women
And blessed is the fruit of your womb.
Let us be among those generations that call her blessed.