4th Sunday in Advent
December 18, 2011
Mirrors… can really be helpful. Even a small mirror can be a remarkable thing. It can give us a view to things we otherwise couldn’t see. For example, my kids and I have used a little mirror like this when we’ve helped a woman do research on nesting birds around Solen, North Dakota. If we spot a nest that is too high to look into, we can extend the mirror and see the life… the eggs, the nestlings… that are hidden there. This little mirror can give us a remarkable view of things otherwise unseen.
That’s how Mary and her song are today. They are like a mirror that reflects for us the hidden nature of God and the remarkable treasures of God’s Kingdom. Through Mary and her song, we can see things that are otherwise unseen. That very meaning is expressed in the opening line: “My soul magnifies the Lord!”
Mary herself knows she is an insignificant person. She knows she counts for nothing in her world.
At the time and place Mary lived, the great and mighty Caesar was at the top of society. He ruled an empire larger than the world had ever seen. Below him were the powerful government officials and military leaders, and then the nobles (patricians) and religious authorities and scribes, then there was the large class of merchants and skilled artisans.
But Mary’s standing in society was still way below all that. Part of Mary’s low status was because she was a Jew — a conquered people, ruled by the Romans. Her people had not known freedom for over 500 years.
But even more telling was the fact that she was a woman. Women had very little power according to both Jewish and Roman law — they had less freedom, fewer rights, and were considered to be of less worth than men. But Mary wasn’t simply a woman — she was a young, unmarried, pregnant woman. I mean, she was really at the bottom of her society.
Mary knows she counts for nothing in her world, yet the world’s Creator has made known to her that he is with her, and that he has chosen to work great things through her. This is an incredible thing!
By the words of Mary’s song, we see that Mary understands that this fact of God choosing her isn’t due to some quality that she has. It’s because of who God is.
Mary knows all too well (like we do) that when power meets weakness in this world, it is usually with ruthless force. Usually, power comes together with weakness in order use and abuse it for its own benefit.
Mary sings her song of joy because God isn’t like this. “[God] has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts,” she sings. “He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.” (Luke 1:51-53)
The normal way of things in this world is turned upside down. Those seen as powerful are shown to have no power, while those seen as weak and lowly find that the strength of God is theirs.
Mary’s song is full of joy because she sees that as the great power of God is moving in the world, it draws what is weak, lowly and insignificant to itself — not to abuse or to rule with harshness, but to nurture, make strong, to lift up. She herself is an example of how this is happening.
This is not something new for God. This is how God has always acted in the world. This is who God has always been… and always will be.
2000 years before Mary, God chose to create a people through which he would bless all the families of the earth. At that time there were many great kingdoms and powerful rulers and families in the world. God did not choose any of these to bear his blessing. He chose a pair of landless sojourners… an old couple, Abraham and Sarah, who were childless (and “as good as dead”) through which he would create something great.
500 years later, God acted, in Egypt, to bring something new into the world. There he did not choose the mighty pharaoh or his nobles or priests. Rather, he chose slaves… people with no power at all. And with the help of his servant Moses, he rescued them from slavery and led them out of Egypt.
He led his slave people for many years in a desert wilderness and taught them what it meant to be God’s people. He blessed them, so that, by all that they had learned, they might be a blessing to the world.
But once their fortunes had changed and they had become powerful and mighty, the people forgot what God had taught them. They began to abuse the weak and lowly. Then God sent prophets to remind them that he is not a God of kings, of mighty men and armies, he is a God of slaves, widows, orphans — that he cherishes the weak and lowly — to abuse them is to heap contempt upon God himself.
He warned the people that if they oppress the weak and lowly, then he is not their protector, but their enemy.
This has always been God’s way. And it is loudly echoed in God’s work in Jesus.
Beginning with his birth, through his entire life and ministry, even in his death… everything in and about Christ reflects this great truth of God. His power is on the move in the world to give strength to the weak, to rescue the lost… to comfort and heal the sick and lonely… to bring life to all who lack.
We know that the one who created the heavens and the earth… and all that is in them… is great and powerful. As a result, people – especially those who feel small and insignificant in this world — are tempted to think that because God is so great, he must be far away from and uninterested in them.
For that reason, Mary’s song is a treasure to us. In it, the way of God is revealed. He claims the weak and lowly, the hungry and poor, the sad and unloved as his people.
For these people, the song of Mary is a promise that, though you feel powerless, unimportant, though you may feel rejected and abused, God has chosen you to be his servant. He calls you and gathers you to him in order to work his blessing in and through you.
And here our attention is drawn to another treasure that Mary’s song shows us.
A neat thing about mirrors is that – viewed from different angle – they can reflect another image. In Mary and her song, we see not only the wonderful and surprising nature of God, but also the faithful response God desires from all of us.
Mary sings: “My spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed.”
Prior to the song of Mary, in first lesson from Luke read by the Sunday School boys, Mary learned for the first time that God was with her and that she would give birth to the Son of God. To this she responded: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38)
Mary recognizes that being claimed by God is a life-transforming blessing… and she is filled with gratitude. She knows that there exists no greater treasure than the blessing of God and so she accepts God’s favor into her heart and lets it claim her life.
Mary’s song is meant to become our song. Do we make it our song? Like Mary, when we learn that God has favored us… claimed us for his blessing, are our hearts filled with gratitude. When we learn that we have been chosen to serve God’s wonderful kingdom of grace, is our answer: “Here am I… Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”
This Christmas season, may Christ’s coming into the world fill you with gratitude and blessing. May his coming into your heart, bring you healing and hope. And may God’s spirit of love bind all our lives together in joyful service to all that God has made.