Sermon – Fourth Sunday of Advent – December 23, 2018

Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. Luke 1:48-49

Today on this last Sunday of Advent we sing the song of Mary, the mother of God. While historically the Church has focused her attention on the obedience and humility of Mary I cannot help but read the words of our Gospel as more of a manifesto than a simple acquiescence. I believe that Mary had a choice. It was her decision whether or not to accept her role in God’s great plan. If she had said no, I doubt God had a “plan B”. Did Mary understand the full implications of her decision…for her own life and for the world?…probably not. We can never really have full awareness of the potential consequences of our most important decisions. Sometimes we have to take the first step of the journey before we can even begin to know where we might be going. I suspect this was true for Mary as well.

When the angel Gabriel came to her announcing God’s intention for the world and her role in that plan, Mary knew that she was standing on the cusp of some monumental change..for her and for the world. Her relationship with God suddenly became a lot more intimate. Yes, she was humble and obedient but also incredibly courageous and strong. Barely more than a child herself she committed all that she was to the greater purpose of God. There were so many unknowns in this decision….would Joseph, her betrothed accept her as a wife when he found out she was already with child?….would she be able to withstand the shame and disgrace if he didn’t? Would she be a good mother for this child? Would the world be able to recognize him as One sent by God? These were things she could not know…only move forward trusting in the grace of God and the inherent holiness of the One who called her to birth divine Love into the world.

In our Gospel lesson from Luke Mary goes to visit her kinswoman Elizabeth, pregnant with the child who would become John the Baptist..the forerunner….the prophet called to make way for the coming of the Lord. Even in the womb, John responded to the presence of the mother of God’s anointed by leaping with joy at the sound of her voice. Elizabeth responded…” And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me?” Even though Mary would have only just begun to feel the tiny stirring of the new life in her womb and her pregnancy not yet visible, Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit recognized that Mary and she were part of something wonderful happening in the world.

While many people of faith are very accepting of the idea of God acting through miracles and supernatural events the reality is that most of God’s work is accomplished through the actions of ordinary people responding in extraordinary ways. This is as true for us as it was for Mary and Elizabeth. Each of us who follow in faith and seek to play our part in the fulfillment of God’s purposes has both our own individual story and our “meta-narrative”…the larger story in which we have a part. Mary, busy with the day to day reality of being a young pregnant woman in a culture where women had very little control over their own lives, nevertheless understood the power she had been given by God in being able to choose to be a part of God’s plan.
The words she spoke to Elizabeth were not timid but were a declaration of herself as one Beloved of God who would be remembered by generations as having the favor of God. Mary goes on to proclaim God’s plan…speaking powerful words like a prophet….

“His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
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.”

Mary understood that God was acting in the world in a way that would eventually upend the power structures that kept the poor in destitute misery and oppressed the weak and the vulnerable. Through her child, the promises that God had made to bring justice and mercy to the world would be fulfilled. Mary’s song was an affirmation of her faith in God….God’s love and compassion for the poor and God’s intent to bring about a new way of being…a kingdom where the first would be last and the last would be first. This same vision of God’s kingdom would be the foundation of the message of Jesus himself. Not only did she give our Lord her humanity but her vision of God’s plan for humankind as well.

In the Mystery of the Word made flesh Mary’s role in God’s plan of Salvation became a reality but her work did not end. She was our Lord’s nurturer….his first teacher…and his guide into adulthood. Her strength and love kept him safe and happy. She carried him in her womb over the many miles back to Bethlehem, giving birth in a stable in the company of Joseph and the gentle beasts. She fled with her infant boy across the desert into Egypt becoming a refugee to escape the terror of an evil king with murder in his heart. Mary who would be mother and become disciple…who would be comfort and support for her son in his life and his ministry….Mary present at his trial, witness to his suffering….standing vigil at the foot of the Cross and holding the body of her murdered son as he was wrapped for burial. Mary, the faithful…Mary the strong…Mary who walked the path with Jesus from the very beginning until the end….and even beyond into eternity.

Yes, the mother of our Lord was humble and obedient…but she was so much more. She is the example of what each of us is capable of, through the power of the Holy Spirit. God continues to bring Christ into the world in the love and actions of each of us. We, like Mary, are the bearers of Christ in this life. We carry him in our hearts and birth him into the world when we act in love toward others…when we sacrifice our own comfort for the sake of another….when we enter into the suffering of the vulnerable and the oppressed bringing comfort and encouragement by our presence.

The truth is humanity has made a mess of this world. Our greed and lust for power have caused pain and suffering at every turn. The world economy is in chaos and the citizens of our own country are angry and afraid. But God is still at work…the Holy Spirit is still on the move and love given flesh in the birth of Mary’s son all those years ago is still with us…still in us…waiting to be born anew in each generation. God is still saving the world and we, like Mary, are an integral part of the Divine Plan. Brothers and sisters do not despair but raise your heads and look to East. Behold our Lord comes.