The ‘real’ Mary? (Fourth Sunday of Advent, Year B, 2011)

The ‘real Mary’?

Readings
2 Samuel 7.1-11, 16
Luke 1.47-55 (responsive)
Luke 1.26-38

Will the real Mary please stand? 

Who was Mary?

Was she meek, mild, submissive, not very worldly-wise? That’s a common image of Mary, the wide-eyed mother holding her baby, looking as though butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth… But is that really Mary?

It must be said: we don’t know much about Mary. And a lot of what we think we know has been filtered through the imaginations of people through the ages, many of them celibate men and women who never once held their own child in their arms. Because I have to say, that’s a life-changing experience which helps you ‘get’ Mary, one that grounds you in the realities of life, of poop, of piercing cries and demands for food now. And it also teaches you what love and delight can be.

Whoever the real Mary was, she held her own child in her arms. She knew the need to protect, to love, to nurture that child.

Luke gives us a fuller picture of Mary than anyone else. His Mary immediately sees her future Son as a sign. A sign of the coming justice of God. So Mary sings:

My soul magnifies the Lord,
And my spirit rejoices
in God my Saviour…

But more than that, Mary proclaims this as good news:

You have filled the hungry with good things
and sent the rich away empty.
You have come to the aid
of your servant Israel,
to remember the promise of mercy,
the promise made to our forebears,
to Abraham and his children for ever.

And later, her Son would sing that song anew in the synagogue of Nazareth as he proclaimed this good news:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me
to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.

Mary protected and nurtured a Son who was to be the world’s Saviour. She had no idea what was ahead of her; like the rest of us, she put one foot in front of the other day after day and watched her Child grow.

This picture that Luke gives us of Mary is a bit different from the ‘meek-mild Mary’ we may be used to. Let’s look in a bit more detail.

In Luke’s first chapter, Mary is not the only one greeted by an angel. Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, was also met by the angel Gabriel.

In the Bible, the stock standard greeting of an angel to a human being is not hello, but

Do not be afraid!

Luke tells us that’s just how Gabriel greeted old Zechariah. That was because

when Zechariah saw him, he was terrified; and fear overwhelmed him.

That’s the standard human response to an angel popping around. I expect it would be my response too.

But what about Mary? She is different. We read today that the angel

came to her and said, “Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.

Mary is perplexed; she wonders what on earth is happening; but Luke doesn’t say anything about her being afraid. Mind you, that doesn’t stop the angel, who it seems  must return to the script and say:

Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God.

You know, I don’t think Mary was afraid. This little slip of a girl is one of the very few people in Scripture who isn’t terrified when an angel comes into their life.

I talked about Mary the other night at Josie’s induction. I’d like to say a bit more about her today. Four things:

  1. Mary says ‘Yes’ to God;
  2. Mary is our example in faith;
  3. Mary is a temple for God;
  4. Mary is “blessed”.

Mary says ‘Yes’ to God.

Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.

People will argue about anything, and they argue about whether she could have said no. But Luke tells us this wonderful story in which she says yes. Perhaps she could have said no, why not? But she said Yes. She even quoted Lennon and McCartney: “Let it be”.

Let it be with me according to your word.

Mary is our example in faith. Not afraid of an angelic visitor, she is ready to say YES! at the drop of a hat when God makes a call on her life. We can look up to Mary. Luke means us to. She is the greatest example of faith. Mary is our mother in faith.

Mary is a temple for God. When King David wished to build a temple made of cedar wood for God, this was the reply. Through Nathan the prophet, God says to David:

Are you the one to build me a house to live in? I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent and a tabernacle.

And Nathan goes on to say:

…the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house.

Mary becomes a house for the Lord as Jesus takes shape within her. God lives and grows within her womb. We also are a temple for the Lord Jesus. Scripture says:

like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood (1 Peter 2.5)

In [Christ] the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord… (Ephesians 2.21)

Let’s not run away with this. We are a temple for Jesus, but not a magnificent structure like St Paul’s in London or St Peter’s in the Vatican or even like Albert St here in Brisbane.

As a temple, Mary was a pretty poor choice. A young woman in a country town, a suspicious pregnancy… God chose a temple who had more in common with the tabernacle of Israel’s early days than she had with Herod’s great edifice down in Jerusalem.

If we are a temple for the Lord, we are more like a tabernacle too. We aren’t great, we’re not powerful. The churches were once in the centre of community life, but those days are gone. Mary shows us how to act in this marginal situation, by proclaiming the justice and mercy of God, and being a part of the new world God is bringing into being.

Mary is our mother in faith; and she shows us how to be a tabernacle on the edge, rather than a grand cathedral in the middle.

Finally, Mary is blessed.

Mary was blest, but we need to understand that this blessing was placing her in danger. If Joseph hadn’t stood by her, she may have been stoned to death. When she said “Yes”, she knew that God was asking a lot of her.

When we think of God blessing us, we usually think of good health or a happy family or a nice place to live. Mary sings,

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.

“All generations will call me blessed.” Her health wasn’t guaranteed, she wasn’t rich, we wouldn’t want to swap houses with her. But she counted herself blest.

She was blest because she bore the Son of God. (That’s why some call her ‘the Mother of God’, by the way—her Son is God-with-us, the Word made flesh.)

Since Christ is being formed in us, we are blest too. But being blest doesn’t mean having an easy life. It can mean all sorts of trials and difficulties. St Teresa of Ávila had it right back in the 1500s:

No wonder you have so few friends, Jesus, when you treat them the way you do.

Teresa was another blessed person, whose life was full of difficulties. Just as being pregnant isn’t always easy, so also being ‘blest’ doesn’t mean having it easy; it means being someone God has chosen to be a blessing to others. We are always blest to be a blessing. That’s the only reason. It’s not because we’ve been good, or that we’ve earnt it; we are blest only to be a blessing.

Mary has so much to teach us about being a disciple. She says “Yes” to God’s call, not knowing the consequences. She is not afraid to allow Christ to be formed within her. She is “blest” to be a blessing to us.

Mary is our example in faith, who shows us how to be a temple for the Lord in our times. She is blest to be a blessing. As this year draws to a close and a new year dawns, let us say “Yes” to God’s call, as Mary did.

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