Tag Archives: Magnificat

The Third with them

Micah 5.2–5a
Luke 1.39–55

The song of Mary is the oldest Advent hymn. It is at once the most passionate, the wildest, one might even say the most revolutionary Advent hymn ever sung. This is not the gentle, tender, dreamy Mary whom we sometimes see in paintings.…This song has none of the sweet, nostalgic, or even playful tones of some of our Christmas carols. It is instead a hard, strong, inexorable song about the power of God and the powerlessness of humankind. — Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Advent sermon, http://enemylove.com/subversive-magnificat-mary-expected-messiah-to-be-like/

Jesus was born to be a marginal person. He was conceived by Mary when she was unwed .… Thus, while the birth of Jesus to Mary was divinely justified, it was nevertheless socially condemned. Jesus, as well as his parents, was marginalised from the time of his conception. — Jung Young Lee, Marginality: The Key to Multicultural Theology (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1995), 79


This is one of the very few passages of scripture in which only women appear. It may be the only one in the New Testament; the only other one in all scripture that I can think of is the story of Ruth, where Ruth, her mother-in-law Naomi and sister-in-law Orpah are heading out of Moab towards Bethlehem. Orpah, of course, returns to Moab but Ruth goes on with Naomi.

But today, we have Elizabeth and Mary. As I said, alone. No man in sight. And really, men are given scarce credit for this scenario. 

You know, if Luke chapter 1 were a film, Mary would be the star and Elizabeth her co-star. Her husband Zechariah would be a supporting actor and poor Joseph would be an extra. With his name in very small print.

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Now, but not yet

Jeremiah 33.14–16
Luke 21.25–36


Christian eschatology has nothing to do with apocalyptic ‘final solutions’…, for its subject is not ‘the end’ at all. On the contrary, what it is about is the new creation of all things. — Jürgen Moltmann, The Coming of God, Kindle edition, loc.82

The kingdom of God, beloved brethren, is beginning to be at hand; the reward of life, and the rejoicing of eternal salvation, and the perpetual gladness and possession lately lost of paradise, are now coming, with the passing away of the world; already heavenly things are taking the place of earthly, and great things of small, and eternal things of things that fade away. — Tertullian, Treatise 7, On the Mortality, http://www.tertullian.org/fathers2/ANF-05/anf05-117.htm


Yitschak Rabin was assassinated by a right-wing Israeli activist on 4 November 1995. Rabin was the prime minister of Israel; in 1994, he had received the Nobel Peace Prize along with Shimon Peres and Yasser Arafat for building peace in the Middle East. That peace seems a very long way away now. 

A short time after his death, there was a memorial service for Yitschak Rabin in the Mary St Synagogue here in Brisbane. I went to this service as the representative of the Uniting Church. 

After the service, I was filing out behind two Jewish men. They were saddened, they were thoughtful. One said to the other, ‘It’s almost enough to make you wish the Messiah would come.’ 

There was a little playfulness there—it’s almost enough to make you wish the Messiah would come—but you couldn’t miss the genuine longing in this man’s voice. A longing for peace with justice. For all people, whoever they are.

We share this longing with Jews, but wait—there is a difference. We claim the long-awaited Messiah has already come. His name is Jesus, Jesus of Nazareth. 

The Messiah has come, but like those two Jewish men we still long for peace with justice.

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On earth as in heaven (Ascension of Christ, Year B, 17 May 2015)

Acts 1.6–11
Ephesians 1.15–23
Luke 24.44–53

Jesus hasn’t just gone away. He has gone deeper into the heart of reality—our reality and God’s. He has become far more than a visible friend and companion; he has shown himself to be the very centre of our life, the source of our loving energy in the world and the source of our prayerful, trustful waiting on God. He has made us able to be a new kind of human being, silently and patiently trusting God as a loving parent, actively and hopefully at work to make a difference in the world, to make the kind of difference love makes.—Rowan Williams

…when he is seen, the exalted Lord is recognized, made particular, given content, by the fact that he bears tangible human scars, and forever confronts us wounded.—Rowan Williams, Resurrection–Interpreting the Easter Gospel

I decided to speak about the Ascension of Jesus today, and it took me quite a while to know how to approach it. To tell you the truth, if you just tell the story straight, it can be a bit embarrassing.

For example, the astronomer Carl Sagan once remarked that if the ascending Jesus had reached the speed of light, he wouldn’t have left our galaxy yet. Not even after 2000 years.

I mean, we don’t see the creation as a three-storey thing any more, with heaven on the top floor, earth on the ground and a shadowy world of the dead as the basement. We are becoming even more aware than ever of the vastness and strangeness of the universe.

The story is told about some Ascension Day celebrations at a particular theological college. A special Ascension Day service was held and the whole faculty in their robes and regalia gathered for the big celebration. It was quite an event.  Continue reading

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The cast of Luke—Advent 4, Year C (23 December 2012)

Micah 5.2–5a
Luke 1.39–55

When the Scriptures are used maturely, and they become a precursor to meeting the Christ, they proceed in this order:

  1. They confront us with a bigger picture than we are used to, “God’s kingdom” that has the potential to “deconstruct” our false world views.
  2. They then have the power to convert us to an alternative worldview by proclamation, grace and the sheer attraction of the good, the true and the beautiful (not by shame, guilt or fear which are low-level motivations). “Attraction not promotion,” said Bill Wilson, cofounder of Alcoholics Anonymous.
  3. They then console us and bring deep healing as they “reconstruct” us in a new place with a new mind and heart.

Preparing for Christmas (Richard Rohr)


Are we nearly there yet?

There can’t be a parent who hasn’t been asked that question. Usually as you’re backing out of your suburban Brisbane garage to drive to Sydney.

Are we nearly there yet?

Well yes, we’re nearly there. We’re almost at the stable, the baby Jesus will soon be born.

And as we’re nearly there, Luke gives us a story of Mary early in her pregnancy. Her very unexpected pregnancy. This was not on her radar!

So in dealing with this unexpected pregnancy, Mary does something you might expect. She hurries to see Elizabeth, also unexpectedly pregnant. But Elizabeth is older and has more experience of things. And she is a whole six months pregnant.

They talk. They talk about babies, but it’s not the usual conversation because these are not the usual babies. Elizabeth is carrying John, who was to be the forerunner of Mary’s son, Jesus.

Every baby is special, but these are two very special babies.

Mary and Elizabeth were not important women. Herod didn’t know them, Pilate had never heard of them. But God knew them, and chose them for a wonderful task. God chose a barren woman, and a young woman little more than a child herself.

If Elizabeth and Mary had been asked who would God choose to bring the Messiah and the Messiah’s herald into the world, they would have scratched their heads. I don’t believe they would say “Pick me, pick me!” More likely, they’d wonder which great lady in a royal palace would get do this. If they were lucky, they might be allowed to become a servant in that great lady’s household.

But no. They were the chosen ones. A barren woman and a girl.

It’s God’s decision who God chooses. He may choose you. This Advent, this Christmas, watch; wait; listen. It may be you.

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Spiritual and/or Religious—Sunday 22, Year B (2 September 2012)

James 1.17-27
Mark 7.1-23

Religion has a bad press these days. I want to talk about religion today; I could do that referencing either the Gospel reading or our reading from James. Let’s look at what James has to say about religion:

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

A few years ago, I was in a bookshop and overheard a man ask for a particular book, a ‘self-help’ or ‘new age’ kind of title. He was told the book was in stock, and it was in the ‘Religion’ section of the shop. He looked somewhat ashamed to be seen looking for a book that would be kept in the Religion section.

‘Religion’ gets a bad press these days. Some people associate it with all sorts of negative things, and blame it for violence and war. For example, there’s a slogan that refers to the tragic events of 9/11:

Science flies you to the moon. Religion flies you into buildings.

And that is applied to mild-mannered Christian types like us just as much as it is to radical Islamists.

Short, snappy soundbites like this are a poor substitute for reasoned conversation, but they get inside people’s heads and they have their impact.

Religion has a bad press within the churches too. When I was young, in my Brethren church we were taught that we were not religious. Religion was the human attempt to reach up to God. We were taught not to trust robes, liturgy, candles, even crosses on the wall or on the Altar. All we needed was a relationship with Jesus though faith. Religion got in the way.

More recently, people have made a distinction between religion and ‘spirituality’. Here’s another slogan for you:

Religion is for those who are afraid of hell. Spirituality is for those who’ve been there.

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

The ‘real Mary’?

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.

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John and Mary, Jesus and Josie: A sermon for the Induction of the Rev. Josie Nottle (8 December 2011)

John and Mary, Jesus and Josie


Luke 1.47-55 (responsive)
Mark 1.1-8


It’s Advent, and two of the most wonderful people in the Bible appear in our Lectionary readings every year at this time. Those two are Mary, the mother of Jesus and John the Baptist.

(Not that they ever come together in our Lectionary readings. I’ve cheated! I’ve taken one of the choices for the ‘Psalm’ from this coming Sunday—it’s actually the Song of Mary in Luke 1—and I’ve teamed it with the Gospel Reading from last Sunday, from Mark 1. So tonight we have John and his Auntie Mary together.)

I say I like these two, but I’m not sure I’d like to have either living next door to me. They’re both prophets, burdened with a need to tell out the word that God gives them. I really don’t think I’d like to live next door to a prophet, especially John with his weird diet and his funny clothes. And what’s more, they’re both saints. If there could be one thing worse than living next door to a prophet, that would be living next to a certified saint.

But here we have John and Mary, prophets and saints. Though I doubt that either would get through the Uniting Church’s selection process to become ordained ministers. John would have too many ‘personality issues’ and Mary would be too young (apart from having a young baby to take care of)—so Josie, you’ve done even better than them. You really do have a lot to live up to.

John was a cantankerous old coot. (Though he was actually a cantankerous young coot if the truth’s to be known.) He stood at the end of the old order and he proclaimed a brand new thing: a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

Mark says,

…people from the whole Judean country-side and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him…

Sounds like he was as successful as a modern-day tele-evangelist. His approach wouldn’t work too well in these materialistic days though.

Among the throngs who came to him was Jesus, perhaps seeking to know the direction that his Father God was calling him to go.

There’s a lot we could say about John and Jesus, but I just want to highlight one thing. John says:

The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals.

It was said that disciples owed their teacher every duty except to untie the laces of his sandals. This was too demeaning.

John says not only should he untie the laces of the one who is coming, but that he is unworthy to do this very demeaning thing.

There are some often-quoted words in the Fourth Gospel. John the Evangelist has John saying about Jesus:

He must increase, but I must decrease.

Josie, you are a minister of the Word. There is a real sense in which you are a symbol of the Word, the Word-made-flesh.

As a symbol, you are to point beyond yourself to the Jesus, who is the One you symbolise in a particular way. You must decrease, that he may increase. You may not be worthy to untie his laces, but listen: he has made you worthy. You have the dignity of a daughter of God.

Yet any symbol that points to the One who was broken on the cross needs to be a ‘broken symbol’. To decrease in the presence of the One broken for our sakes is to turn away from pride, manipulation and self-serving. It is to serve in his Spirit. It is to rejoice when others shine, because they shine with the reflected glory of Jesus Christ, the One more powerful than we are.

In the end, a broken symbol leads people to faith, not to control or power or possession of something. Your ministry will elicit faith within the people of God.

Take John as your example; not in the way you dress or what you eat or how often you shower, but in who you are. And in Who you belong to, and Who you yield to.

And what about Mary? Josie, you’re a young woman, but Mary was about half your age. We Protestants tend to ignore Mary; she makes us nervous. One Advent, a friend of mine said she was preaching on Mary. I said, ‘So you’re preaching on the Blessed Virgin Mary?’ She said, ‘Oh, I couldn’t call her that.’ I said, ‘Why not? The Bible does.’ She replied, ‘Oh yes, so it does!’ (All right, I confess: I was deliberately being a smart arse.)

The point is this: there are passages in the  Scriptures that value Mary more highly than we do. So we should look at her more than we do.

For tonight, let me again just say one thing: Mary is the example of a believer. She shows us what it is to believe. When confronted with an arduous task of gargantuan proportions, she just says,

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

But that’s after she questions God:

“How can this be…?”

Mary says “Let it be” after she questions what this is all about. And then Mary praises God.

Josie, I suspect you’ve taken a similar route in coming to Centenary. You’ve no doubt questioned whether this is a task of gargantuan proportions—but I think it’s not!—and you’ve sought whether God is calling you here.

And once you decided that was indeed the case, you said, “Let it be with me according to your word.” And I know you have given thanks to God for bringing you to this point.

Mary was a courageous young woman, who knew the consequences for her could be severe—even death by stoning—but she said “Yes”.

Josie, you are another Mary, as are we all. Jesus is being formed within you, and changing the way you look at life. You know that Mary sang the truth:

You have shown strength with your arm
and scattered the proud in their conceit,
casting down the mighty
from their thrones
and lifting up the lowly.
You have filled the hungry
with good things
and sent the rich away empty.

Tell us that story, Josie, tell us again and again! Lead us to live that story, as Mary did. And always keep in mind that Mary was only half your age, so take St Paul’s advice to Timothy also (1 Timothy 4.12):

Let no one despise your youth.

So Josie, whatever else you are, you are a symbol—a broken symbol—pointing us to the risen and crucified Lord. He is being formed within your very being, so you can be bold and daring with Mary. Be a broken symbol among us and with us and for us.

I don’t know if you’re a prophet, or a saint, Josie; maybe you are, but if so I’m sure I’ll get used to working with one. For now, on behalf of the people of God in this place, let me just say, “Welcome!”.

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