Scripture: Luke 1:26-55
I’ll begin with a prayer of thanksgiving to God:
for the love you have shown in the gift of the Christ-child,
for ties that bind us together as holy family and community,
for the Christ-light which shines through your Spirit in us,
we thank you and we offer ourselves.
Turn all we have, all we are and will become,
into gifts for the world you so love.
(Living the Christ Life, Mangan, Wyse and Farr, Wood Lake Books, 2001)
This is the fourth, and final, Sunday in the Advent season. This week we’ve heard the story of the angel Gabriel’s visit to a young girl named Mary and the story of Mary and a family member, Elizabeth. These are stories that are rich with dramatic and mysterious themes that inspire wonder, awe, gratitude and a call to renewed faith and trust in God.
The essence of these stories is God’s deep and abiding love for all people. This love is not a superficial sweetness without depth. The love spoken about here, and in many other places in Christian Scriptures, is a deep and powerful love which originates in the Spirit of God and that is instilled in ordinary human beings.
Luke begins the story of Mary’s incredible journey of faith with the visitation of the angel Gabriel. Gabriel assures Mary there is nothing to fear because God is with her as she has been chosen to bear God’s son. Mary trusts this calling and sets off to visit her relative, Elizabeth, who is in her sixth month of pregnancy. As soon as Elizabeth hears Mary’s greeting she is filled with the Holy Spirit and the child in her womb leaps with joy. Elizabeth responds with a blessing for Mary and for Mary’s child who, through a mystical experience, she recognizes as the long-expected Messiah. Mary replies with a joyous song of praise for God’s spirit infused in her life and in the life of her people. She recognizes the power of God’s love to overturn injustice and to guide people in the way of peace.
The acknowledgment of these two women in the Gospel of Luke is very significant. Elizabeth is married to a priest, Zechariah, who is a person of great religious and social status. In that time and place, Elizabeth would not have been a person in her own right and yet she is the one who is “filled with the Holy Spirit” and who recognizes and announces that Mary will bear the messiah. Mary is pregnant and unmarried and of no social status in her community and yet she dares to sing of God’s role in the reversal of fortunes for oppressed people and the restoration of justice for all people.
It is also important to remember that during this time, Herod was the king of the Jewish people. Herod was ruthless and maintained his power by acting as a puppet of the Roman Empire. I came across a quote by someone named Winn Collier that gives an interesting perspective of the dangerous times in which Mary sings her song about God’s dramatic justice for the oppressed. Collier says,
“When Mary sang this song, Herod sat on the throne. Herod was a vile ruler who had murdered his own children to stay in power and who had taxed the destitute and poor in order to build grand edifices. Soon, after learning that a rival King had been born, Herod would murder the male babies in every Israelite family ‘in and around the town of Bethlehem’ (Matthew 2:16)… If that were not enough, above Herod sat the Roman emperor ruling with an iron fist.
Picture being an Israelite under the despot Herod’s rule and you will hear Mary sing of one coming from God who has a ‘mighty arm’ and one who ‘has scattered the proud and haughty ones’ (Luke 1:51). Mary has your attention. Then she sings stunning words, describing the one who ‘has brought down princes from their thrones and exalted the humble’ (Luke 1:52). With these words, your hopes resurface. God’s promises, given long ago by the prophets, are not forgotten. God will bring justice. …Mary’s song offers an anthem for every oppressed generation…”
(Excerpt from an article entitled, Blind For Christ: A Song of Hope by Winn Collier)
Mary’s powerful words convey hope for people so much so that the public reading (or singing) of her song has often been banned by those who did not want her words to stir the hearts and consciousness of oppressed people. For instance, in the early 1800’s, the British East India Company banned Mary’s Song from being read aloud in India. More recently there was a public ban on the reading of Mary’s Song in Spain and Mexico in the 1930’s, in Argentina in the 1970’s, and in Guatemala in the 1980’s.
Mary and her relative, Elizabeth, were ordinary women without social, political or religious power and yet their love and faith in God has conveyed a powerful message of hope that has survived and inspired others for two thousand years.
I had these women in mind when I heard a story on the news this week of two other women. One woman, Katrina Dawson, a thirty-eight year old lawyer and mother of three young children was having coffee in Sydney, Australia with a colleague, Julie Taylor, who is five months pregnant. In a terrible act of violence, Katrina was shot and killed by a terrorist, while shielding her pregnant friend. The kind of courage that Katrina embodied, is fuelled, I believe, by a passion to protect and sustain life. It is this protective love of a mother that is selfless and extends to others beyond her immediate family circle. And, it is this kind of love, in the face of oppressive and violent forces, that remind us of our humanity and God’s goodness in our world.
At our best, human beings are both the carrier of God’s love and the conveyor of that love to others. In the Christian faith tradition we believe that God’s love is manifest in ordinary daily life and in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. The extraordinary love that God has for all the world is known to us in our relationships with family, friends and community.
Most of us will never be called upon to endanger our own lives to protect the lives of others. Even so, in small but significant ways day by day we reveal God’s love and caring for others in our community and our world.
On this fourth Sunday of Advent, we acknowledge that love is the basis of our relationship with God and with others in our family and in the wider community. As we prepare to celebrate this ancient and ever-present love made known in the birth of the Christ-child, may we also commit ourselves to be bearers of the light and warmth of God’s love in the world.
In our troubled world it is important to remember that even in the midst of devastating events and terrible atrocities that God’s love can be witnessed in the loving actions of people of courage. We remember with thanksgiving women like Mary, Elizabeth, Katrina and many others whose commitment and caring have made them brave beyond measure.
May we remember Mary’s Song of praise to God as we hear words of thanksgiving, entitled A Creed for Advent, from a contemporary Christian woman named Cally Booker:
We walk with God,
guided by the light of God’s loving spirit,
who enters the shadowed places of our hearts
and leads us into truth and life.
We wait for God, and for the fulfillment of God’s promises,
for the time when the darkness will hold no fear
and the light will no longer blind,
but creation will be made whole once more
and God’s peace will reign for ever. Amen
(Excerpt from “A Creed for Advent” by Cally Booker, Candles & Conifers,
pg. 170, Wild Goose Publications, 2005)