Sunday, December 4, 2016

Advent - The Revolutionary

Jesus and his comrade in arms
Photo credit: Susan WD

And Mary said,

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
     and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
     For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
     and holy is his name.
And 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 mighty from their thrones
     and exalted those of humble estate;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
     and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
     in remembrance of his mercy,
as he spoke to our fathers,
     to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”


As the birth of the Messiah draws nearer, let's pause for a moment and notice the young peasant girl chosen to be his mother.

According to some historians she may have been as young as 12. Nazareth, where she lived, had only a few hundred inhabitants at the most. Everybody there would know in short order that Mary was unmarried and pregnant -- an enormous stigma in 1st century Galilee, worthy of stoning under Jewish law. In movies and art she is almost always portrayed as calm, serene, perhaps a bit shy and submissive. If we are not careful our cultural assumptions may cause us to take it for granted that she just assented meekly to the Angel Gabriel's request, a mere passive, resigned "bondservant" of the Lord.

But this song of Mary's shows her to be nothing of the sort...

Far from being the plaintive melody of a serene, submissive maiden, this is the battle hymn of a rebel! Quite aware of her "low status" as an unwed, teenage pregnant nobody in grungy little Nazareth she shakes her fist in the faces of the powers that be. "Watch out," she cries, "the true King is coming and he is going to turn things upside down!" The days of the "proud", the "rulers", the "rich" are numbered; the revolution has begun.

Mary meets her cousin Elizabeth

Painting by Claire Joy
Mary knew her Bible. Her song echos the one sung by Hannah, the mother of the Prophet Samuel, also miraculously born a thousand years before. They both sang of a revolution: Samuel's would be one that overturned the oppressive Philistines, who ground his people's faces into the dust. The revolution of Mary's coming child would be one that overturned the cosmic powers of sin and evil -- the powers that oppress and crush all humanity. 

Mary locked arms with Hannah, and with Sarah, and Rachel, and Samson's unnamed mother, and with her own cousin Elizabeth, with all the mothers of miracle babies that made up the the backbone of Israel's history, and sang of the great revolution that they had all been promised and eagerly looked for. Now her own child would finally fulfill that promise.

The early Christian movement never got over this young girl. They groped about for words sufficient to describe it. She was "sordid humanity's solitary boast," as Augustine said. The essence of a Saint is willingness to do what God asks; she was the greatest of all Saints, the church fathers said. Before her messianic son was even conceived and began to do his holy work, this girl firmly planted the flag of The Resistance against the forces of evil and declared in effect, "This is where it stops. This is where God finally finds someone who will do his will whatever it takes, and act as his instrument to turn this whole thing around."

"“Yes, I am a servant of the Lord," Mary proclaimed. "Let this happen to me according to your word." And to Jesus' early followers this one act -- Mary's bold, "Yes!" -- began the process of reversing Eve's "No." She brought the King into the world, gave him his first lessons (somewhat radical ones, no doubt!) and set him on the road to his final victory at Golgotha Hill.

Admittedly, she did not always understand him.  He was not the King anyone expected, after all, nor did he fight his battles as the Messiah was supposed to. But even though she knew that by doing so a sword would pierce her very soul, she followed him right down to the cross and beyond.

No, Mary was far from a passive womb or a meek bystander to the drama of her son's mission. She was a comrade in arms, a fellow revolutionary. She was a worthy mother of the Messiah.

*          *          *

Prayer: Lord of The Revolution, thank you for this young woman whose dauntless courage helped make our faith possible. As the day on which we celebrate the coming of the King draws near, help us to have the courage always to say, "Yes, I am a servant of the Lord; let it happen to me just as you have said." In Jesus Christ's name we pray. Amen.

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