Friday, December 19, 2014

Finding Your Voice (Advent 4, Dec 21 2014)

Homily:  Yr B Advent 4, Dec 21 2014, St. Albans
Readings:  2 Sam 7.1-11,16; Rom 16.25-27; Luke 1.26-38; Luke 1.46b-55

For thousands of years, Mary has been viewed as unique and special in our Christian tradition, and rightly so.  She is the Theotokos, the mother of God.  But we lose something if we put too much emphasis on the uniqueness of Mary.   Our loss is that we can fail to recognize that Mary’s story is also our story.  That what happened to Mary also happens to each one of us.  That the God who acted in Mary’s life continues to act in our lives today.  Now, it’s not that I’m expecting a rash of pregnancies to break out in this congregation.  But I do believe that, like Mary, each one of us is made for a purpose, and that God has sent, is sending and will send messengers to each one of us to call us to that purpose, just as the messenger (and that is what the word angel literally means), just as the messenger Gabriel was sent to Mary.  And when that happens, you and I will likely be just as confused and perplexed as Mary was.

Mary’s story, the gospel we heard today, provides us with an example of what it can look like to hear and then respond to God’s call.  So let’s take a closer look.  And to do that, we have to use our imagination.  I want you to place yourself in Mary’s shoes.  Actually, she was more likely to be barefoot.  Imagine yourself as a 13 year old girl, poor, living in a tiny rural village of maybe 150 people. Your parents have arranged for you to marry the 17 year old boy who lives in your village, in a few years, when you’re old enough.  You are living under military occupation, there’s a garrison of Roman soldiers stationed a few kilometers away.  They are dangerous, you’ve been taught to avoid them, to keep your head down.  

One day a male stranger approaches you, and to your surprise, and breaking with social custom, he speaks to you, and his words are strange:  “Greetings favoured one!  The Lord is with you”

How do you react?

Fear?  Suspicion?  Do you look around for help?  Get ready to run?  What questions are whizzing through your mind?  Who is this man?  Why is he talking to me?  Is he dangerous?

It seems that Mary is at least open to the possibility that the man who accosts her may indeed be a messenger from God, but that only raises more questions and more doubts.  Why would God even notice me?  Is this for real?  Can I trust what he is saying?  What have I done to earn God’s favour? 

Mary may have had all these thoughts and more, but she doesn’t say a word. She stays silent.  She gives no voice to the questions and doubts and fears that are running through her head.  She is perplexed, and afraid, and she ponders what sort of a greeting this might be.

And I suspect that’s how most of us respond when God sends his messengers to speak to us.  Are you talking to me?  Can I trust this?  Is this really a message from God?  The first time we get an inkling that God might be speaking to us, through a friend, a parent, a teacher, a movie, a work of art, a persistent thought, whatever form an angel might take, our first reaction, often, is to be perplexed. 

There is a member of our community who confided to me that she had sensed in the past few months that God was trying to tell her something.  And it was kind of freaking her out.

Mary was kind of freaked out.  Perplexed.  Or as another translation puts it, thoroughly shaken.  But she chooses not to run.  She stays engaged, she keeps listening.  And the messenger keeps talking.  He reassures her, “don’t be afraid, Mary”.  He repeats the thing that many of us have trouble believing, that she has found favour with God.  And then, he gives her a few details.

“You will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus.  He will be great!”

And as she listens, Mary starts to move in how she is responding to the messenger.  She had been silent, perplexed, shaken.  Now she is questioning, objecting, poking holes in the messenger’s story.  “How can this be, since I’ve never slept with a man?” She surely has other objections too, objections that go unvoiced in the text:  what will my parents say?  What will Joseph think?  Will the people in my village shun me?  Will they stone me for adultery?  How can this be?

If we stick with it, if we continue to listen and don’t run away from God’s call, we too will move from being perplexed to questioning and objecting.  In a curious way, that’s progress!  God wants us to be committed, to be fully in to whatever purposes God is calling us to, and asking our questions and voicing our objections is part of that process.  Mary objects:  “How can this be?”

And so the messenger continues.  He offers something of an explanation of how things will play out, how it is that she will conceive.  He offers her a sign of reassurance, the unexpected pregnancy of her older relative Elizabeth.  But, in the end, he acknowledges to Mary that really it all comes down to whether or not she trusts God.  For even though all this might look impossible, nothing will be impossible with God.  Gabriel offers Mary a leap of faith.  And she takes it.

“Here I am.  Let it be with me according to your word.”

Mary’s story can be our story too.  It is the story of what happens when God surprises us by showing up in our lives.  When God sends his messengers to call us to the purposes for which we were created.  When that happens, in all likelihood, we too will be confused and perplexed at first, but like Mary, if we stick with it, our response can move from being perplexed, to asking questions, to finally saying “Let it be.”

You know, many people will talk about how Mary’s story is miraculous.  And I agree.  But for me, what I find so miraculous about Mary’s story is that it all happens so darned fast.  Mary is able to move from being perplexed and pondering, to asking “How can this be?”, to affirming “Let it be”, all in a matter of 12 verses and one afternoon and one conversation.

I know that for me, and I suspect for many of us, the journey of how we respond to God’s call, the movement from being perplexed to “How can this be?” to “Let it be” is a journey of many chapters, not just 12 verses.  It’s a journey of many voices, not just one messenger.  It’s a journey not of one afternoon, but of a lifetime.  And there will be twists and turns along the way.

But at a certain point, like Mary, we find our voice.  Mary has been called to bear a child, yes, but she has also been called to be a prophet, one who speaks the word of God, who proclaims a word of hope, who names the things that must change in our world and who points to God as the agent of that change, past, present and future.  Once Gabriel has gone, Mary races to the home of her relative Elizabeth in a distant village.  Perhaps she wants to check out what the messenger had told her; perhaps she is escaping the scandal that would surely erupt in her hometown when her pregnancy becomes known.

Whatever the reason, when she encounters Elizabeth, she finds her voice, and she sings the song that we read together this morning, the one we know as Mary’s Song, or the Magnificat.  It is a radical song of protest.  It is a song sung by an oppressed people, people of faith, in defiance of the empire.  It is a prophetic song.

It is a song best imagined on the lips of a 13 year old girl, perhaps one of the girls who is being held hostage in Nigeria, or on the lips of a young refugee forced to flee her village in Iraq.  It is a song of defiance and revolution, of trust and of hope.

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour; *
for he has looked with favour on his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed: *
the Almighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
He has mercy on those who fear him *
in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm, *
he has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, *
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things, *
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has come to the help of his servant Israel, *
for he has remembered his promise of mercy,
the promise he made to our fathers, *
to Abraham and his children for ever.

God sent his messenger to Mary to call her to the purposes for which she was intended.  Mary, in her response moves from being perplexed, to questioning, to accepting, and in so doing she found her voice and she changed the world.

May we too find our voice in response to God’s call.


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