Mary - a simple response with earth shattering consequences
As Christmas approaches, we think of all who played a significant part in bringing about those momentous events. On the fourth Sunday of Advent we think of Mary, the mother of Jesus.
She is a model of Christian discipleship and today we honour her.
Here we are getting closer to Christmas with all the excitement, busyness and relief that it can bring. It’s an important time for families and it is an important time in the life of the church family.
We are all aware that this year things will be a little different as we are restricted in who and how we can meet. That is a big disappointment at the end of a year full of disappointments and frustrations.
I suspect that few of us will not be unhappy to see the back of 2020.
As we draw closer to Christmas Day in the church we become more conscious of the story of the birth of Jesus. This Sunday we remember the person of Mary, the mother of Jesus.
She was young. A girl at the time would be betrothed at the age of 12 and married at 14. Nowadays we would regard that as a child marriage and child abuse. She was carrying a child without having had marital relations which would have potentially resulted in her being stoned to death.
But that isn’t the story that is told. It is a story of an honourable man, Joseph and an unexpected intervention from a divine messenger which changes her fate.
There is a visit from an angel – Gabriel – who addresses her as if it were the most natural thing in the world. “Greetings.”
But the message is far from ordinary.
Mary hears the angel, but it does not seem as if she saw him.
This developed into a Christian tradition that Mary conceived through her ear.
I know – it’s strange.
But if you look at this depiction of the annunciation you see the light coming from God directly heading for Mary’s ear. And hovering in the beam of light is a dove, the symbol of the Holy Spirit who overpowers Mary.
Let it be to me, Mary says – according to your word.
Mary hears a word from God and she wilfully agrees. Questions yes – ‘ how can this be?’
You may think that Mary did not have a choice. But she could have been resentful, resistant, but she responded.
Let it be to me – according to your word.
Prayer as a Tornado
Ben has just played Litanies by Jehan Alain.
When he suggested this piece, Ben sent me a quote from the composer who described the music like this ‘an impression of passionate incantation. Prayer is not a lament but a devastating tornado, flattening everything in its way. It is also an obsession. You must fill men’s ears with it, and God’s ears too!”
Well, you might think that God’s ears are pretty busy at the moment so that even the mighty sound of Union Chapel’s organ might have difficulty being heard above the many calls on God’s attention.
But I like the idea of prayer as a tornado.
You know I spend a lot of time these days looking for images for our website, or our You Tube services, or these presentations.
If I type in prayer and meditation into a website then the images that appear usually involve calm, focused, healthy people.
Christianity is not another new age fad.
I want to put in a plea for the prayers that are not calm – for the prayers that come out of grief, or frustration, or anger.
My Soul magnifies the Lord
I like the notion of ‘breath prayers’. These are the prayers that you have on the tip of your tongue, that don’t need any thought. They don’t need you to sit down in a sacred space or be theologically sophisticated.
Heaven help me
Lord forgive me
There are times, as the composer reminds us, when prayer is not a lament but a devastating tornado!
In times like these when sickness is very close to hand, when fear and anxiety surround our future, then we need not be ashamed of praying like an obsession, like a devastating tornado.
We do not have to think of Mary as this passive young women who just had things done to her.
The Gospel says that she was overshadowed by the Holy Spirit. It is the same overshadowing that happened at creation, at the same overshadowing which took place on the mountain of transfiguration and at Pentecost.
We are being told that God has not abandoned us. That in a tough time and to an ordinary vulnerable young woman God’s purpose for humanity is once more being shown.
And you know Mary does not respond with a breath prayer – oh no!!
My soul magnifies the Lord
And my spirit rejoices in God my saviour.
Mary knows that God has come to her in her humility, in her ordinariness.
It is in this moment that everything is put into perspective. The arrogant of heart and mind have been put to rout. Monarchs have been brought down from their thrones while the humble have been lifted up. The hungry are satisfied. The rich sent empty away.
God has fulfilled the promise made to Abraham.
Mary was blessed and because she was blessed, we are blessed.
Mary did not passively accept her fate as a poor vulnerable women. She opened herself to God. She gave herself to God.
This did not disempower her. It did not weaken her. It empowered her. It strengthened her.
It did not turn her into a victim but a model of discipleship.
Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you. Blessed is the fruit your womb Jesus Christ.
Because the Lord is with you, so the Lord is with us. As you are blessed, we are blessed.
As you are strong in your discipleship so we can be strong.
For Mary’s prayer, the Magnificat, is a veritable devastating tornado of prayer.
None of this hides the reality of Christmas 2020.
Whether we are living with bereavement or sickness, an uncertain or precarious future, there is a message for us to hear. Like Mary we may not see the angel, but we can hear God’s word.
So, this Christmas, as with Mary, we do not need to open our eyes and peer too far ahead. But we do need to fill our ears with the angelic music of the Gospel.
So, let this Christmas be to us according to God’s word.
And may that word be a comfort, a blessing, and a stocking filler, of the hope, goodness, energy, perspective, strength which comes from allowing God’s word to fill our all our ears. And let us hope that in 2021 we can enable more to hear what Mary heard and what today we are hearing.‹ back