Gathered 1712 | Meeting House 1849 | Center for Christian Education 1987

“Mary Believed and Rejoiced” Isaiah 35:1-10 and Luke 1: 46-55

“Mary Believed and Rejoiced”

Isaiah 35:1-10 and Luke 1: 46-55

Dec. 15, 2013

Rev. Dr. Sara G. Worcester

On this, our third Sunday in Advent, we come hearing the scripture which shares the joy and praise of Mary for God. How appropriate, as we have lit the candle of Joy as well. Joy in some ways is both a very real thing and a very hard thing to fully capture. But in this last week – and especially on the evening when the news of Nelson Mandela’s passing spread across South Africa and our TV screens again and again – there were images of him smiling. And in turn, when I saw him I could not help but smile myself. It was sheer joy beaming from him. And the people! Although he was dead, they were dancing in the streets seemingly joy-filled for the life he had lived and that he had led. Actually as we will learn from Mary and from Mandela, Joy is a deep-down-inside spiritual thing which cannot be put out by the circumstances of one’s life.

For Mary, her song of praise is joy itself and has more classically become known from the traditional hymn of the ‘Magnificat.’ Here we listen and see that she has come through her moments of doubt quickly and is eager to be the mother of the Messiah. She sings her words of praise as she visits with her cousin, Elizabeth, who is six months pregnant. Basically Elizabeth gets it, she gets Mary.

Mary has much to offer us where her belief meets our disbelief. Listen once more to her song. “And Mary said, ‘My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my savior, for He has looked with favor on the lowliness of His servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed.” I can honestly admit, if God had placed such a tremendous life-changing event in my path, I’m not sure I would have greeted it as graciously as Mary has. Her soul magnifies the Lord. She praises God for choosing her. We must also remind ourselves that she is a woman in an ancient society who is not yet married and who finds herself with child. Boy, do I give her credit, and that is putting mildly. Each time I hear her reality, I comprehend a little more deeply the kind of trust she had to have in God to do good with her life. Mary is mortal, and some might say very much a commoner. But to my way of thinking this all the more illustrates that each of us is capable of having this depth of faith. It also reinforces that God is concerned for and with all people and not just some or certain people.

She sings on, “…for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is His name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.” I think we hear in these words that her belief and rejoicing isn’t based on what might be in the future done by God, but rather what already has been done by God. She being a good Jew would see God as holy from all that has been done for her people, Israel. But also, she likely recognizes that it is God who provides her with her fiancé, Joseph, who remains supportive and will ultimately stand by her.

I think of this kind of faith, recognizing that, although we may be facing one pain or hardship in our life, we also need to acknowledge the other people or parts of our life where we can gather strength or where we have been blessed. For instance, those we know who have or are facing great tragedy or upheaval and recovery – be they in Colorado, the Midwest, Michigan, or the Philippines – can choose to live by Mary’s kind of faith that says we may be able to make life better, we do have loved ones with us in spirit, and no matter the lines we humans draw as people of God, with God all things are possible. Mary says it much better though, “God has shown strength with His arm; God has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. God has brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly.”  I actually think I could have just as easily heard Mandela saying the same thing at some point in his travails.

Mary’s words are put in the past tense to indicate a kind of confidence in all that God has done and is capable of doing. The image of God here deals with morals like pride and social norms of the use of power. And after really thinking about her words here, I’m not so sure any more about the mild-mannered Mary riding on a donkey. We have here in Mary a thinking woman of Jewish faith who is presenting ideas of dynamite that might explode in the context of her culture.  Don’t think me irreverent, but God knew what God was doing when God chose Mary.

Let’s hear more of her Godly images, “God has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. God has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham, and to His descendants forever.” She again describes God as concerned with economic justice and bound to answer all promises made. And there is also much poetry in her song, including the line of ‘filling the hungry with good things’ which really could include many of us, for it might be speaking about spiritual, emotional, or physical hunger. What I hear loudest in her song is that Mary could be anyone of us in terms of being part of the common plight of humanity. At some point of our lives, we each can have voids or parts of us that truly need filling. Yet her joy and praise bring her to a different place, because she lifts up what others might see as blocks and obstacles and shows them to be opportunities for victory. Her belief can help our disbelief when we too let joy and praise take us to a different place. For example, in Mandela’s story of going from violence toward love, he used the years in prison to inform and reform his living.

This Advent, these weeks and this Christmas Eve and day, let us make some time as Mary did in our spirit, in our soul, to explore what God has been, is, and will be for us in our life!  She must wait patiently for the birth of Jesus and for many promises to be fulfilled, and yet she still believes and rejoices in God.

May all of us learn from a common woman that extraordinary things can happen when we trust and rejoice in God whose love has no end.  And if anyone is in a place where believing in God seems too difficult right now, then why not simply try loving God, knowing that in the gift of Jesus, God believes in us. Amen.