December 16, 2018: "Through Mary's Eyes: From Silence to Singing"

December 16, 2018                                                                       Rev. Rhonda Blevins

Through Mary’s Eyes: From Silence to Singing

Luke 1:46-55

 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;
 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.
He has shown strength with his arm;
 he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
 and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
He 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.”

______

Mary Monologue

 I may be 14 years old, but I get how the world works. I see how the Roman soldiers look down on us. How they scoff. How they abuse. I hear the adults in my family whisper their contempt for Rome when no soldiers are present.

 This world is not fair. It’s not right. My people are oppressed. I may be young, but I’ve seen my share of violence.

 But somehow, I know that this baby growing inside of me will change things. I feel it with every kick. I think back to the angel’s words . . . that MY child will receive the throne of our ancestor David . . . that he will reign over the house of Jacob forever. This child, given to me by God, will make a difference.

 That’s why I sing! I’m so happy to be chosen as God’s instrument for this task! This child . . . my child . . . will change the world!

 ______

  Let me invite you to try something. Focus your eyes up at the cross behind the choir, and as you’re focused on the cross, hold up your index finger about a foot in front of your eyes. You’re holding up one finger, but how many fingers do you see? Two! For a similar effect, if you take a string and hold one end at the tip of your nose and the other end at arms length. It will look like there are two strings. And if you focus your eyes in the middle of the string, it will look as if the two strings are crossing there. (Don’t try this at home, kids.)

 We don’t think about it very often, but as we go through our daily business, our two eyes are receiving two different images that our brains synthesize into one stereo image. Our brains either merge the images, or if you have monovision (like me), your brain suppresses one image. If I close my left eye, even folks on the front row (if such a thing existed) are blurry to me because my brain is forced to accept the only image it’s receiving. But open my left eye, you guys are as clear as can be. Whether you have stereovision or monovision, we’re all sending our brains two distinct pictures; our brains assimilate them into one.

 What does this have to do with anything?

 Most Christians, when reading the Bible or considering the sacred stories, we merge the text into one, cohesive story (just like our brains do with the two distinct images it constantly receives from two eyes). And I think that with Mary, the mother of Jesus, we have this one, cohesive story of her that goes something like this:

 Mary was a young, sinless virgin.
Sweet. Demure. Holy. Perfect.
Porcelain skin. Straight teeth.
Middle class values.
She never had halitosis.
Never irritating or crude.
The Holy Virgin Mary.
Meek. Mild. Mealy-mouthed.

 Today, I’m going to ask you to consider an alternate view of Mary. You might have to close your dominant eye for a moment to see it—your brain might be quite attached to the dominant story around Mary. But for those with eyes to see and ears to hear the text today, our sweet little Mary may have a bit of an edge to her.

 Mary’s song (“The Magnificat” we call it after the first word of the song in Latin) begins innocently enough. Mary begins her song by rejoicing in the fact that she has been chosen to give birth to the promised Messiah. Then she moves from rejoicing to glorifying God for God’s power, holiness, and mercy. Then the song shifts from rejoicing and glorifying, to a subversive song of justice and retribution. How do you think Caesar would have liked hearing from this peasant’s mouth:

[God] has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
 and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.

 Embedded within a song of praise to God is a song up uprising against the powerful. Mary, it seems, had some revolutionary tendencies in her. Can our brains hold that alongside the vision of the sweet, demure, virginal Mary of the dominant story? Can we imagine Mary not as meek, mild and mealy-mouthed, but rather witty, wise, and well-spoken? Speaking as a woman, that’s an empowering alternate view.

 When I think about songs of uprising, I am taken back to when I was about 18 years old, attending my first professional theater production. I had been to school plays and community theater productions, but this was the first time to see how the pros do it. The show? Les Mis.

 I sat in rapt attention as the curtain opened. The chain gang, performing hard labor sang the “Work Song”:

Look down, look down
Don't look ‘em in the eye
Look down, look down,
You're here until you die.

 Mesmerized, I would learn the story of Jean Valjean, “Prisoner 24601.” After 19 years in prison for stealing bread for his starving nephew, Valjean was free, but unemployable because of his criminal past. Captivated by his story, I would discover it was set in the years leading up to the French Revolution, perhaps one of the most important events in world history in which the people rose up to topple the monarchy. One of the most recognizable songs from the musical is a song of uprising as the people ready themselves to revolt:

 Do you hear the people sing?
Singing the song of angry men?
It is the music of the people
Who will not be slaves again!
When the beating of your heart
Echoes the beating of the drums
There is a life about to start
When tomorrow comes!

 This song of uprising from Les Mis reminds me of Mary’s song of uprising in that they both contain elements of anger and hope. Angry at injustice. Hopeful that a new day will dawn. And Mary was now ready for her part in bringing that dawn to life.

 That wasn’t so at first.

 Methodist preaching professor Alyce McKenzie points out that Mary’s pattern fits the pattern for all of the Old Testament prophets: “God's initial call, God's task, prophet's objection, God's reassurance, prophet's acceptance of call.”[1] The Gospel of Luke contains this same pattern with Mary:

·         The angel came proclaiming God’s call.
·         He told her of her task to give birth to the Messiah.
·         Mary resisted, “How can this be since I am a virgin?”
·         The angel reassured her.
·         Mary accepted the call: “Let it be,” she said to the messenger.

In the eyes of Luke (who penned the story) Mary is first and foremost a prophet. Can our brains hold that image of Mary alongside the prevalent view?

 Why am I working so hard to help you imagine an alternate view of Mary? Mary, like Jesus, has been dehumanized throughout Christian history. In reimagining Mary, I’m inviting you to consider Mary’s humanness. The Advent devotional some of you are reading humanizes Mary. (That’s why I chose it.) Why is it important to humanize Mary (and for that matter, Jesus)? Because if Jesus and Mary are somehow otherworldly, different than the rest of us, then the redemption offered through them is a ruse. Redemption, however, is not just for the perfect. God redeems us not IN SPITE OF our humanity, but precisely THROUGH our humanity. God made you human. God loves you IN THE MIDST OF YOUR HUMANITY. Finite. Fallible. And yet, highly favored by God.

 This week I was at a dinner party, seated next to a gentleman I’d never met. As we were making small-talk, he said to me, “You’re a minister, right?” To which my answer was, “Yes, but you can still cuss around me.” I went on to explain how I sometimes refrain from sharing what I do with strangers on airplanes and such, because people invariably apologize for BEING THEMSELVES.

 What have we done, as a church, when people feel the need to apologize for being themselves around church leaders?

 That’s the opposite of grace. That’s the opposite of redemption.

 In the way we view Mary, as opposite the sassy strong-willed women we know and love—if we make her perfect—we make the love of God and the favor of God unattainable. When we lose her humanity, we lose the fact that God chose her precisely because of her humanity.

 And God has chosen you because of your humanity as well.

 Do humans make mistakes? Of course! Does God love us, call us, redeem us anyway? That is precisely the reason God loves us, calls us, and redeems us.

 Mary. Mother of God. Edgy. Prophetic. And oh so human.

 If God called Mary through her humanness, perhaps God is calling your for some task as well. It may not be the task you would have chosen. The road may be difficult. Maybe, like Mary and all the prophets, you find yourself resisting the call. Hear the message today as God offering the reassurance you need. Everything’s going to be all right.

 May each of us find the courage to say with Mary, “Let it be.”

 Let it be, let it be, let it be, let it be.

Whisper words of wisdom,

Let it be.[2]

 

 


[1] https://www.patheos.com/Progressive-Christian/Mary-Reluctant-Prophet-Alyce-McKenzie-12-17-2012.html

 

[2] Song lyrics by Paul McCartney.

Shari Maxwell