Mary - Bearer of the Light
This image is a linoprint from Ben Wildflower. His depiction is amazing...
Mary: Bearer of the Light
Today’s reading is all about John, Jesus’ Cousin. It’s strange that we have the story of Jesus' nativity right after the story of John’s nativity and yet we use the story of an adult John to introduce the story of Jesus’ birth.
We are told, “what has come into being in him was life, and that life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” The reading then goes on to explain what it is that John was meant to do. To go and introduce the light of the world. The light that cannot be extinguished.
EXCEPT, none of this could happen without Mary.
Because, without Mary, there is no Emmanuel.
Without the light-bearer, there is no light.
The Magnificat is referred to as the oldest Advent hymn. What tune Mary uses is unknown and there are believed to be dozens of settings. Even Johan Sebastien Bach wrote two settings! The tune is not important though, the words are what are truly remarkable.
Let me set the stage – Mary has hastened to visit her cousin Elizabeth as she prepares to give birth. Elizabeth’s baby, John, hears Mary’s voice, in utero and leaps for joy. Disconcerting at best, terrifying at worst.
Then we read:
“And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leapt for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.’ (Luke 1.40-45, NRSV)
Mary has been visited by an angel and has kept this information to herself, which is absolutely understandable. Yet after her cousin recognises just who she is and just what she is about to do, Mary responds with what Heidi Newmark, American theologian, Lutheran Minister and Keynote Speaker from our Clergy Conference this year, refers to as a “battle cry”.
The world is about to get turned on its head, everything that had been previously known is going to flip itself around.
Listen to this –
And Mary said,
‘My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
for he has looked with favour 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 for ever.’ (Luke 1.46-55, NRSV)
Society at that time was all about leadership by fear – Rome.
The wealthy were a higher class of citizen than the poor – sound familiar?
Mary refers to herself as God’s “servant” and she is prepared to be God’s handmaiden or whatever analogy you choose to use.
She is not afraid of being a servant of God.
She is not afraid of being a young Mum.
She is not afraid to take on the establishment.
God is doing a new thing – and Mary is the one who will make it a reality.
God needs someone to announce that a new thing is happening, when the time is right.
We, as 21st century followers of Jesus know this to be his cousin John.
God needs someone to bring that light that can not be extinguished to the world. God will not create this blessed being from earth as God did with the first earthling, Adam. Rather, God will create this new being from human flesh.
Flesh taken from a young woman who is prepared to stand the establishment on its end.
She proclaims that God has brought down the powerful from their thrones, has filled up the meek and lowly with good things and sent the powerful away empty-handed. Certainly not what was expected in those days and certainly not what is expected these days.
Days of ridiculous food prices.
Days of increasing homelessness in unexpected areas.
Homelessness and housing insecurity has always been with us, and now we are seeing it everywhere. In our small valley it is estimated that there are anywhere from 15 to 20 people homeless or living in untenable living situations.
With these bitterly cold temperatures, how will they survive?
Who’s job is it to take care of them?
Where will they stay?
What can we do?
We need a Marian uprising! To shake the complacent from their cocoons.
To urge the NIMBY’s (not in my backyard) into action. We need community to do what community does best, and that is to care for one another.
That call to action from Mary is one we need all to hear….
And yet today is about change, grief, death and new life.
Change from how things were done a year ago, three years ago, ten years ago
Grief from the knowledge that what has been will never be again.
Death of many who have died in the past three years, including David Barrett, Jack Buchanan, Irene Endicott and my Mam.
New life in the partnership of two Worshiping Communities with so much in common, yet different enough to make things – interesting.
Daring to dream - as we have done before - that things can be made new again, deep in the knowledge and trust that, as followers of Jesus, we believe fervently in resurrection.
We have work to do, as God’s hands and feet in the world.
We need to take a page from Mary’s book and challenge those forces which create injustice and inequality.
The world that God foresaw, that Mary made possible and that Jesus worked towards, was a world in which every human being was treated with the utmost decency and dignity. Where every voice was heard. Where every heart would celebrate the unadulterated no-strings-attached love of God.
We’re not there – yet – yet I am hopeful that together we can make that world a reality. A world where everyone is equal. Where resources of plenty are shared and distributed with joy making enough for all, rather than too much in one area and not enough in another. Am I naive? Absolutely.
And I am also crazy enough to change myself and my own corner of creation and begin a chain reaction that will change the world.
One heart, mind, body and soul at a time.
Someone asked me what I wanted for Christmas this year. I struggled to answer them because there isn’t a single “thing” that I want for Christmas. What I want is a kinder world. A gentler place where Mary’s battle cry is heard today, 2,000 years later, and loved into reality.
A place where the world learns to share instead of hoard.
A place where decision makers consider the people ahead of the policy.
A place where justice is a reality for all - regardless of race, ethnicity, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, economic reality, or of personal identity.
A place of kindness.
Of hope, peace, love and joy.
A place where war ends, and the world knows only love.
A place where children learn to love instead of to fear.
And a place where all come to know and have deep, meaningful relationships with the divine, in whatever way that divinity is manifested.
Remembering the night that love came down to earth as Jesus, Emmanuel, God-with-and-among-us by his mother Mary; theotokos, God-bearer, bringer of the light. She, who has been remembered for generations and referred to as blessed. She who birthed the One who would be known as the light which cannot be extinguished.
We owe a great deal to Mary. And so on behalf of a grateful world, I say to you Mary, Thank You. Thank You for saying Yes. Thank You for teaching your Son to also say Yes. Thank You.
The Reverend Canon Andrea L. Brennan, Incumbent
Elk Valley Ecumenical Shared Ministry
Christ Church Anglican & Fernie Knox United Church
Regional Dean of the East Kootenay Region
Christmas Day 2022