What Mary knows

Homily for Advent 3

St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, Richmond VA

December 11, 2022


Friends at St. Peter’s, it is always a joy to worship with you. I have the daunting task of preaching the Sunday after you all were inspired by what I know was a good word from Presiding Bishop Michael Curry. If you came here expecting him, I know I’m going to disappoint.  But I have good news: even though Bishop Curry might not be there, the Good News is here, and the transforming power of Love is here. And all we have to do is bring ourselves with open hearts, and the God who is Love will meet us here.  So, we have all that we need to be present together and see how the Holy Spirit is moving in our midst.

As the Collect of the day says: Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us.

These days of Advent are moving on quickly, and today we light a rose-colored candle and embrace a moment to “Rejoice” which is what the traditional name for this day means: Gaudete, the Third Sunday in Advent.  On this day, we are given the gift of reading together Mary’s rejoicing in the song of praise that we call the Magnificat: My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.  

I cannot be Bishop Curry.  But I am a woman who has held expectation in my heart and in my body even when uncertainty was all around me.  I’m guessing some of you have, too. If you are also someone who has caught a glimpse of that, this Sunday is especially for you.  I’m going to ask all of us to step vicariously into Mary’s rejoicing today, because I believe it holds a special and beautiful resonance for how it is that our spirits rejoice, in spite of all evidence to the contrary in the world around us..

What do we know about Mary, this woman who raises her voice to God in praise so moving that the words have carried across generations?  We know a few things about her person: she is young; she is set to be married to Joseph (sneak preview: next week’s Gospel lesson features his story!), she traces her ancestry in the long line of the house of David and the relational covenant between God and Israel.  And, she is presently in precarious circumstances.  She has been promised in marriage, and she is in a society where her freedom and livelihood are tied to family, not to person.  She is moving from the care of her household of origin, to the care of the household of Joseph.  And, she now has the blessing and overwhelming challenge of learning that she’s going to give birth to a child when all human reality points to that being impossible or under circumstances that would be immoral.  She is at the mercy of the family of her betrothed.  She could find herself house-less, spouse-less, and cast out from society in the same breath with which she is singing her praises to God.  

But Mary is a woman of God, who sources her strength in the faith of her tradition.  She has willingly opened herself to God, and her participation in something greater than she is, and her spirit rejoices.  What pours forth from her is not just a song of praise, it is a song of liberation.  Mary’s Magnificat is her awareness not of her own strength or of the world’s limitations, but of God’s ability to work in and through her to achieve more than she ever could on her own.  

In the Magnificat, Mary makes her proclamation in full awareness that she is an agent of and participant in God’s plan of salvation, and simultaneously she herself is not responsible for bringing about God’’s plan.  What is asked of Mary is what is asked of us: our active and willing participation in God’s plan, which is always bigger, better and greater than any plan we ourselves could put into place.

I want to invite you to walk with me into Mary’s earnest and brave proclamation of rejoicing.  

God has mercy on those who fear him in every generation.

God has shown the strength of his arm, he has scattered the proud in their conceit.

Mary knows that she is not alone in God’s favor; she stands in a long line of women and men who have heard the voice of God and followed it, not out of blind obedience but out of deep and abiding love.  The stories of her people are filled with the reminders of God’s presence, and the ways in which those who are lowly are lifted up and those who prevail do so from a strength and power that belongs to God.  Mary speaks this with knowledge of God’s steadfast love and the belief that God’s mercy will prevail because her life and that of her people are living proof of God’s mercy and strength.  

God has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up the lowly.

God has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.

Mary can see, know, believe and live with fullness of her own life and her willing commitment that she has been invited to be a part of God’s plan of salvation for all people. Mary lives not in her lowliness, but in the ways that she is lifted up in God’s strength into the recognition that this “Upside Down Kingdom” has been, is currently, and will continue to come to pass.  God has, though all creation, found ways to lift and center the voices of the lowly.  God has, throughout the history of covenant and relationship, found ways to provide the food and nourishment and daily bread for all of God’s people, and to send away those who reap their rewards on earth while ignoring their fellow human beings. God sides with the poor and the oppressed; it is evident in her life and we know that it will also be evident even in the birth of Jesus in the midst of cows, donkeys and all the worldly stench of farm life which was transformed into a place of heavenly grace.  I believe Mary held all of these things and treasured them in her heart, too.

God 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.

Mary knows, in her body and mind and spirit, that God has been persistent in a covenant of love and mercy with Israel.  That promise that has been made is both beyond her, and also intimately, about her.  She is a child of Abraham. She knows this truth generationally, and carries it in her lineage, literally written on her heart, perhaps as we can even say today in the genetic code of her lineage as well as in the teaching of her culture. Historian and womanist theologian Wil Gafney, in her translation of this portion of the Magnificat from Luke’s Gospel, offers up this paraphrase of Mary’s praise: “God has helped God’s servant, in our faithfulness and in our faithlessness. God has been faithful. In our history, in our memories, in our scriptures, God has been faithful and it is enough.”

It is enough.  

I mean, that’s really it, isn’t it?  What Mary brings is her self, her consent and full participation in this plan, her groundedness in history and tradition that gave her the confidence to say YES with rejoicing.  What she brings is enough.  Who she is is enough.  

Who we are is enough, too, when we open our hearts and participate fully in the plan of salvation that God continues to unfold for this whole, entire, crazy, beautiful world.  God doesn’t ask us to be perfect, or even extra-special, or to hold an elevated place in society or any recognition, really, on the world’s terms.  God asks us to bring ourselves: body, mind and spirit into full participation in a world as God has envisioned it and where our life is also written into the loving plan of salvation God has for all of God’s people.  

It is enough.

This, my friends is Good News indeed.  We are the ones that our God has invited to participate as well in this inbreaking of incarnate Love that has come for all the world.  And we are enough, God working through us.  We are enough.

Rejoice, Rejoice.  “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my savior

We are enough.  And God is indeed with us and in us today.

About harasprice

Professor of Social Work and Priest in The Episcopal Church, parent, teacher, learner, writer, advocate, and grateful traveller along this journey through life
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