The Rev. Josephine Robertson
St. John’s Episcopal Church, Kirkland
December 21 2014
Advent 4B, Luke 1:28-38
Let’s go back. Back before the 1950s changed everything we think about what church is. Back before missionaries from powerful empires trekked the four corners of the globe. Back before the middle ages sent armies marching under Christian flags. Back before Constantine converted to Christianity and the church became Empire. Back before Paul. Back before Jesus.
Back to a dusty little village, in the middle of no where. Back to a little dirt floored house, where a poor family lives, with a daughter, who has just become a woman at the tender age of 13 and has been engaged to be married to the town carpenter in exchange for three goats and a few precious coins. All those things we just flew past as we went back through time, tell us this particular girl is meek, and quiet and sweet, and impossibly, perfectly, pure. She’s noble, and poor, and quiet and stage managed to vanish as soon as she’s served her purpose. But oh, all those times, and all those powerful people don’t know Mary…
Suddenly the little dirt house is filled with the whole splendor of the heavens, filled with all that is terrifyingly good and impossibly powerful. The sun outside looks suddenly dim and sad and pale. The angel seeks, and its voice is like thunder from within the lightening bolt. The angel, says “do not be afraid” but he needn’t have bothered, because did you notice? She isn’t. She stands up straight and tall, holding her broom in work worn hands, her patched dress looking even shabbier than usual, but she’s not quaking. She’s frowning, and you can see the intensity in her eyes. She’s listening.
Through all these years it can be hard to hear people like Mary, people who aren’t supposed to have a voice. Most of her Biblical sisters have had their voices erased, half of them lost their names when men put pen to paper, but Mary has the blood of the Matriarchs in her veins. Of Sarah, who laughed, of Miriam who danced, of Rachel, and Deborah, both warrior and judge, shrewd Tamar, and brave Ruth. She isn’t afraid, like a proper meek, pure virgin should be. She’s perplexed. She’s got questions.
And this angel, this lightening wrapped in a robe, with a face like a thunderstorm, has an offer. But it isn’t just for her, Mary might not be able to read, but she knows her Torah. She knows that when God sends a messenger with feet of quicksilver, and a tongue of flame the question isn’t just for the one being asked, it’s for all of us. And her answer, it isn’t for one strong, tough as nails girl from the back of beyond Nazareth, it’s for all of us as well.
And she does something that only the bravest of us have managed to say, on rare occasions, she says “yes.” She says yes to danger, to uncertainty, to an unknown future she could have never guessed. She says yes, despite the threat of stoning, despite the threat her family might turn on her, her fiancé abandon her, that she might become Haggar, calling out to God in the wilderness: “don’t let me see my child die!”
Mary. Impossible Mary. We’ve done everything we could manage to make her inhuman. We’ve even invented stories that she was conceived without sin (whatever that means), that she and Joseph never had sex, that she was pure, and perfect. The women here know the story. Right? We’re sinful Eve, and we’re always falling short of perfect Mary. Spiritually bludgeoned with both our matriarchs. But Mary’s real, and woman, and not that easy to silence.
She might be from a tiny town in the middle of nowhere, she might be only worth three goats, she might be just a Nazarene, but she knows her Torah. She was raised on Isaiah’s songs of hope and so she turns to the angel, with his eyes like burning hail stones and she says “yes.” “Yes. I will forge with God a new covenant. Yes. I will be part of a new creation story. Yes. I will carry hope in my very being. Yes.”
Because Mary knows her Torah. How many people, who heard their son would become King, would be called “Son of God” would raise a child who would chose to make friend with the least, the poorest, the dirtiest, the smelliest, the most despised? Who, knowing he would sit on David’s throne, would raise her son, to die rather than harm even one of his enemies? Who would teach him to love justice, and mercy; and hate only retribution and oppression?
The daughter of the homeless, and the alone. The child of the oppressed, the orphaned, the destitute. Pure? Oh Lord, no. Mary is no pure virgin bright-but the daughter of Tamar, and every prostitute with no other option who has been spit on and called hateful words. She is the burning heart of every mother who has raised her children, knowing full well they will die too young, and in violence.
Mary’s prophetic song picks up where Isaiah’s fell silent so long before her. She is the Prophet, the heir of the people of God who dared to remember the sort of King God had been in Israel. Who dared remember that God always sides with the brokenhearted, the powerless, the hungry, the poor, the lost, the hurting. That no matter the cost, God must be brought into the world again, and again, and again…
Mary’s song, that beautiful Magnificat that so many of us grew up singing weekly at morning prayer is the Gospel, it is the good news echoing down the halls of history, through Torah, and tradition, and story. The radical, strange, and impossible story: that God, who is so powerful, is not anything like Earthly kings. In God there is no greed, no competition, no losers. In God a peasant girl from Galilee is Queen of the heavens. In God the king will die, before he will raise the fist of violence. In God the power of Empire is broken, not by conquest, but by love. By the simple yes of a thoroughly ordinary, real human heart.
The question is still being asked, by that messenger with hair like twilight. “Will you carry God within you? Will you let God be born through you?” How many women said “no” before Mary lifted her chin, looked that angel square in the eye and said “yes?”
A hundred, a thousand, a million? How many people, women and men, turned back to counting their money, running their businesses, to their court cases to judge, the wars to run, their countries to manage? How many golden palaces did that messenger walk, how many city streets? Looking for even one who would risk a different way, a harder way, a way that made no sense.
Mary said yes. The choice is ours as well, the question asked: will you risk everything this world has to give to do something new with God? Will you risk carrying holiness within yourself, will you risk the pain, the mess, the danger of bringing God into this world? God came into the world through the yes of a tough as nails Jewish girl from the middle of no where. God comes again into this world through willing hearts, and souls, here, now.
Who will raise Isaiah’s song? Who will be a prophet like Mary? This old world is waiting, waiting for Christmas.