The Rev. Mieke Vandersall
December 19, 2016
46 And Mary said,
‘My soul magnifies the Lord,
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
48 for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
50 His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.’
This is what I have been wondering for quite sometime. Did Mary feel up to the task?
Maybe it is projection, because I don’t feel up for plenty of tasks on a pretty regular basis, but the reading for tonight also begs the question. Did Mary feel like she was a fraud, a poser? Did she feel up for what she was placed to do in the world?
You know, this is not how the birth of the Messiah was supposed to work. Here we have a family, a poor family who was in a community that was taken over by Roman rule. You know the story. They were minorities, in the sense that they didn’t have a whole lot of political or economic power. This wasn’t supposed to be how it happened, the one they had been waiting for for generations born to a poor, unwed mother. And then not only that but unlike so many stories we hear in the Bible previously of women and men, where the woman was barren, or the man had swimmer problems depending on how you look at it, there were no such problems here. After hearing of so many ancestral stories of hard conception, instead we have Mary who conceived as a miracle apparently. For the Holy Spirit was Mary’s partner in conception, not Joseph, and that meant that Mary was a mother unwed, pregnant, could have been killed, Joseph, her fiancé could have asked for her killing even.
So, yes. There is reason to believe this was not going to be how the One was to come who would create wholeness, who would speak justice into a regime of persecution, who would, it turns out, set a standard, a bar, an example, for how we would take the gifts that God had given us, or the voice we had been given, and use them for the wider good.
But it is kind of perfect, right?
I have heard a lot of sermons based on this coming of the child of Jesus and each time I hear this story of what he and his family were up against, I am reminded of how powerful the whole thing is, and how I could use it sinking in more than once a year. The one we had been waiting for for generations, the one who would provide opportunities to heal generations of family dysfunction, the one who would give us a new lens through which to see the world, the one who would, the whole way through choose life, this all comes from a woman who by, all accounts and purposes had no business birthing Jesus. Unless we believed in a world subverted by God, of course, a world where material goods, where educational status and economic resources, where all the ways we divide ourselves up, simply did not matter in God’s belief in our abilities.
She had to have been terrified, yes. This has been established, but in preparing for tonight, I wondered again and again: did she feel up for the task? Why her? Did she think she was a fraud, a poser? This wasn’t how the story was to go as it was imagined by generations prior.
A friend, a new mother, admitted to me the other day that she is terrified she is messing up her newborn baby, that she knows messing up her kid is part of her job but every time she turns around there are people telling her she isn’t doing it right. One thing I have learned of parents with newborns is that there is a lot of judgy judgy that goes on around how you raise your kids. She can ward it off for only so long but she and her wife, they have no idea what they are doing, when it comes down to it and so those judgy comments from other parents who don’t know what they are doing either, on how one feeds and puts their child to sleep, on how one disciplines and prepares their child for the world, begin to seep in and they think: we have no right to do this. We are frauds! But with parenting you have to one day just wake up and at least fake enough expertise to raise a child, for the child’s life depends on your caretaking. And one day the child is being grown inside and the next day the child is in your arms and you have to figure it out.
But in the other areas of our lives, we have to also wake up one day and believe that we are experts enough, even in our lack of experience, to participate and participate fully in the world.
Perhaps it is just humility Mary has, but as I really listened to her words, I think she also struggled with not feeling quite good enough to be chosen for the task of birthing Jesus. Listen to her song: God has looked with favor on the lowliness of God’s servant, God has brought the powerful down from their thrones, God has lifted up the lowly, God has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich are sent away empty.
Mary is the lowly, the one without power, the hungry. And to her this is happening, to her she is to bare a child who subverts it all. One that by society’s standards doesn’t have the expertise to make it happen, she does.
I am sure that I am noticing this about the text this year because, as I am starting a bunch of new things, including a new business that even though it is working pretty well, still provides me with the opportunity to confront my old issues of not feeling enough of an expert, not being good enough, having to prove myself to every new client that I am the one they should hire.
And so, my coach has asked me to write down all the ways that I provide something special, the ways that my voice is particular, the skills and qualities that I bring to my work that are unique to my very own being and that clients can’t especially in me.
It was hard to do this, but when I finally got moving it all came out, and then when I went back and read what I wrote again, I was pretty impressed with myself. Was that me I was writing about?
I am supposed to read my list before I engage with clients who are particularly challenging to me, because if I believe it a bit more, that I have gifts and skills and experience that others can use, then I won’t be shaken so easily, my coach thinks.
If Mary had a coach, and maybe she did and it was her cousin Elizabeth, this is what she would write down:
- Ability to subvert family history and get pregnant before the age of 100
- Ability to believe that somehow she would not only live through this but would also thrive in it.
- Ability to mother a child who would be so strong-willed and powerful that few others would know what to do with him
- Ability to rejoice in the midst of fear and grief
- Ability to stand up to the powers that be
- Ability to believe in a God who liberates and lives as if the world believes this too
- Ability to not care too much that everyone else thought she had lost it because it was the Holy Spirit that she conceived with.
In short, Mary is a badass.
And she is asking us to be as well. Especially for those of us who question our ability to have much to give, especially for those of us who question ourselves and our value and our expertise. God worked with Mary: a poor, unwed mother to birth what the people had been waiting for for generations. The smallest action (not that Mary had a small thing she did) can be the place where the status-quo subverting Jesus shows up. The Spirit can impregnate an idea or an action inside of all of us that reveals Love and Truth and Hope to the world. Mary is asking us to believe in ourselves and in the ability for the world to be a loving place, even in the midst of occupation. She is asking for us to write our lists and believe them. We have to believe these lists. Well, we don’t have to cause God will work through us anyway, but it makes the journey a lot more enjoyable if we do believe them.
I wonder if you can take some time after tonight to write down your list. What is it that you bring that is important to the world, that is special, that is your voice in particular? What is it that is uniquely you, that is a gift that the world needs now? And what is it that might be that you are pregnant with, that is getting ready to be birthed, that is your gift in the world that in not unlike the time of Roman rule, is desperately needed? And can you read that list every day to remind yourself of Mary and her song, that in her lowliness, in her poverty, in the dangerous place where she was, that she believed in herself, and she believes in you and how God is calling you too to help bring forth Jesus, the one who has come to show us anew how to choose life? Can you? I will keep doing it if you do, and maybe one day we will all believe together.