11 December 2022
Sunday Cycle of Prayer
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
Today is Gaudete (gow e dete) Sunday…which with Laetare (La-et-are) Sunday, the fourth Sunday in Lent, we are adorned with pink vestments and paraments and we reflect upon rejoicing…rejoicing today in joy at birth of Christ. Rejoicing on March 19, 2023 in Christ’s coming, victory at Easter over death and the grave. Today, joy is our theme and we hear Mary’s song, The Magnificat, names for her first words. My soul magnifies the Lord today, the Magnificat is an optional lesson which my favorite weekly commentary offers no interpretation. I wonder if the Magnificat’s optional status reflects an Episcopal Church challenge:
How are we called to be in relationship with Mary, Theotokos in Greek, the God bearer?
With Mary there seem to be two extreme positions. Mary is not recognized, as she clearly deserves, in some denominations or Episcopal parishes and becomes a figure only seen in the Christmas Creche taken out and packed away each year.
While, in other denominations and particularly in Anglo-Catholic Episcopal parishes Mary can be given so much limelight, Jesus appears to be in the shadows and folks begin to wonder if they are in a Roman Catholic Church! At St. Francis, a beautiful state of Mary stood outside my office for years recently after conversation, prayer, discernment, manpower, and craftiness Mary stands on a new base in our Little Chapel ready to be with you as you are still, pray, and meditate
on how you can live your life and be a God bearer for Christ.
This morning let’s examine how Mary, the God bearer, says yes to God, invites God into her heart, to know God. (277) Mary’s journey begins in Luke’s first chapter which is like a diptych
two pictures hinged together which open like a book with John and Jesus’ birth stories on each side, respectively. Luke tells us about Two Annunciations, the Angel Gabriel’s revelation to two ordinary people at the social systems’ opposite ends. Zachariah, a priest of the order of Abijah
and Mary, a lowly virgin girl, betrothed to Joseph living in the Nazareth sticks.
I suspect many of us have mixed feelings about divine revelation. Part of us would love to have a divine revelation from God to help us discern important decisions, where to retire, how much to tithe to the church, when to seek assisted living. Imagine God just appearing to you or me in the middle of a dream while standing in line at Publix or in the middle of a hurricane, that can be exciting. But God’s divine revelation may not be what we hope or expect to hear, divine revelation often invites us to let go of much, if not all, of what we have known, wanted, and planned. With Divine revelation we are invited to change not only our life, but mostly OURSELVES.
And unfortunately as the world encourages us to be more comfortable, affluent, and successful the less needy, the more prone to discovering idols magnifying ourselves we become and we believe we don’t need God’s help. Divine revelation which usually occurs with very few special effects calls us to surrender, to follow God’s plan, to live in God’s time and way and encourages us to receive God’s mercy and grace which leads to joy.
Now back to Luke, at both Annunciations Gabriel reassures Zachariah and then Mary as they stand in fear and awe, human as they are both Elizabeth, the older barren woman, and Mary, the younger virgin woman will be filled with the Holy Spirit, their wombs opened; Elizabeth pregnant by her husband, Zachariah, Mary pregnant by God…. God-self.
Zachariah and Mary respond quite differently to Gabriel’s announcements. Zachariah, a priest trained in the knowledge about God seems to lack knowledge of God’s character and seems too fearful to discover God more fully. Zachariah.. perhaps in his fear, his doubt, as we all have from time to time reverts back to a purely human perspective, sees only that he and his wife are old, forgets his ancestral history …the God of Israel is a God of presence, provision, and fulfilled promise. Zachariah at least at this point, is either unwilling or unable to believe that God could bestow miracles on his wife or himself. Zachariah focuses on if this could occur
and is unwilling to invite God into his life more deeply and widely, to know God’s character, who God is.
Gabriel renders Zachariah temporarily deaf and mute yet God offers Zachariah a chance to show his obedience to God, to know and trust Him after mute and deaf Zachariah experiences the miracles of pregnancy and birth ponders in the desert of silence and names his son John, as God commanded. At John’s circumcision God opens Zachariah’s ears, loosens his tongue and in his joy Zachariah proclaims the Lord’s greatness.
In those time we doubt God’s power and presence we too, like Zachariah need time to sit, draw near to God and allow God to draw near to us. While God knows us fully God invites us to know God’s sacred heart and character of love and joy and to share our hearts as we pray, worship together and read Holy Scriptures.
Reading God’s Holy Scripture invites us to be aware of our human condition created in God’s image, beloved, yet sinful with the tendency to turn away from God, to know about God in our heads. And reading God’s holy scripture invites us to know about and know OF God’s character, the God of love who created, redeemed, and sustains us with love, forgiveness, and compassion, calling us to return again and again, to be reconciled, receive his miracles and be healed, filled with peace, love, and joy.
When Mary heard Gabriel announce her calling to be the God bearer…Mary BELIEVES. For Mary it is not a question of IF, but HOW God will fulfill God’s promises to her; a faithful, betrothed Jewish woman. Gabriel reminds her of God’s outward work in the world---the Holy Spirit moving over the waters of creation--God’s power and presence leading, protecting and overshadowing her ancestors with a cloud and pillars of fire in the wilderness. Mary understands God would now mysteriously overshadow her turning inward to prepare her heart to bear the Son of God, powerfully opening her womb for a baby destined to bring redemption, peace, and joy to the world.
And God would turn inward to open her kinswoman Elizabeth’s womb to also bear a son just as God had opened the wombs of Sarah, Rachel, Rebekah, Manoa’s unnamed wife, and Hannah’s to bear healthy children. In these moments Mary realizes God’s purpose for her, she is the lucky one called by God to be the mother of the Messiah, every young Jewish woman’s dream..
The moment we realize we are chosen and are God’s beloved, writes theologian Henri Nouwen we are faced with the call to become who we truly are and we become restless, as St. Augustine wrote, restless until we rest in God. Here I am Lord, says Mary…. words spoken by 17 times before in the books of Genesis, Exodus, Samuel and Isaiah. And soon restless Mary sets out travelling through perilous country, as often faith journeys can be, to visit Elizabeth, who is likely her aunt only to be received with GREAT joy.
The joy of Elizabeth, who filled with the Holy Spirit recognizes Mary as blessed among, not above, women and sees Mary’s faithfulness and belief in God’s word which led to God overshadowing HER with power and mystery. The joy of the unborn son, John who filled with the Holy Spirit leaps in his mother’s womb, the first to recognize Jesus, the Messiah in his own mother’s womb. And Mary herself responds with joy in her Savior and all he has done for her her kinsmen and women, the nation of Israel, joy is “the good mood of the soul” according to sociologist Brene Brown. Joy is a deep inner gladness anchored in deep spiritual connection with God, which leads to our being able to risk and continue to explore and develop meaningful, rich relationships with God, others and our very own self.
Joy, unlike happiness, is not dependent upon our lives or circumstances being all in order, wrapped up shiny and new. Rather we can experience joy in the midst of life’s most difficult struggles joy or Chairo in Greek is found only in God and comes with years of knowing about and knowing OF God with our heads and with our hearts. When we experience Joy we don’t lose ourselves, we become more ourselves, we live into God’s calling for us.
There is an intriguing upward spiral between joy and gratitude writes Brene Brown. The more grateful we are, the more joy we experience in a moment, the more joy we have, the more likely we are to experience gratitude, the more joy we experience the more likely we are to experience a sense of well-being, shalom.
And we see this in Mary’s Magnificat. Mary proclaims not the greatness of herself but the greatness of the Lord, her Savior who has looked on her, a simple poor young woman, a nobody from nowhere whom God called to be SOMEBODY as the mother of God. Mary focuses first on what God has blessed her with. She doesn’t respond pridefully refusing to accept God’s gifts or take credit for God’s work. She accepts God’s gifts as challenging, and at times painful, as being the Mother of our Lord will be. She uses God’s gifts to praise and serve him, recognizing God at work in her life with gratitude. Mary rejoices with joy at God’s work in other’s lives, God’s revealing mercy and strength reverses the social order, turns life upside down, levels the playing field for all –the poor, the oppressed, the downtrodden to be included and provided for.
And Mary celebrates God’s work in Israel’s history honoring promises made, acting mercifully toward others, recognizing that the baby Jesus in her womb is the sign that God’s promise to Abraham given years before is being fulfilled. Mary invites us to have the courage to believe, to trust in God, the God of our ancestors, the God of Israel and to draw near to God not only to know about God in our heads but to know OF God in our hearts for it is through this deep connection with God in prayer, worship, and reading Holy Scripture that we can build that holy connection with God. The God who is the fountain of joy which he desires to shower us with as we travel with God in our spiritual journeys through all the highs and lows.
So this week I challenge you; draw near to God, get to know not just about God but welcome God into your heart for you to reveal your heart to God and For you to know of God.
God wants to give you and be your gift of Joy.