MARY SINGS Luke 1:39-56 December 18, 2011
Mary is singing of nothing less than a full scale revolution. A revolution is a movement that turns power upside down. Mary is from a small country in the Middle East that has been occupied by a foreign power for the last 500 years – the sounds of foreign soldiers in the streets shouting in unknown languages and the sights of her own people executed as political prisoners are not strange to Mary. Yet she sings that God has brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly.
Mary is from the poorest country in the Empire. Her country has been stripped of its resources by centuries of war. The taxes of the Emperor are so harsh that Roman historians write of fathers having to sell their children into slavery to pay them. (Roman Empire by Nigel Rodgers) Food is scarce. Yet Mary sings: “God has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty.”
Mary is from the hill country of Galilee, from Nazareth, a town so small it is not even mentioned in Roman census records. She herself is so insignificant we don’t know who her parents were, how old she was, how she got to Nazareth. And yet she sings: “God has looked with favor on the lowliness of His servant. He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts”.
Mary is singing of nothing less than a full scale revolution. A revolution forged in the heart of God. When Mary stands with Elizabeth and sings her song of revolution, she stands in the line of her ancestors: Miriam, who sang of the triumph of God over their Egyptian oppressors while she stood on the shores of the Red Sea. Deborah, who sang with Barak of the victory of God over the kings who came to pillage and rape and burn Israel. Hannah, who sang in the temple of the God who lifts up the poor and cares for the downtrodden. And now Mary sings of the God of her ancestors who acts again – acts to overthrow the world’s power and bring revolution. Of course, God’s revolution is not considered by everybody to be good news. It was not to the Egyptians who placed the entire weight of their massive temples and building projects on the backs of their slaves. It was not good news to Rome who put Christians to death for being political threats. “Do you know they believe a common slave is equal to the Emperor himself?” Roman citizens discussed in the forum. “That is subversive. They have to be stamped out before they cause the whole Empire to deteriorate.” Mary’s song of revolution was considered so dangerous – so subversive – that the government of Guatemala enmeshed in an uprising of its citizens in the 1980’s banned the reading of Luke 1:46, Mary’s song, in all public places of worship. Mary’s words are dangerous words – revolutionary words – words that change the world as we know it, by the power of our God: who hears the cry of every hungry child lifts the homeless and mentally handicapped to stand on the same level with professors and presidents and reward the obedient over the arrogant.
You know Nativity scenes are everywhere this time of year and I love them. Most of them show Mary and Joseph in a stable or a barn with a few shepherds, angels here and there, wise men. But there is one Nativity Scene that I love that is not necessarily beautiful but very powerful. You will find it on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and it is very simple – only three figures – Mary and Joseph and the Baby. But they are standing in the ruins of the Roman Empire – marble columns falling down around Baby Jesus – victory arches crumbling away into dust at His feet. Mary’s song of revolution coming to fulfillment. Before this child, all nations of the world, all oppressive powers, all victorious conquering armies will cease to exist – fade away into nothing, cave in under the power of His victorious strength and love for all people.
He is the conquering Christ – the Mastermind of the Revolution of which Mary sings. “Come join us”, Mary’s song calls to us today. “Come be a part of God’s revolution which is in the process right now of turning the world as we know it upside down.” But you know revolutions can be dangerous things. They require commitment, sacrifice – sometimes going against the Status Quo – always willing to look at the world in a different way. In the winter of 1935 Mayor LaGuardia was the mayor of New York City – a popular mayor – much loved – a familiar sight around town in his famous top hat. In 1935 New York, along with the rest of the nation was in the throes of the Great Depression. People scraped together what they could to buy food and clothes and many had to choose between the two. One cold night in one of the roughest neighborhoods of the city a judge was hearing cases. It was late and still several hours to go. In walked the Mayor who said to the tired judge, “go on home to your family. I’ll hear the rest of your cases.” First case up: an elderly woman accused of stealing bread from a local shopkeeper. The elderly woman, with two small children stood in front of the Mayor. Mayor LaGuardia: “Did you do it?” “Yes.” “Why?” “My son-in-law just left my daughter. She has no money and two children to feed. I took her to the hospital sick this morning. I went back home with the children and there was nothing in my house to feed them. I have no money, so I stole the bread. I am guilty, Sir, but I cannot pay a fine and if I go to jail there will be no one to care for my grandchildren.” The owner of the shop where the woman stole the bread stood and faced the Mayor. “Mayor, we all know these are hard times. But this woman is guilty of a crime and if you don’t make her pay, everybody will think it is OK to steal food and that puts me out of business.” The Mayor pondered. What was justice in that situation? Who should have to pay? He made up his mind. To the woman he said, “You are guilty. I sentence you to a $10.00 fine or ten days in jail.” The woman began to cry. But then the Mayor took a $10.00 bill from his
own pocket and gave it to her. “Here is the money to pay your fine.” Then he took off his top hat and handed it to the bailiff. “Pass my hat through the courtroom”. And to the courtroom he said, “Each person here is guilty. I fine you 50 cents each for living in a city where a woman has to steal a loaf of bread to feed her grandchildren.” Justice is controversial. Who deserves what? Why should I have to pay? She stole the bread. But when we choose to join Mary’s revolution: We choose to join a community where we are all accountable to one another.
Where when one of us hurts, we all hurt. When one of us is hungry or has holes in their shoes, we automatically share what we have. If one of us is homeless, the rest of us open our homes. No questions asked.
The migrant worker who enters worship with mud on his shoes is as welcome here as the Mayor. And the student who is barely passing in school is honored and valued just as much as the Honor Student. We are here today to commit ourselves to nothing less than a full-scale revolution – a New World Order – and it will prevail – it outlasted the Roman Empire. It will outlast every political power that rises in human history until its culmination when the Kingdom of God is completed and Jesus reigns victorious. But it is not easy. It requires that we listen, and follow the one who said “Go, sell all that you have. Give it to the poor and come follow me.” It requires that we put our social divisions down and value each other for our generosity and compassion, our dedication and self-sacrifice. Not for the size house we own or the cost of the car we drive. It requires that we live in community where we are accountable to each other and called to practice forgiveness, especially when one of us makes a mistake. It requires that we humble ourselves always obedient to God without pride or arrogance. And – it requires courage. In an icon of the Nativity by the Middle Ages, Artist Giotto (?) (quoted from Kathleen Norris) There is a picture of the temptation of Joseph. He is in the bottom corner of the picture, his head in his hands with a look of resignation, and the devil – a little man covered in hair – is dancing about – trying to tempt Joseph to believe that all of this stuff about Jesus is hoax.. Tempting him to believe there is noting extraordinary about this baby – nothing changed in the world because of His birth. Mary was just singing some crazy outlandish ideas. Joseph knew better – and so do we. We know that in Jesus everything changed – and it is good. We rejoice that the New Order was born: the world turned upside down, redefined by Jesus and His teachings. And we believe Jesus is coming again to finish what He started. And so with courage we become revolutionaries ourselves, singing with Mary. Our spirits rejoice in God, for He has looked upon us with favor. He has scattered the proud in the thought 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 remembered His promise to Israel in mercy. In mercy He remembers His promise forevermore. Thanks be to God, Amen