Advent 4 Text: Luke 1: 26-55
This morning I want to begin by telling you of an encounter I had with Mary that has profoundly shaped me. Me, born and raised in a church that was profoundly anti-Mary, … anti anything Roman Catholic.
Just after Easter in the spring of 2002 Karen and I left on Sabbatical. I was exhausted, and running on borrowed faith. Doubt and despair and questions haunted me. Within a couple of weeks we arrived at the Grand Canyon – “This will be what I need”, I thought to myself, “the awe and wonder of this place will surely fill up my soul.” I was wrong, dead wrong.
Instead of filling me with wonder and gratitude, instead of increasing my faith,
I found myself overwhelmed by the vastness, filled with doubt, undermined by the ancient bed rock exposed at the bottom of the canyon, afraid that all that I had trusted in was nothing.
That darkness, that despair followed me all the way to Kentucky. We had heard that there was a fine collection of sculptures at the Mother House of the Sisters of Loretto in Nerinx, Kentucky. The sculpture were the creation of Sister Jeanne Dueber – some of them were placed outside in the gardens. So on this particular spring day we drove into the monastery grounds hoping to be able to see some of Sister Jeanne’s work.
As I walked around a building, I came upon a small, enclosed garden, and there was Mary – Mary, young and beautiful, young and vulnerable, with arms stretched up in this most amazing YES! Yes, to carrying a child! Yes, to carrying the presence of God! Yes, to trusting the ancient promises! Yes, to the Mystery that holds the universe in place! I looked, and there was Mary – in the garden,
saying ‘Yes’ without knowing ahead of time what all that could mean.
I stood in that garden for a long time that day, crying my heart out, crying my doubt , crying my despair. Mary’s good company broke something loose in me,
and after the hours of tears there was release and freedom, somehow through her companionship in that darkness, I began to trust again. There was something in her YES that was a gift she gave to me. There was something in her YES when faced with God’s outrageous call that healed my soul.
There was Mary, in the garden at the mother house of the Sisters of Loretto,
so much more than a beautiful sculpture… there was Mary reaching across time and space, reaching through my fatigue, my doubts, my despair. I knew she was reaching out to me, attending to me, inviting me into what is true – this earthy women of strength and courage.
I wonder if my encounter with Mary might allow you to come to the story in Luke’s gospel this morning, there to discover the wonder and the scandal that it contains. We think the scandal surrounds the virgin birth, but the Biblical tradition is jammed full of miraculous birth stories. God is forever acting outside
of what seems reasonable and possible to us. God is forever generating life where there is no life is to be found. What is scandalous about Luke’s story is that God would choose this girl – Mary – this in every way unspectacular girl,
to bring the love of God into the world. That God would see fit to choose a woman’s body through which to come into the world in a new way
– that’s the scandal in this part of Luke’s story - that Jesus would be born of a woman; that he would be nurtured in her womb, raised with her wisdom-
this ordinary Jewish woman.
But instead, over the years, the church has picked up on the virgin bit, in such as way as to sanitize Mary, making her asexual, in order to be an acceptable vessel for God… and in doing so has set her apart from every other woman, has set her apart from every other human being, as though God’s life couldn’t be found or fed in bodies like ours. That interpretation of Mary, the sanitized version of Mary,
completely loses the wonder that God would so regard a girl of no account, choosing her, her very body to bring to birth God’s own life…
choosing her, an ordinary young woman, whose company brought an ordinary woman like me to life again.
This is the Mary who was reaching across the distance, the doubts, the despair, the centuries to me. And this is the Mary who reaches across time and space to us, who communicates God’s loving regard for each and every one of us.
This is Mary who invites us to share in this amazing vocation – to be the place for God’s love to grow, to be the means by which God’s mercy, God’s peace finds its way into the world, to make room through our very bodies for God’s healing
to touch the lives of others.
There’s something about that image of pregnancy – that experience of being quite literally stretched, in order for this new life to grow, there’s something about that image of pregnancy, that experience of life being rearranged, that gives us some clues about our vocation as the people of God. It announces we will be changed; It places us at some risk. It joins us to God in this most amazing work of bringing to birth the new creation … God’s shalom where there is safety and peace, where there is hope and joy for ALL.
The question for us isn’t so much what God is calling us to do but rather how through our lives / our bodies we might make room for God’s love to grow,
to find its way into the world.
Today Mary reaches across all distance of time and space encouraging us to say YES to God’s call to make our lives available for God’s amazing purposes.
Today Mary reaches across all distance of time and space encouraging us to join with her in singing her ancient but ever new song:
‘My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, who has looked with favour on the lowliness of Gods servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is God’s name.
God’s mercy is for those who fear God from generation to generation.
God has shown strength with God’s arm; and has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
God has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly;
God has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
God has helped the people of God, in remembrance of God’s mercy,
according to the promise made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and Sarah and their descendants for ever.’