Advent 4 B 24-12-17 Bridgewater Luke 1.26-45
Waiting for Jesus
Today’s Gospel tells us about a young teenage girl; she’s engaged to be married, but an angel visits her and tells her she’s having a baby.
Mary’s immediate response was to say,
38 I am the Lord’s servant … may it be to me as you have said.’
What would you have done?
When Gabriel told Mary that she would be Jesus’ mother, he also told her that her cousin Elizabeth was pregnant in her old age. Mary may have known that already. But the way Gabriel gave her both bits of information together somehow linked Mary’s and Elizabeth’s destinies.
Mary twigged to this, and her active discipleship to Jesus began with her response to this message: a hundred km journey!
It’s a decisive beginning. She sets out to visit Elizabeth. Mary’s decision to believe Gabriel’s message is vindicated when she reaches Elizabeth’s house.
41 filled with the Holy Spirit …42 [Elizabeth] exclaimed: “Blessed (eulogemene) are you among women, and blessed (eulogemenos) is the child you will bear!”
Mary responded to God’s prompting by going to see Elizabeth. Elizabeth responded to the prompting of the Spirit by teaching Mary that she was blessed in the sight of people because of what was happening to her, but she was blessed in God’s sight because she believed (v.45 where she uses the word makaria) ‘blessed is she that believed…’
Mary responded to this teaching with the joyous canticle of praise that we sang after the Gospel reading. She’s waiting for Jesus, and today we sing the song of the prophet Mary which models the way we should pray and the priorities we should set for our own words and actions as we also wait for him.
She teaches us to pray and to proclaim the kingdom; Mary’s Song is a model of prayer and testimony. It begins with a spontaneous outburst of Mary’s wonder and delight.
‘My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my saviour…’
Her soul and spirit are the deepest level of Mary’s being. There’s nothing more important in her life than her relationship with God.
Then Mary gives her testimony. The most miraculous discovery of all for anyone getting to know God better can often be the realization that God cares for you as an individual, in detail. Like Mary did, the moment we sense the love of the God who created and sustains the whole universe – that God loves us – we can also be overcome with awe.
Mary goes on to sing that she will be known forever as someone blessed (makaria) by God because she has been called to join in God’s work. Prayer and testimony; it’s vital for us to pray and testify, because it takes our focus from our own concerns, and we can open ourselves to God’s perspective.
That’s what happens to Mary – she opens herself up to God’s perspective by praying as she does.
Mary dwells on three characteristics of God. God is the Mighty One; God is Holy, and God is Merciful. Dwelling on these is what helps her to open up her perspective. Mary sings about God the mighty one in relationship to herself – [who ‘has done great things for me’] – she sings of God’s holiness – she sings of God’s love and care for all of humanity in all time.
This links the personal, loving God that Mary knows with the God of Israel whom she has learnt to know, and now to proclaim as the merciful and just ruler over all. This very young woman has a lot to teach us about prayer and a healthy relationship with God.
Mary teaches us that we can’t just relax in God’s embrace, trust to his love, and ignore the rest of humanity. No, Mary sees God’s concern for all humanity in all time, and she tells us that if this is God’s concern, it must be ours as well.
The God we meet in her song is a God who is involved – a God who acts with mercy and with justice. Mary’s God is described time and time again in this way throughout the Hebrew Scriptures. God’s acts described here are at once vigorous, political and tender.
God is a tempest raging through the petty conceits of our inner worlds; God is disgusted by oppression and willing to fight it; God is passionate for the restoration of the lowly, passionate that the starving should be fed. We must open our hearts to these things by praying about them, by proclaiming them fearlessly and, as God’s servants, by modelling courageous justice and compassion in our own lives.
In the final part of her song Mary declares that God is trustworthy and unchanging. The promises God made to people centuries earlier remain true for all their descendants forever. Where we see the Church formed of praying, proclaiming, responsive disciples, we see all the marvellous things Mary proclaimed as she waited for Jesus to come.
Mary’s prophetic actions and her wonderful song are powerful models of prayer and proclamation for us to emulate. Acting on what God says, giving a testimony, praying a prayer that comes from God’s heart – these were the right things for Mary to do while she was waiting for Jesus.
They are also the right things for us to do as we wait for him to come again.