Luke 1:39-45 [46-55]
When I told my stepson I was going to bible study this week, he said, ‘don’t you know the bible yet? I would’ve thought you would know it by now…’ Well, after a couple of hours exploring this morning’s passage, I can categorically tell you, and him, that no, I don’t know the bible yet, but I am very much enjoying swimming deeper in the pages of scripture.
This morning’s words are so familiar to me and among my very favourite in the whole bible. I have many of them tattooed on my body. Those words accompanied me during some really significant moments in my faith journey; ‘let it be to me according to your word’ was the final kick I needed to get me to ordination. ‘He has filled the hungry with good things’ was the directive to open a soup kitchen. The Magnificat gave me the name for my dog, Maggie, and the whole thing has made me fall in love with Mary but as we talked this week, we saw new things.
We began a few verses before where our gospel reading starts, with the terrifying angel Gabriel appearing to Mary and telling her the divine plan. In Gabriel’s visit, he broods over Mary. He broods over her, just like the holy spirit broods over the waters in the dawn of creation. Isn’t that amazing? God is up to God’s incredible work of creation again. The angel appearing to Mary isn’t just a work of redemption or hope or salvation – although it is those things. Gabriel’s announcement to Mary is a work of creation – it is the dawn of the new creation, and it begins in exactly the same way.
And what is this new creation? Well, according to this wonderful song of Mary, the new creation will be characterised by a complete turnaround of events. The old order of things will be changed, and a new system will be established.
In this system, the currency is mercy; with incredible strength the proud are scattered; the powerful are no longer the ones in charge because the lowly are lifted up to take their place; the hungry are full; the rich are poor; AND ALL FUTURE GENERATIONS are provided for. That is not just a system that is a bit better than the old one. It is a brand-new creation, a creation of peace, to the very ends of the earth. It makes the old order unrecognisable. Complete change.
You know, my favourite Magnificat is that until 1986 it was against the law in at least two countries to read the Magnificat aloud, in public. In Guatemala and India, the government banned the public recitation of this passage because they recognised the revolutionary nature of it. They saw this song of Liberation encourages the oppressed to take a stance, to say NO to the systems that keep them poor and hungry, to rise up and challenge all that is wrong in the world, and they were afraid. They thought it was so subversive they were afraid that if the poorest people heard it, there might be an uprising.
That’s amazing to me. World leaders, even in most of our lifetimes, saw and recognised the potential for radical and enormous change, prophesied by a poor, teenage, peasant girl, and they were so afraid they tried to silence her.
Mary’s account of God’s promises of mercy does not make easy listening to those who are satisfied or comfortable in this world; it is the poor who are seen, lifted up, filled and helped by the Almighty, whereas the powerful are brought low and the rich are sent away empty. That has a real impact on us because we are not part of the two-thirds world that live in poverty. It is not going to be one of our children to die in the next ten seconds, or the ten after that, or after that, from malnutrition.
There is enough currency, enough food and wealth and power for all people to live well but redistributing it requires a revolution. It means we must have and keep less, give more away, in order that others may have more. And that’s not a popular option. But as a people who are rich and full, we need to take our place in the revolution and make this promised new creation a reality. It seems like an impossible feat on our own, even as a whole church gathered. Anything we can give, or do, is just a drop in the ocean. What could we possibly do to help?
Well, perhaps we can turn to blessed Mary for our example.
The angel told Mary she had been given the Christ; that He was inside her body and the world was going to be different because of her carrying Him and bringing Him to the world. Mary took Jesus into her body, became the God-bearer, and with Him living inside her she proclaimed the Magnificat. When Mary welcomed Christ into her body, her response was for her whole being to magnify the Lord and then she was able to see the world as it really can be. Mary takes on, as her own, God’s resounding NO to the fatality of oppression.
Because God, incarnate, was living inside her, sharing her blood stream, she was transformed and through new eyes she was able to see the world differently; the systems and structures of the world will be changed.
And every Sunday we gather to receive the body of Christ – to literally take Jesus into our body. Mary carried Jesus in her body. She became the God-bearer. And in the Eucharist, we carry Jesus in our body too. As we become the God-bearer – and take Christ into our body this morning, and every time, will we also open our eyes to see the promised new creation of the Divine Creator? Will we commit to doing whatever we can to work with God to bring these promises about? Will we say no to oppression and an almighty yes to liberation?
Mary’s proclamation describes the dawning of the new creation; the world where Heaven and Earth collide. And Mary isn’t the creator of this new age; but she is how God brings it about. And this can be true for us too. We don’t need to bring Heaven to Earth in our own strength. Indeed, we cannot. But neither do we get to shirk our responsibilities in the transformation of this generation. Indeed, we must not.
So, what will you do with the Christ you take into your body today, and every time you approach this altar? How will you present him to this world? As Mary said, the mighty one has done great things for me. That’s true for each of us, isn’t it? The mighty one has done so many great things for us. What will we now do for the mighty one in return?