Sermon for January 1, 2023              New Year        “The Gift of Mary”

The gift of Mary is that she takes agency for herself in the midst of a highly patriarchal society. “In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God” to tell Mary the good news. The sixth month of what? We realize that it could not possibly be the sixth month of Mary’s pregnancy and it is not the sixth month of the year. The answer is a reference to the fact that Elizabeth is six months pregnant. Mary’s first response is to be perplexed and to ponder. And then the how question. The angel may not have been prepared for this question as he fumbles over the answer the same way as most parents do when asked by their four-year-old ‘how did I get into mommy’s belly?’

The angel’s answer, though muddled was enough for Mary and she gives consent to what is going to happen to her. She still holds onto her agency and self-decision making. This agency continues after Elizabeth declares that she is blessed. Mary again indicates that she agrees to the role she will play and indicates that for all time she will be called blessed. In the beautiful scripture that we call the Magnificat, Mary says: And Mary said, ‘My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts 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 helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.’

First reading and time have softened the edges of this revolutionary text so that it does not grate too much on our sensibilities. Over time we have polished and tended this text, we have placed it in the glass protective casing and locked it away so that it will not get broken.  Mary knew from the moment the angels came to her that the son she was bearing would, at the same time break her heart and cause her heart to soar with gratitude. She knew the path would not be easy, and yet she chose to follow and believe. I am not sure she knew that in the last weeks of her pregnancy she would travel to Bethlehem and give birth in a stable with Joseph as a mid-wife and cattle looking on. That the first press release would be to a few shepherds, that Magi would offer peculiar gifts and that she and her family would be refugees in a foreign land for about a decade.

As we begin a new year, we may not have been visited by angels, given birth or been refugees. But the message of Mary is for us as the people named in ‘all generations’. Our tendency is to view the actions of God as past or future. It is all about what God has done or what God is going to do. We are reasonably good at history and apocalypse but what about now, yes, right now. Mary reminds us that God is active right now, in this moment and through each of us in each moment. Mary wondered, why a young girl from a backcountry town called Nazareth? We wonder why or how can I be important to the work of God? Mary reminds us to say yes and in saying yes we open ourselves to wonder of God’s calling in all its work, joy, heartache and triumph. Our gift to Mary is to take her words out of the sealed case we have put them in, put them on the dining table, the kitchen island, the children’s play table and café tables all over the land. So they can be read and re-read, used, debated, and cherished as we move toward the day Mary speaks of and Jesus proclaims.

As we begin a new year, as another year is dawning may we be humble and bold enough to say yes to God and Jesus. God calls you, perfectly imperfect as we are to be part of God’s unfolding story, Mary and Jesus’ call to revolution right now, in our time. And remember always… that you are redeemed, named and chosen for this ministry, this revolution today and right now.