This is the fourth Sunday of Lent and the fourth passage we are studying in Luke about Mary, the mother of Jesus. We are getting to know Mary, in a new way – not obscured by candlelight and the singing of Christmas carols. We are getting to know Mary’s heart – the heart that God knew. When we left her last week, she had hurried to see her cousin Elizabeth after she was visited by the angel Gabriel with the big news that she would conceive and give birth to the son of God. Elizabeth’s pregnancy, in her old age, was to be a sign to Mary that everything the angel told her was for real.
Do you ever wonder why God chose Mary to be the mother of God? I mean wouldn’t Elizabeth have been a better choice? She was righteous, the wife and daughter of priests. She was older and could be compared to Sarah. But God chose Mary, a young, unwed, ordinary woman. It doesn’t seem fair, does it? And shouldn’t God be fair?
When I was a preschool teacher, and I brought in a treat of some kind for my students, I tried hard to get all of the exact same thing. If it was stickers, I wanted them to all be the same sticker or of equal desirability. If there was a popular activity in the classroom, I had a sign-up sheet so that everyone was sure to get a turn. As a mother, I tried to give all three of my kids the same amount of ice cream or anything else. I did not want to deal with the tears and hurt feelings of any child. I wanted everyone to feel equal. I wanted to be fair. —
But, “Life is not fair!” which is the response I have given to my three children on many occasions, to my preschool and kindergarten students and to my college students. I have wanted to say it a few adults as well but the Spirit held my tongue. It is a hard lesson for children and some adults to understand, especially first-born children who want everyone to follow the rules, and for everyone to get the same – the same opportunities, the same amount, the same color, the same flavor…the same fairness.
We do teach fairness – on the basketball court and playing fields, in the classroom, in the workplace, on the roadways, in stores, amusement parks, and just about everywhere. The rules of organized society – aim toward fairness – everyone must wait their turn and get the same pay for the same work and get the same grade for the same number of correct answers. The American Dream is said to be obtainable by anyone no matter who they are or their circumstances as long as they are willing to work hard. My husband has coached Parks and Rec basketball for about 13 years. John-Mark has a volunteer keep a sheet of playing time for each player on his team in an effort to make sure everyone gets equal playing time. He says, “everyone pays the same amount of money to be on the team.” Parents don’t come to watch their children sit on the bench. Fairness is the goal.
Our desire for fairness in life carries over to our faith life too. We want God to be fair. And shouldn’t God be fair, absolutely and utterly fair?
Well, actually no. None of us would be very happy if God was fair. Not many of us would probably here, if God was fair. Our God is merciful and forgiving, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. We worship a God who withholds punishment, who gives second and third and fourth chances. We worship a God who blesses people regardless of their spirituality, their sins or their status – where they have been or who they have been.
Our God is the God of the Old Testament and the Father of Jesus the Christ. Our God is the God of the disciples and the first Christians. And that God, precisely because of these wonderful attributes is just but not fair.
When we talk about justice, fairness goes out the window. God is not a referee in human games and conflicts. God is a player! God is actively involved in the midst of the mess of life. God is gracious and merciful and God actively takes sides. God has chosen sides – the side of the powerless, the marginalized and the oppressed. God has taken sides against the powerful, the wealthy, and the oppressors. Let’s read together our Scripture passage this morning. Luke 1. 46-56.
We continue to see Mary as part of the larger story of the Hebrew Scriptures. Through Mary’s song, we hear words from Hannah’s song, Psalm 35 and the prophet Habakkuk. In fact, scholars have documented a deep infusion of the entire song with the themes and words from the Old Testament.
Through her song, Mary summarizes the message of the Hebrew Scriptures and God’s relationship with Israel. Through her song, Mary proclaims that God’s intervention is gracious and merciful for the weak at the expense of the strong. Through her song, Mary becomes a prophet – declaring God’s intentions behind the events that have taken place and telling of God’s intentions through the child in her womb.
This is not a picture of God as a judge presiding over a legal proceeding. The image that some of us were given of God when we were children. God is not a judge, God is involved with dirty hands standing in the middle of the misery of life, fighting to rescue people from spiritual death.
Midway through the song, it moves from the image of God working actively for those who fear Him to a picture of God who works actively against those who put their trust in their own strength. When God stands in the midst of the poor and the oppressed; the desires of the proud, the mighty and the rich are frustrated.
Mary gets serious with her words:
God has shown strength and has scattered the proud
God has brought down the powerful and lifted up the lowly
God has filled the hungry and sent the rich away empty.
These words inform us about the nature of “God with us.” The child in her whom, the Lord Jesus Christ will turn the world upside down and say things like:
Sell all you own, give the money to the poor and follow me!
Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the prisoners!
Whoever is without sin can cast the first stone!
Mary’s song proclaims what will happen through the life, death and resurrection of her son, the Savior of the world. —– Or does it?
I want you to notice the word tenses used in Mary’s song. She starts out in present tense, “My soul magnifies the Lord.” She reviews what has happened in past tense, “God looked with favor,” and she looks to the future when “all generations will call me blessed.” Then she closes the first half of the song in present tense, “His mercy is for those who fear him.”
But the second half of the song is all in past tense. “God has shown strength, God has brought down the powerful and lifted up the lowly; God has filled the hungry and sent the rich away. God has helped his servant Israel.”
If Mary is telling us what will happen through her son, wouldn’t it be written in future tense? “God will show strength, God will bring down and lift up, God will fill the hungry and send the rich away?”
Was this an accident, an oversight on Luke’s part? Remember Luke was a scholar – his grammar, word choice and writing style is advanced, higher in fact than the other Gospel writers. Every phrase, every word and the tense should not be ignored. Even if Mary had used past tense, Luke could have changed the tenses, as any good editor would. But Luke wrote this section in past tense on purpose – for a reason.
Because the saving significance of Jesus’ life began in utero – at conception. God’s intervention on behalf of the poor and oppressed was not only at the cross and resurrection – although it that was surely the climax. God’s salvation through Christ began with Mary.
By choosing Mary – a young ordinary woman to be the mother of the Lord, God lifted up the lowly with her and brought down the mighty. Is Mary foreshadowing what will happen through the life, death and resurrection of her son? Absolutely! But she is also claiming that it has already happened through the God’s blessing of her.
Our culture engrains in us the notion that justice means that everyone will get what they deserve – no more and no less – but God’s justice is about taking sides in favor of those who have no visible means of support.
Mary calls us this Lenten season to question our allegiances. Do we do our part to not only support the lowly and oppressed, but to favor them? Do our jobs, our relationships, our savings and investments, our lifestyle identify us with the lowly, the hungry and the oppressed?
Mary reminds us that God’s justice is actively on the side of those whom society has forgotten and continues to forget. This is what true justice looks like. God’s people are made equal, the ones who have been hungry have bellies full of good food, the ones who have had too much get to feel what it is like to be hungry.
Mary alone is the medium through which God’s entrance into human history will take place. She claims her role as God’s servant. And she claims God to be on her side. It is God’s unanticipated favor that has brought Mary from lowliness to greatness. Because of God’s intervention she will be the mother of Him whose kingdom will have no end, who will establish God’s mercy from generation to generation. And all generations will call her blessed.
“God has shown strength, God has brought down the powerful and lifted up the lowly; God has filled the hungry and sent the rich away.” God has done these things by choosing Mary, God has done these things through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus and God continues to do these things through His servants in 2013 – through Providence Christian Church – through you and through me.
And through our daily decisions, in school, at work, at the store, on facebook and twitter, we can choose to stand with the lowly or with the powerful. We are called to also choose the Mary’s of the world.