Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Homily, Feast of St. Mary the Virgin

Psalm 34:1-9
Galatians 4:4-7
Luke 1:46-55

Today is the feast day of St. Mary the Virgin, Mother of our Lord, Jesus Christ. The Roman church celebrates this as the Feast of her Assumption into heaven; we don’t quite go that far, but we honor her. We, or at least I, think of her mostly in Advent, as the nervous but heroically faithful young mother of the One who was sent to save. She may have been every bit of that, but she was very much more. She was a human woman, who birthed, nurtured, worried about, rejoiced in, and loved the very incarnation of God.

I was listening to one of my favorite songs while I worked on this. It was written by Linda Allen, a folk singer in Bellingham. The verses tell the story of Mary’s interaction with Jesus throughout his life, and the anticipation, pride, terror, grief, and triumph she might have felt, carrying him, raising him, watching him come into his own. The chorus goes like this:

And the light’s still shining, Mary, Mary, can you see?
And the child you carried carries on the mystery.
God’s great promise in a young girl’s body,
Glory, Glory! Blessed Be, Blessed Be!
Glory, Glory! Blessed Be, Blessed Be!

She is famous for being an unwed, pregnant teenager. A kid in life-threatening trouble. If we listen to the Gospel accounts, Mary’s story goes something like this: A young girl is betrothed to a tradesman, likely older than she. Their families would have paired them; we don’t know why these two were brought together, or how well they knew each other at their betrothal. Like anyone, she would have wanted to love and be loved by him; she also would have known that marriage put her utterly at his mercy, should she ever displease him. It was easy for a man to divorce his wife, and women had little or no means of survival on their own. If a woman suspected of adultery were not immediately stoned, she could die slowly of ridicule and starvation. Mary and Joseph were not yet married when a strange traveler named Gabriel surprised Mary, told her not to be afraid, and then threw a serious curve ball into her life. He didn’t exactly ask her to be the mother of God; he told her that she had been chosen to bear the Messiah. She asked how, and was treated to a completely incomprehensible notion of conception. She picked her jaw up off the floor, thought for a minute, gathered up all her dignity and courage, and said yes. “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” The angel left her to puzzle out how on earth to tell Joseph.

Joseph loved her. He honored her, and with God’s help, he believed her. They raised the child, and his many younger siblings, in a small town where everyone knew everyone else’s business, and no one ever let anyone forget it. This boy had a strong spark of God from the beginning, but he never made it easy for mere humans to parent, befriend, or love him. The young Jesus gets separated from his parents in Jerusalem. Panic rising, they search the city for days. They find him in the Temple, impressing the rabbis, having a wonderful time. He answers their frantic pleading with a perfectly adolescent, “Duh! Where did you think I’d be?” Mary, in John’s gospel, asks Jesus for his first miracle, turning water into wine at a wedding feast at Cana. He didn’t feel it was the right time to reveal himself, but she held her ground. Grumbling, he does it, and she can barely contain her smile. But there is also the report, in Matthew, of him openly shunning his family because they don’t support him the way he wants them to; in fact, they seem fearful for his mental health. She loved him, always, unquestioningly—but she couldn’t truly understand him, or hold onto him, or protect him. That knowledge must have terrified her, even as she took pride in the child he was and the man he became, even as she knew he belonged uniquely to God.

Mary said yes to the angel, yes to God, yes to her own wonder and joy. She said yes to a life she could not possibly have understood or imagined. The wide-eyed girl signed on for this wild ride, and the mature woman kept her faith, as her passionate son took more and more risks for God’s justice. She’d have heard of him healing on the Sabbath, forgiving sins, and arguing with religious authorities over who had any authority at all. She’d have heard of him challenging the Roman tax system, speaking dangerous words of insurrection had the wrong people heard him. Whether or not she traveled with him, word got out over exactly what he was preaching on the mountains, plains, or wherever, and what truths were served with bread and fish. And then there was that incident in the Temple. She looked in her son’s eyes as he was dying, and we only can imagine the grief and devastation that would have rocked her soul. On the morning after the Sabbath, she went with two friends to give him the last gift they could. They found shimmering white figures, folded cloths, a tomb unsealed, and a hope beyond all understanding.

This morning’s readings tell us who God is, and who we are. Paul here gives us a gentle, empowering catechism. We who belong to God do not belong to anybody’s Emperor. We are slaves to no one. We are children of God—and thus heirs to God’s kingdom, God’s power, God’s justice, God’s love. God chose to be born of a woman, into this human society, to liberate us from a relationship through law alone. We are no longer bound by the fear of retribution, but by the call of love.

For the author of Luke, Mary is no passive child or Queen of Heaven, without a star out of place. The Magnificat, the hymn placed in her mouth, is a call to revolution. I am any woman, sings Mary, but God is my strength. God has brought down the powerful and lifted up the lowly. God favors me, God remembers his promises, and God will deliver my people.

Our work is clear. Claim your kinship. Be a child of God. Be free, be loved—and get busy feeding hungry people. Take the risks that present themselves. Be daring, like Mary; say yes to the call that you’re hearing. Birth the God within you, honor that love and let it do what it will. Trust in eternity, and love like there is no more time.


Mimi said...

S'praznikom! (Happy Feast Day)

Max said...

Good golly, Kirstin. I am awed. (I'm also odd, as you know, but that's another subject.)

Had to make a joke cuz I'm so moved right now. That final paragraph is pure gold. I may just tape it up on my mirror.


yours in the struggle,