July 26, 2020
It’s a challenging time we live in—absolutely. And it’s not new. Others have faced deep challenges in their times too. One of the realities is that people who are oppressed experience that oppression for generations. It’s not a sudden thing and it lasts for so long that their prayer is often “O, Lord, how long?”
Our song, A Change Gonna Come, is both a song of hope and honest struggle. It’s like the blues with a positive twist. It has the sense of time, the feeling of tiredness, the almost giving up at times, and the rekindling of the hope that relief will come eventually. I see it as the human spirit hanging on when things seem impossible. African American playwrite, August Wilson, reminds us through his characters that people don’t sing the Blues to feel better, but rather to understand life and find the strength to hang on.
Mary and Elizabeth were both pregnant; our story tells us that both were miraculous; both part of God’s plan to bring a change that was gonna come! Let’s look at the words again. They weren’t singing the Blues; Elizabeth was exclaiming in a loud voice; Mary was singing a song of victory!
Mary Visits Elizabeth
39In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 40where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.
Mary had heard from the angel, now she wants to hear from Elizabeth.
41When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.
43And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. 45And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”
God’s people had been waiting a long time in painful and difficult times. And Mary believed what God had said through the Angel. Paul Simon wrote a song called An American Tune during a particularly difficult time in our history where he sings:
Many’s the time I’ve been mistaken
And many times confused
Yes, and often felt forsaken
And certainly misused
But I’m all right, I’m all right
I’m just weary to my bones
Still, you don’t expect to be
Bright and bon vivant
So far away from home,
so far away from home
And I don’t know a soul
who’s not been battered
I don’t have a friend who feels at ease
I don’t know a dream
that’s not been shattered
or driven to its knees
But it’s all right, it’s all right
We’ve lived so well so long
Still, when I think of the road
we’re traveling on
I wonder what went wrong
I can’t help it, I wonder what went wrong
These words capture the feeling of the late 60s over 50 years ago. They also capture the feelings many have today.
Mistaken, confused, forsaken, misused, weary, wonder what went wrong,
And the words also capture the experience that many had during the time Luke writes about in his account.
Now we have to ask here, what kind of person do we imagine that Mary actually was? I think not the image pictured in ancient Sunday school curriculum—as a subservient character, kind of shy, willing to go along with anything because she was so good. Well, maybe, but I have come to a different view of her. We read the accounts of the angel’s coming to her and confronting her with—let’s call it an invitation. She doesn’t shrink back—she says OK I’m ready; Let’s do this. I don’t see her acceptance as acquiescence but rather a kind of feisty faith in God. She accepts! She’s willing to sign on for the adventure of a life time! A willingness to be misunderstood. She will need to have a pretty strong personality with a clear sense of her identity to go through with this. I’m thinking she had much of that already, and that’s why she was selected.
She was saying in effect: I know who I am, and I’m not limited by that. I will step into your will, your calling, your dreams for my future.
Now we as a community are being called into our future as well. I see Mary, this young girl, as a role model for us. We too know who we are and what we’ve experienced through the years. Our past doesn’t limit us. It propels us into the future. And we too will step into God’s will, calling, and dreams for us.
There’s a story of two new mothers standing at the glass outside the hospital nursery each looking at their newborn babies. The one says, the world is such a dangerous place right now. I wonder if I should have even had a child now; maybe this wasn’t the right time. The other mother said, O it’s just the right time—I believe my child will be used by God to make a difference in the world. My child will be part of the healing—part of the change coming. Mary is like the second mother.
Mary’s Song of Praise
46And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord,
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
The focus is on God; He is the center of the story!
It’s his action: what has He done? What he promises to do.
48for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
They had suffered for generations in the past. Now and into the future, generations of people would recognize what God was doing here.
50His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
51He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
The ones who think history revolves around them. They think they are powerful, they are proud, they are rich and they think that counts for something in the long run. Frankly, it doesn’t. This reminds me of my Aunt Shirley. Shirley was my grandmothers sister. She had the best raspberry pie in summer and the best sugar cookies in winter. She had a wry sense of humor and she “had everyone’s number.” She had her opinions and I enjoyed the fact that she shared them freely. We used to say that she was “unimpressed with people who were self-impressed.” God has scattered the proud.
52He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
Author Eddie Glaude, Jr. writes about James Baldwin meeting with young African American students at Howard University back in the early civil rights era. “As the meeting wound down, Baldwin was left to say the final words. All eyes were fixed on him. He said, If you will promise that you will never, ever accept any of the derogatory, degrading and reductive definitions that this society has ready for you, then I promise you I shall never betray you.”
53he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
What a threat to the political leaders of the day. If Herod heard these words he’d continue his vendetta. He thinks his wealth and power give him license to do whatever he chooses. It doesn’t. He will be called to account in God’s time.
That’s where our situations are different: they had a dictatorship, we have a democracy.
They had few rights; we have freedom of speech and many others. We even have the right to protest peacefully; they didn’t.
We now, have to continue to guard and protect the rights that are ours and we have ways of doing so, and it’s never easy, and never to be taken for granted.
54He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
55according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”
It’s all about God’s promise, God’s character, God’s mercy to us. It was then; it is now.
So, the questions for us today:
The Magnificat: Mary’s song of praise for us in these complicated days
Lord, we praise You!
For our new found
For Your eternal awesome
You, the Victorious One
Turning things upside down
Setting life right side up
You, the Creative One
Turning expectations inside out
Destroying the arrogant
You the Compassionate One
Healing the wounded
Lifting the beaten down
You, the Just One
Showing the rich their poverty
Showering the poor with blessing
A wonder, Lord,
That we live to see it
That You choose us!
Your Mercy, Lord,
One generation to another
And is flung from the past to the future
Thank you. Amen