Sermon 12/15 Mother Mary

Scripture Lessons: Isaiah 35:1-10 and Luke 1:45b-55
Sermon: Mother Mary
Pastor: Rev. Kim P. Wells

Who here wants to be controlled? Who wants to be enslaved? Who wants to be
suppressed? How about dominated? Who wants to be kept down and kept quiet?
Who wants to be made poor? Well, if you don’t want to live under those kinds of
circumstances then Christmas is for you!

Christmas, despite the brainwashing we get from corporate America, Christmas is
about liberation. Christmas is a celebration of freedom and the end of captivity. It
is a story about God working through nobodies to liberate everybodies. This story
starts with the promises made in the Hebrew scriptures. It is manifested in the life
of Mary. And it comes to fruition in the ministry of Jesus. From the Christmas
story, we learn what is means to live liberated from religious and cultural
programming that constrains and controls and limits people.

This is all laid out in the Magnificat. We hear of the reversal of exploitation and
abuse – social, personal, moral, and economic. People are not meant to be kept
down, demeaned, and deprived. A world of equality and freedom for everyone is
at the heart of the Divine intention for humanity. The Magnificat tells us of God’s
dreams made real. Notice the verb tense in the Magnificat. The verbs are in the
past tense. These things have been done: Those regarded as lowly by society have
been lifted up! No special rights just human rights. They are looked upon with
favor by God. And those who were prideful, greedy, privileged, and corrupt, no
longer abuse or take advantage of others. What a glorious vision!

How would Mary have been woke to systems of oppression and degradation?
Well, to start with, she was part of minority group. Well, two minority groups, really. And we know what that means. As someone Jewish, she was part of a
minority class within the social system of the Roman Empire. A minority that was
being exploited by the Romans for labor and taxes. And she was a woman which
meant that her rights and opportunities were severely limited. She was part of the
underclass. The expendables. No civil rights for her. No ERA for Mary. We are
told that she goes along with God’s plan, makes herself available to God, takes the
risks involved, displays the courage needed because she knows what it is like at the
bottom. And she knows, her faith teaches her, that God has dreams of full
flourishing life for all people. And she wants to be a part of that.

Mary’s vision of reversal, conversion, and transformation is good news not only
for those made poor but for everyone. The causes of discord and conflict in
society are eliminated with the elimination of domination and inequality. Everyone
lives in peace. Everyone has what they need. Everyone can be secure. Everyone
can flourish.

As theologian Megan McKenna describes it, “Our God believes that downward
mobility is the way to usher in hope and to become truly human.” [Advent,
Christmas and Epiphany: Stories and Reflections on the Sunday Readings, p.
115.]

Here’s a story about that. A mother tells us: “When our three young sons were
each given an elf ornament for the Christmas tree, they began a yearly contest to
see who could place his ornament highest on the tree.

“Our oldest son, Scott, won for several years. When he finally got his elf on the
top of the tree, we knew the contest was over. Wrong. The next year our middle son, Kevin, taped his ornament to the ceiling above the tree. End of contest, we
thought. Wrong again.

“The next year, we could not find the ornament of our youngest son, Mark. It must
be on the roof, we decided. Wrong again. We finally found Mark’s elf on the very
lowest branch of the tree – with a note attached: ‘For whoever exalts himself will
be humbled and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.’ (Matthew 23:12).
“Needless to say, that ended the contest.” [McKenna, p. 116]

Christmas is about our liberation from all that prevents our full humanity. It’s
about getting out from under all that holds us down and keeps us captive including
upward mobility and competition. And how does this happen? How does this
reversal Mary sings about occur? That’s the magic of Christmas. We don’t get this
massive upheaval through a violent overthrow of the government, or a coup, or an
armed rebellion, or an impeachment. We get it through a baby. Through the
weakness of a child. As Marshall McLuhan noted, “The medium is the message.“
The radical promises of God are enacted through the gentle vulnerability of a baby
born to a nobody mother and father. God works these mighty deeds through the
nobodies of the world so that everyone becomes a somebody.

Apparently in the 1970’s, the government of Guatemala banned the Magnificat
because it was considered subversive, politically dangerous, and they were afraid it
might incite riots among the oppressed. [Weekly Seeds, Dec. 15, 2019, Kathryn
Matthews. See
https://www.ucc.org/weekly_seeds_choose_to_be_courageous?utm_campaign=ws
_dec15_19&utm_medium=email&utm_source=unitedchurchofchrist ] Obviously
the government did not understand the Magnificat, Mary, or the ministry of Jesus.

They were right to see that the Magnificat had power, but they were wrong about
the nature of that power. Jesus doesn’t foment an armed take over. He enacts
God’s radical reversal by calling for repentance, forgiving sins, healing the sick,
casting out demons, eating with outcasts, and dying a redemptive death.
Everything is transformed and turned over, but no life is taken. Life is given. For
the good of the community. This is the power of love and it is even more feared by
those in control than the power of violence because love cannot be confiscated or
locked up or suppressed or exiled. Love finds a way.

Mary lived in perilous times when things were not fair. Greed and exploitation and
abuse of power were rampant. She herself was made poor and denied basic human
rights. And yet she sings of God’s justice and setting things right because she sees
the capacity of God to work through those who are poor and weak. She sees God’s
promises fulfilled not through military might but through the vulnerability of a
baby.

The promise of Christmas is a world in which we can lay down our pretenses and
give up protecting our privilege. We can live full and free. Christmas releases us
from bondage to the expectations and institutions that hold us captive.

Once there was a young businessman who was working hard to get ahead in his
corporation. He was moving up bit by bit. As part of his strategy to continue his
corporate climb, he decided to invite his boss and the other vice presidents of the
company to his home for a dinner party. All the plans were made with a caterer – a
formal dinner party, servers, cocktails, hors d’oeuvres, an elegant meal.

Now, the young corporate climber had a 6 year old son. So, for weeks ahead of the
dinner party, the father coached the young boy in how to behave. The child was instructed about what to do with each utensil, how the food would be served, not
reaching for things across the table, no elbows on the table, drinking from a
stemmed glass, and all the other good table manners that were important on such
an occasion.

The boy knew this dinner party was very important to his father so he was
determined to behave well.

The evening came. Cocktails were served. The guests sat down at the table and
the meal began. Water and wine were poured. Soup was served. The conversation
was lively. The father glanced at the son and smiled. All was going well. But the
boy was very hungry and saw the basket of rolls in the center of the table and,
forgetting his father’s instructions, he reached for the rolls. He knocked over his
water glass. And then, as he pulled his hand back, he knocked over the wine glass
of the guest seated next to him.

He was horrified. He looked in terror at his father. The father saw his son’s
distraught face and immediately knocked over his own water glass, then his own
wine glass. Then he laughed and said to his son, “Come on, let’s clean it up
together.” [McKenna, p. 118]

That’s God’s message to us at Christmas – Come on, let’s clean it up together.
Mary will show you how. Jesus will help. Amen.

A reasonable effort has been made to appropriately cite materials referenced in this sermon. For
additional information, please contact Lakewood United Church of Christ.

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