The Real Mary
We're still waiting to learn who will be announced as Time Magazine's "Person of the Year" for 2020. But you may remember that last year's Person of the Year was Greta Thuneberg, the 16-year-old environmental activist who's inspiring millions of people around the globe to take action against climate change.
She is the youngest person ever to be named Time's Person of the Year. But she's just one of the many courageous young women right now who are speaking truth and effecting change. For example, think of Malala Yousafzai, the young Pakistani advocate for female education, and the youngest Nobel Prize Laureate ever. Think of Emma Gonzales, the highschool senior who survived the Parkland school shooting, and who has become an outspoken activist and advocate for gun control. All of these inspiring teenagers, and all of these courageous young women are using their voices to boldly proclaim that the status quo must change in order for the world to be transformed, that old things must pass away, so that all things may be made new.
And I share their stories with you on this third Sunday of Advent, because today is the only Sunday of the entire church calendar when we put our focus on another courageous teenager -- Mary, Jesus's mother. She, like Greta and Malala and Emma boldly spoke her truth, proclaiming that change was on its way, and that a new world order was about to be birthed through her. I think that Mary is so important, not just in the life of Jesus, but in our lives as well. And yet she rarely appears in our lectionary readings on Sunday. Mary, in fact, only appears in the Bible four times. That's it. She's mentioned more times in the Quran, the Holy Book of Islam, than she is in the Bible.
Muslims have great reverence for Mary, more than most Christians do. Most Christians today, even progressive ones, like us, only seem to think of Mary when they take out their Nativity sets at Christmas. The rest of the year, they forget about her. And I think I know why.
There seems to be this belief among many Christians that Mary is just for Catholics. I find that many Christians are Wary of Mary, or at least they're wary of the Catholic devotion to Mary, which they believe overshadows Jesus and borders on idolatry.
Most of you know that I grew up Catholic, and in my 20s, I entered a Catholic monastery. The order that I joined is called the Marist Brothers, a group of religious men who are devoted to Mary. The motto of the Marist brothers in Latin is Ad Jesum per Mariam, which means "To Jesus through Mary." Every morning and every evening, we would join together in the monastery, to say prayers to Mary, who was our way to Jesus.
And although I am no longer a Catholic, to this day, I still have a great devotion to Mary, not just at Christmastime, but throughout the year. For me, she represents the feminine nature of God, the birther of the cosmos, the one who gave birth to the Light of the World, and continues to make all things new. For far too long now, the Christian church and our world in general, has been dominated by the masculine voice. For centuries now the feminine voice has been repressed and stifled. But right now we need the feminine voice. We need it now more than ever.
Rob Bell has a great quote in his book entitled, What We Talk About When We Talk About God. He says, "When the female voice is repressed and stifled, the entire community can easily find themselves cut off from the sacred feminine, depriving themselves of the full image of God."
The full image of God, my friends, is both masculine and feminine. God is both father and mother. And so I'm so grateful for Mary in my life, for she shows me the face of the Divine Mother.
But who was the real Mary? We've come to see her as the meek and mild handmaiden, the obedient and perfect submissive virgin. But that's all a myth. In reality, Mary was tough, bold, courageous, and radical. In the time and place where Mary lived, she was at the lowest place in society. She was poor, and a woman, and a Jew, and an unwed pregnant teenager. Religiously, socially, and politically, she was oppressed, outcast, and marginalized.
Yet God chose her of all the people to become the mother of the Light of the World. In today's Gospel reading, we hear the words of Mary's Magnificat, her song of praise to God. But the Magnificat is not some pretty little innocuous love song. As we heard, in our words of integration and guidance this morning from Reverend Dawn Hutchings, the Magnificat is a subversive song of resistance, a manifesto if you will, of liberation, and revolution.
The Magnificat is Mary's protest song. In it, Mary is proclaiming a new world order. She says, "God has looked with favor upon me, a lowly servant, and from now on all generations will call me blessed. God has brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly. God has filled the hungry with good things. And the rich He has sent away empty. God is establishing a new world order a new kingdom, where the mighty and powerful will be pulled down from their thrones, and where the lowly will be lifted up high, and the hungry will be filled with good things." That's what Mary is proclaiming in the Magnificat. And those words over the centuries have been unsettling to those in power.
The British government during its occupation of India, deemed it unlawful to sing the Magnificat in church. Argentina, during the oppressive regime of Juan Pirone banned the Magnificat from being read aloud. And during the 1980s, the Guatemalan government did the same, because it stirred up the impoverished masses.
Mary's message to the world proclaims that change is coming. The Light is on its way. That's why I see the spirit of Mary today in Greta and Malala and Emma. That's why I see this spirit of Mary today and all the brave women who have spoken out in the Me Too and Time's Up movements the past couple of years, courageously speaking their truth, after years of being silenced by men in power. I see the spirit of Mary in young migrant mothers who -- like Mary herself, a refugee -- have traveled a great distance, fleeing their homeland to find a safe haven for their children, only to be denied room.
Ryan Kuja, the Christian author of the book From the Inside Out, recently translated Mary's Magnificat into more modern language, and I'd like to read it for you today.
"I can't contain my excitement about this. Out of all people God noticed me, a poor pregnant teenager. Everyone will call me blessed from now on. God's love is so much greater than I can even imagine. God shows for everyone, even those society despises -- the LGBTQ community, immigrants, refugees, the addicted, and shamed. God knows Black Lives Matter. refugees and immigrants are God's beloved, all the people who are seen as less than human God knows and loves. God lifts up those who are preyed upon by corrupt politicians, the hungry, the ones brutalized by the police and Immigrations and Customs agents and families without healthcare. God invites each of us to the table to speak and tell our story, to be heard and known. The power-hungry perpetrators who care only about their agendas don't have the last word. I can sense God's presence holding me and all God's children close, faithfully liberating us all, just as God has promised."
So timely, right? The Magnificat is timeless. We, my friends, we like Mary, are part of God's plan to give birth to a new kingdom, a new kin-dom, a world where all are one. But in order for us to do this, we like Mary must have the courage to say "Yes." If we are willing, God is calling us to birth the Christ Light into the world. The 13th-century Christian mystic, Meister Eckhart said, "We are all meant to be mothers of God, for God is always needing to be born."
That's what the season of Advent is all about. It's present-tense. We don't say Christ was born. We say Christ is born. When we welcome the stranger, Christ is born. When we feed the hungry, Christ is born. When we lift up the lowly, Christ is born. When we pull down the rich and mighty from their thrones, Christ is born. When we care for the planet, empower women, and speak truth to the powers that be, Christ is born.
That's what Advent is all about -- a time of preparation for us in which we allow ourselves to become pregnant with the Light so that we can give birth to it during this time of great darkness.
Therefore, I hope you will find time between now and Christmas to do as Mary did, to rejoice in the good news that God has chosen you to birth the Light into a world of darkness. And I invite you to call upon Mary often, not just at Christmastime, but throughout the year. Don't be wary of her. She's not just for Catholics. She's for all of us. Let all of us, like Mary, have the courage to magnify God's light and to shine it for all the world see.
Rev. Salvatore Sapienza
What did you think?