“The New Mother”
A sermon preached by the Rev. Douglas M. Donley
December 23, 2018
University Baptist Church
These past two weeks we have looked at Mary’s spiritual mothers, Lilith and Eve. Like Mary, they were given the difficult task of ushering in a new reality. Each of them played an integral part in the story of our faith. And each of them also seem to have taken a backseat to the more important men in the Bible. But without them, we cannot make sense out of this story. I think it’s high time that we listened to Lilith, to Eve and to Mary.
Lilith gives us the powerful image of a woman who will not submit to the will of a man if it did not also include her liberation. Demonized and blamed for our basest desires, Lilith (the original nasty woman) was written out holy Scripture, only to re-emerge as women find their voices and question the ways of men.
Eve, the woman from the Garden and companion of Adam, gave us curiosity and knowledge. Because she ate of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of Good and Evil, we too can discern what is good and what is bad. We can make choices that will be good for us and good for our sisters and brothers on this earth.
Mary is the new mother who ushers in a new family of God. She’s the one who teaches Jesus his most radical thoughts. She’s the new mother, part Lilith, part Eve, all holy. Mary’s story is familiar to most of us. She appears in nativity plays, carols and Christmas cards as a demure and wisened figure. But her story betrays this image. She is an unwed teenage mother forced to travel by the whims of the government, is from an untrusted backwater town on the edge of nowhere, is shunned by her family and gives birth in a stable surrounded by filth. This is the way God comes into the world. If we are true to this story, we can imagine God coming today into a homeless camp aside a highway exit ramp, or as part of a caravan in a detention center. Mary sings her Magnificat in the midst of all of this and declares that the rulers will brought down from their thrones and the lowly will be lifted up.
Last year, I remember preaching about Mary. I suggested that she would have played hockey if she lived in this climate. I said that in part because we were dedicating Jackson Hartman who is the son of Lindsay who was a Division I hockey player. Don’t mess with momma.
Mary is the best woman of the Bible. She is the one who did nothing wrong. She was not punished for singing her song of liberation, except being charged to flee to Egypt. Maybe someone had heard her song.
She was contrasted with Eve. Eve is the mother of Evil. Through Eve, it is said, humanity lost its innocence.
Eve said I want to know. Mary said, “Do unto me according to your will.”
God gave birth to Eve. Mary in turn gives birth to God.
Patricia Lynn Reilly in her book “A God Who Looks Like Me: Discovering a Woman-Affirming Spirituality” wrote of the predicament: “in the beginning, as defined by men, Eve elevated sexuality. She committed the sexual act. Her body seduced Adam to join her in sin. As a result she was exiled from heaven as Whore and Temptress. Eve’s predecessor, Lilith, embodied assertive sexuality. She refused to submit to the man, to lie beneath him. Her unfettered sexuality was her fatal flaw. She is exiled from the Bible as Demon Mother and Tormentor of Men.” In the beginning of Christian history the Queen of Heaven was shaped by men to eliminate the woman’s body and its troublesome sexuality. The Sacred Woman elevates virginity; she abstains forever from the sexual act. Her body is eternally covered and beyond desire. The Virgin Mary was robbed of her body and stripped of her sexuality. She is allowed in the heavens only as Madonna and Virgin of all Virgins.” (Reilly, 1995, page 165)
Mary obscures sexuality unlike Lilith and Eve. She is always covered and looking down in great modesty. What happened to the fiery woman calling for the mighty to fall from their thrones? Might patriarchy be one of the beasts to fall?
Mary’s Magnificat is the longest set of words spoken by a woman in the New Testament.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor and theologian who was executed by the Nazis, called the Magnificat “the most passionate, the wildest, one might even say the most revolutionary hymn ever sung.”
Artist Ben Wildflower carved a wooden statue of Magnificat Mary. It was different from Nativity Mary. Nativity Mary is looking with wonder at her newborn son, not wanting to wake him. Keeping him safe, knowing that they will have to flee for their lives.
Wildflower’s Magnificat Mary is a woman with a fist in the air and a snake under her foot. Becoming the new Eve, the new mother of a new generation of radical agitators who advocate on the part of Good.
I don't think that Mary could have sung that song when she first found out she was pregnant. She probably could not sing that song until after Jesus had been born, perhaps even after he had died. Who knows, maybe Dr. Luke consulted with Mary after the resurrection of her son prior to his quoting her in the first chapter of his gospel. I can imagine Mary getting all misty-eyed as she stared off into the distance, remembering her feelings about her impending motherhood in light of what happened to Jesus. Perhaps she saw herself as lucky, in retrospect. I can imagine her paraphrasing one of her own biblical idols, Hannah, the mother of Samuel. And she finally said "this is how it feels now. This is how I wish it had felt back then: 'My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for God has regarded the low estate of this handmaiden. For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed; for the one who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is God's name.'"
"All generations will call me blessed," sang Mary. But I bet she didn't always believe that. I bet she felt pretty lowly. Here she was, a young single pregnant woman. In her day a woman was valued because of who her husband was and how many legitimate male children she had. Gabriel told her she was going to be an outcast, her child was going to be illegitimate, and not only that, but it was God’s doing.
Mary knew that she was an outcast. She had a healthy sense of her humility. But she also knew that through singing her song--living her life with God as her guide and her community as her support, she could begin to recognize herself as blessed. She sang because she knew that the mighty one had done great things for her, and holy is God's name.
Mary, an outcast, living among the outcasts gives hope to those of us who are cast out. She proclaims with her own preteen prophetic fervor that the powers that be will be overthrown and that God looks at the outcast with higher regard than the military, the rich or even the seemingly religious. Mary is obedient to God. And that obedience means that she is disobedient to the empire.
She sang knowing she recognized that God looked with favor upon one who is considered, either by herself or by others, as lowly.
She sang because she knew that generations would call her blessed, even if she could not call herself that at the present time.
She sang to invoke the mercy of God.
She sang to proclaim the strength of God, which we all need.
She sang to show God’s preferential option toward the poor.
She sang of the fact that the ways of the world are not always God's ways.
Those who are rich are sent away empty, she sang with all her heart.
The hungry are finally filled with something good.
She sang to proclaim that God will not forget any of us.
She sang the Magnificat because she saw herself as a part of a bigger plan. She sang it, my friends because she needed to in order for her to know what her soul was up to.
What would Mary’s song be in a migrant camp? To whom would it be directed? She may offer comfort to the similarly afflicted. She may tell them that God doesn’t want the current system to stay in place. She may tell them that they are all midwives to a revolutionary generation. She may reawaken our dormant faith which says, “trust and obey for there’s no better way…” Her faith says trust God and disobey ungodly leaders, questions unholy alliances, step our and remember you calling as children of God whom God has called holy.
When Mary sang, she proclaimed the entire work of Christianity in one simple song. She sang my soul magnifies the Lord. In other words, I look at God very clearly, unpacking all of the religious baggage and I get down to the nitty-gritty. I put God under a magnifying glass and this is what I come up with:
God looks with favor on the lowly and calls them blessed.
God does great things.
God's mercy is there for everyone who recognizes God's power.
God's strength is available to those who believe in God more than in themselves.
For God has and will bring down the powerful from their thrones.
God fills the hungry with good things and sends the formerly rich away empty.
And God keeps God's promises.
That is precisely what the season of Christmas is all about.
It is about remembering and integrating the hopeful messages of prophets like Mary into our very beings. It's about living beyond our preconceived notions of life and love. As you sing the songs of the Christmas season, remember God’s vision. Let it change you like it changed Mary. When you do that, you help change the world. Remember that God has regarded what you might consider your low estate. God has not left you comfortless. God has called you blessed. All God asks for in return is that you sing.
My friends, think about those who have made you into who you are. Think about those who have nurtured you and given you your sense of suspicion at the present ways of this world. Think about how they offer solutions and point us toward a hopeful future. Look at them and remember that their angelic vision is one that we need this Christmas season. Mary made a pilgrimage but it was more than simply a pilgrimage from Nazareth to Bethlehem. It was a pilgrimage from a lowly handmaiden to a formidable, audacious force.
And this Sunday, you have that same kind of power in your fragile hands.
May our December pilgrimages bring us together with people who will remind us of who we are and remind us of who God is and where God is. The gift that Mary brought to the world was a concept of God not far off, not as a warrior, a judge, a cosmic scorekeeper, but a companion. Emmanuel: God-with-us. God as close as a friend who reminds you of who you are.
Let’s reclaim Mary and her radical song of liberation.
Let’s say that this new mother is on to something when she tells us that a reordering is needed, a redistribution of power and influence, a turning away from patriarchy’s systems that continue to make the rich richer and the poor poorer, even though they say they are doing the opposite.
Let’s say this new mother won’t sit idly by as we continue to minimize her and exclude her most revolutionary words.
Let’s say that this new mother will not put up with keeping current systems in place, but just changing the leadership. This is not a reform-minded song. It’s a revolutionary song.
Hail Mary, full of grace, God is with thee. Help us to live into the words of your song so that we might magnify God and God’s plan for the least of these, too.