The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:
s095g08 Advent 4 21/12/08
'Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you!' Luke 1.28
As I thought about what I might say about these words, it seemed to me that it is odd that often those who make much of Mary, also marginalize women. From my own part of the Church, high-church Anglicans make much of their devotion to her, yet vehemently oppose any movement to ordain women. I suppose I was brought up in a 'middle of the road' Anglican parish, and I still remember how the place of Mary was one of those things that defined one's spirituality in the theological college where I trained. It seemed that there was a constant tussle between high church, low church and charismatic trying to gain the allegiance of the few uncommitted, like me. Of course, the issue of the ordination of women is still with us as the consecration of women as bishops still divides congregations and dioceses. One diocese to the east of where I live would not ordain women at all but wants to allow lay people to celebrate the Eucharist. Ah, the permutations and combinations of ways to express one's 'christianity' :-)!
But I see a real parallel between using our 'orthodoxy' to put down other people on so many levels and in the end it really is a form of terrorism.
Last week I spoke about the old dictum that: 'children were to be seen and not heard' and then an elderly person spoke to me about how young people don't seem to respect their elders these days. Well, I am sorry, but it takes two to tango! If young people were encouraged, heard and respected by the elderly, then the elderly will have earned the respect they look for. Again, someone else was saying to me that they lived by the dictum: 'do unto others as you would have them do unto you' and I said how much I agreed with that - then they said that they thought that corporal punishment should be brought back presumably for the young. Sadly the person didn't see that there was a logical disconnect here. I mean I'm no rocket scientist and I can see that there's a logical disconnect! And they say wisdom comes with age!
When it comes to the 'sharp end' it is others who have to measure up to 'my' expectations for 'my' expectations are really the Lord's expectations not me.
Here was the angel of the Lord coming to a young person and a female at that! Mary was probably no more than 16, and she was being asked to do something with which all her hormones would have agreed!
More and more I am beginning to question some of the things that I have taken for granted, for the world that I see is blighted by these put-downs. I see and hear people whose lives have been blighted by religion. Probably their lives would have been blighted anyway, but religion has been there in the mix, contributing to the things that have meant that they have never achieved even a modicum of happiness. And I guess I'm beginning to see that I have not been immune for it has taken me the best part of 56 years to find my voice and say these things. I have been happy to toe the line and play my part, seeking the restitution of the church in all its past glory, and failing to see that God has got far greater things for the church and for each of us as well.
God was doing a new thing in Mary, and we can worship the person yet fail to see the message. However it is so easy to criticise, yet we are all called to do our bit.
In the past week or two the (Anglican) Archbishop of York, John Sentamu has called for the President of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, to be tried in the international court for crimes against humanity, and I am sure that many would agree with this. But along with doing this we need to examine our own statements and see if they are not also putting others down, blighting their lives. As I began, parts of 'my' church marginalize women. Is not this a crime against humanity or are women not human? Parts of my church consider children as there for their own entertainment to be brought out to do a christmass pantomime to relieve them of having to listen to a sermon one Sunday a year! But they wouldn't consider having a drum set or guitars in church! Is not this an abuse of others that could be described as an acceptable form of paedophilia, rather more prevalent than actual molestation?
God sent the angel Gabriel to say to this young lady that she was specially favoured and one can only conjecture what this greeting meant to a poor peasant girl in a highly patriarchal society. Just think about it - she could hardly have said anything to anyone. It was just as well that the angel also spoke to her betrothed Joseph otherwise the Bible would have directed him to have had her stoned to death at the entrance of her father's house (Deuteronomy 22.21). Of course 'honour killings' are not unknown even today, though fortunately not often in Australia. But how many young girls have been thoroughly ostracised here because they have fallen pregnant? What a strange expression, it is as if it is something that happens to them as if it doesn't involve anyone else.
When Jesus met the Samaritan woman at the well, he well knew her reputation, yet it was swept aside so that she could be an instrument for God's message of love. (John 4) I thoroughly enjoy living in a rural regional centre, for everyone here wants people to stay and contribute to the community. In the city one can be just another face in the crowd. Yet it is also big enough that everyone doesn't know everyone else's business that can be so destructive. This woman knew her reputation in the village and knew its destructive effect in her life. Yet was the Messiah just talking with her as an equal!
God comes to lift people to their feet. Each and every time someone meets the Almighty, they fall on their faces. And each and every time they are lifted to their feet.
The classic passage is the vision of Isaiah, who says: "Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!" And his sin is taken away and he is sent back to preach to the people. This is a polite and theological way of kicking Isaiah in the backside :-)! I, and we, have spent our lives lamenting how sinful we are, as if this is what God really wants. God forgives us our sins and sends us back into the real world with the command to lift other people up too. But we make a religious occupation of lamenting our sins and decrying others who don't follow our example. They have better, more interesting things to do and we don't even recognize it. By not lifting others up, the world is not helped and we condemn ourselves to more of the same!
Why was Mary so favoured? Despite some dubious devotional theology about her own conception, I suspect she is favoured simply because she is called. Her blessedness was not to remain with her, it was something that was to be shared with others, all others. Indeed the special blessedness was precisely because in her, God was calling all people to know God in their own lives and to recognize God in the lives of all others as well.
In Mary, in the incarnation, God was 'willingly entering into the degrading slavery of life as it really is' to bless us as we really are. Because Mary was and is no more special than any of us are, we can find God's presence in the degrading slavery of the life we lead. And the wonderful, life-giving thing is that this is for everyone, no matter what their gender, race, colour, culture, faith or sexual preference.
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