"Mary's Biggest Worry," Rev Fred Kinsey
“Greetings, favored one,” the angel Gabriel snuck up on Mary out of nowhere! “Do not be afraid,” says Gabriel. Angels know that us regular folk don’t expect to hear from them every day, so when they bring a message from the “realms of glory,” they always start with this reassuring phrase, “do not be afraid.”
But that’s not Mary’s biggest worry – that an angel has come to visit her. She has much bigger fish to fry. Mary’s acceptance of angel Gabriel’s announcement, that she will be impregnated by “the Holy Spirit and the power of the Most High,” certainly demonstrates that she already has a radical trust and deep faithfulness. But I’m not sure it means she’s lost all her “fear” quite yet! A fear the angel Gabriel can clearly see in her “perplexed” and “ponderous” tongue-tied silence. What is Mary’s pondering, deep down inside, to this overwhelming news?
At least, she has much better sense around the angel Gabriel than Zachariah, Elizabeth’s husband. Zachariah, a priest in the temple, in all his privilege, reacts with informed skepticism and doubt to the news of Elizabeth’s miraculous pregnancy – she’s due a mere 6 month before Mary – and his tongue is tied-up deliberately, that is, he’s struck dumb, by the same angel Gabriel, for the rest of Elizabeth’s term, until the naming of John the Baptist, 8 days after Elizabeth gave birth.
Mary, in contrast, gathers herself to ask a clarifying question, then says, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” That, despite a fear that she could be in mortal danger! She is only engaged, after all – a virgin – which 2,000 years ago in Israel, was a possible death sentence, according to Jewish law, because any unmarried woman found to be pregnant, it says in Deuteronomy, could be brought to her father’s door and stoned.
So, going with “haste” to see Elizabeth, her relative, may have been an act of self-preservation! In her fear of the strict patriarchal law, she may have realized her life depended on it!
Consider Martin Luther, who 497 years ago, was condemned as a heretic by Emperor Charles V, and excommunicated. Luther fled to the castle at Wartburg, to go in hiding, thanks to the protection of his Prince, Frederick the Wise! There he spent his time well, translating the Bible into German. But little known, is that he also finished his commentary on our gospel reading today, Mary’s song, that we call the Magnificat. Luther sent it to his friend George Spalatin for publication, and at the time, he thought it might be his final composition! And it was a beautiful prayer-like commentary, addressing the faithfulness of Mary, who was God’s servant. Perhaps he was thinking of himself, in this moment when he feared for his life.
So, Mary, running away, finds comfort and solace with Elizabeth, not just because she is her relative, or even that Elizabeth too is pregnant – with John the Baptist. But because together, they find hope – an Advent hope and anticipation, in angel Gabriel’s message from their God, that they, though poor and unknown, are “favored, by the most high!”
And this is the astounding irony, that the most faithful ones – Elizabeth and Mary – must hide in fear, fly under the radar, and commiserate in private, because the kingdom and realm of God had not yet been revealed! The Savior is still a pregnant promise, a secret joy between two women – the birth of the Messiah is 9 months away – which seems in some ways like forever, but in another, just around the corner!
Mary stays with Elizabeth for 3 more of those months, and you have to wonder what the two kinswomen do? Luke doesn’t dwell on this part of the story, but Mary no doubt helped her older relative, as she became great with child, and as Zachariah was not even able to say boo! Plus Mary could get used to the idea of her news, that she was the God-bearer, and get over her fear a little more, before returning home to Nazareth, just before John the Baptist is born.
Who is it that today must fly under the radar, favored by God, but distrusted, even hunted by the authorities, and those in power? Who is it God is calling us to lift up in the world today? Who has the understanding of how God works, and the courage to live and share it, that is being intimidated from speaking out? Where are the voices of peace and liberation that will speak up for the lowly and oppressed?
For much of the first 2 chapters of Luke, Mary & Elizabeth are the focus of the gospel story. These kinswomen are a foreshadowing of the rest of the gospel. The lowly are “favored”. The marginalized, the meek, the humble, and the oppressed are lifted up and liberated. The kingdom is all about them. And the gospel message is, that God is turning the world inside-out.
Where is Joseph, the betrothed? He is not the focus. Where is Zachariah, the husband of Elizabeth, a priest in the temple? He has been silenced by God’s messenger, his tongue tied, by the angel Gabriel, for his lack of faith.
God instead has looked with favor on Elizabeth and her younger relative Mary. And the message is sharpened for us, the moment Mary walks in and greets her kinswoman, when John leaps in her womb, and Elizabeth interprets it to mean that John is greeting Jesus! Elizabeth, “filled with the Holy Spirit, sings out exuberantly, blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.”
Jesus, we learn, is going to be much greater than John, he is “my Lord,” according to Elizabeth, and therefore Mary is highly favored and blessed.
Everything is being turned upside-down, which is the gospel message brought to you by Luke! In no other gospel are women lifted up as leaders of the faith, quite so impressively! Others who are marginalized in Luke are also heralded: those considered sinners, like tax collectors and lepers, and even familiar enemies, like the Samaritans.
The meeting ground of Elizabeth and Mary, in the hill country of Judea, may be considered seditious by rulers like Herod, and Emperor Charles V, but is holy ground for Luke, a fertile soil for faith and the growth of the kingdom and realm of God.
Here in this place, Mary herself, is grounded, and learns to trust the gospel message she received from the angel Gabriel. And so she sings from her heart, confidently:
“My soul magnifies the Lord, 47and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 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…
51bhe has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
52He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
53he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.”
And Jesus is born, of one of these lowly outcasts! Jesus is born our king and savior in a humble manger – fulfilling God’s promises in a most unlikely way. So, from cradle to cross, Jesus will not only show us the way, and fill our hearts with love, but will love the world in all its misguided upside-down, sin and greed.
“Fear not,” Jesus tells us, like the messenger-angel Gabriel, once told his mother Mary. Though we have much we are afraid of – no matter if we are rich or poor, in times of faith or in questioning, feeling favored or lowly – in Christ, we are protected. We are as well sheltered and protected as Luther was by Prince Frederick, for the promise of our Savior has been announced, and we are the favored ones.
He will be born, like one of us – lowly, in a humble manger. But favored as God’s Son, to bring us peace and salvation.