Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Mary's Song of Praise

First, let me say I caught up in my reading today!  However, it's Advent, so I feel like posting something related to Advent.  I'm new to Advent, growing up in a religious tribe that didn't celebrate it.  Now, as a minister in a Disciples of Christ congregation, I'm free to discover and experience a richness of Christian tradition that has been sorely lacking.

This Sunday we're lighting the third Advent candle during our service, the candle of Joy.  To go along with this, my sermon will be a reflection on the Magnificat, or Mary's Song, from Luke one.  The heading before Mary's Song in the New Revised Standard Version is "Mary's Song of Praise," but I think her song fits very well with the theme of joy.

And Mary said,
"My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the
lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations
will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great
things for me,
and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants
-Luke 1:46-55

What strikes me as powerful about Mary's Song is not just what is said, but who is saying it.  The Talmud has a very different take on Mary and her pregnancy.  According to the Talmud, Miriam (Mary) was betrothed to a carpenter (sounds familiar so far).  However, before the marriage was official, Miriam was either raped or voluntarily slept with a Greek or Roman soldier named Pandeira.  This obviously implies that there was nothing miraculous about the birth of Jesus, and Mary was nothing but an adulterer.  Celsus, living during the second century, repeats this rumor.

"Jesus had come from a village in Judea, and was the son of a poor Jewess who gained her living by the work of her own hands.  His mother had been turned out of doors by her husband, who was a carpenter by trade, on being convicted of adultery with a soldier named Panthera.  Being thus driven away by her husband, and wandering about in disgrace, she gave birth to Jesus, a bastard."
Rumors start somewhere, and I have a feeling Mary heard the originals.  It is easy to only hear the stories of the Bible and forget that other stories must have been going around, creating environments that would never be described as "joyful" for those on the receiving end of them.  We know exactly how teen pregnancies are treated in pious communities.  Had Joseph divorced her, his decision would only have been a reflection of the whole community's actions.  Sidelong looks, hushed voices with furtive glances, frowns and snickers, this was the future for Mary in Nazareth.  I personally wonder if that's why the Magi found Joseph and Mary still in Bethlehem some time after Jesus's birth...better outsiders in Bethlehem than cast out insiders in Nazareth.

But we don't see any of that in Mary's Song, because Advent is about Jesus's coming, and that is a reason for joy.  That is a season for celebration.  With the coming of God's son, God fills the hungry with good things; he scatters the proud; the powerful are brought down from their thrones, and the lowly, like Mary, are lifted up.  Outside of Advent, Mary is just another frightened girl with a derailed future, but because of Advent, because of Jesus's coming, Mary's lowliness is filled with joy.  The adversity and mocking she must have faced was turned into a cause for festivity.  Because of Advent, Mary sings.

I've rambled long enough.  I'll wrap things up there.  Advent...he is coming.  He came.  He will come again.  Praise God.

Stopping point: II Corinthians 13

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