Expressions of Christmas: Mary – Rev. James Kjorlaug

Expressions of Christmas: Mary
December 13, 2015
Rev. James Kjorlaug
Luke 1:46–55

“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 forever.’”

To consider joy in this advent season seems an interesting endeavor. The sudden and interruptive cry of Mary’s song, her magnificat, in my mind seems compellingly as unexpected as the moments when I hear Krista react to the unexpected roll of our child in her body. Better yet, the sudden shocked surprise of him stretching a limb and pushing against her ribs or her side causing for her moments of pain or discomfort. Just before this passage of scripture, as Elizabeth hears Mary greet her, the unborn John the Baptist is described as leaping in her womb. There are in all of these moments, even the ones in my own home, an unexpected amount of interruption. Having asked more than a dozen times in one day if Krista was okay after hearing her jump at the movement of Henry inside of her, I feel as though I can safely say that it is interruption filled with concern and joy. 

Mary’s interjection simultaneously interrupts and outlines the Gospel story at the same time. The story of the incarnation, of the embodiment of God’s love, has been put on pause in this passage of Scripture. Mary rightfully interjects into the story of God’s redemptive work crying out with joy and wonder at what God has done in this act. With prophetic precision Mary declares not only the greatness of God but of the wonder that God has worked through life. She proclaims with all the audacity we can imagine that her child’s expected arrival means that God has already inverted what we know about power. Her child’s expected arrival means that God has already inverted what we have presumptuously assumed what God deems significant and of worth. Her child’s expected arrival means that the broken and tattered relationship between God and humanity has been redeemed. Her proclamation declares with simplicity and beauty the redemptive work of God in the Gospel.

This song of praise and these prophetic words come to Mary, who now, with Joseph, is bound to a life of scandal. They share a story that seems absolutely unbelievable and for so many is scandalous at its core. As if the scandal of Joseph continuing through with the marriage was not enough, Mary’s words proclaim the wonder of what God works as those around her must question her character and sanity. The expectation is there. If Mary makes these unfathomable claims then she must certainly be a mad young woman and she could without a doubt pass that madness on her son. It is the painful reality of judgment and expectation, and God has interrupted what Mary and Joseph had expected to be their lives. God has called out to them and offered them lives of incredible difficulty amidst the unshakeable questioning eyes of culture and both of them have offered their yes.

We have spoken already of Joseph’s yes but what of Mary’s? Mary’s yes to God means her co-laboring with God on the incredible task of the incarnation. Jesus is woven together in her body, sustained by her life, and brought up in the vast wonder of her faith. In Mary’s body, in her faith, the incarnation begins to literally take shape. Bone and flesh form and “the son of God will be born of Mary, never pretending, always now and forever Mary’s baby, Mary’s child.” She proclaims the revolutionary reality has already happened because she knows the embodiment of God’s love before anyone else. Before anyone, she has felt the hiccups of Jesus. She has known her child, the incarnate word of God before the rest of the world has even heard his cries.

The realities of her societal and cultural context would tell us that Mary of all people should be rejected. The reality of her value as human standards would have it should be negligible at best because she, she is an outlier. She is from the oppressed and marginalized. This scandal of her tangible life with God, her co-laboring with God, is by the human understanding around her ridiculous. She is not high enough in social status, rich enough, royal enough, holy enough—no, Mary is none of these by the expectations of those around her. Yet, in the midst of this moment, Mary is overwhelmed by joy because she knows that God has once again stood beside those whom society would toss aside. That in the incarnation God has entered into scandalous space claiming all the broken, petty, and agonized parts of humanity. Mary sings for joy and is filled with joy because the site of her expected rejection is so beautifully the site of God’s redemption of not only her but of all people. Mary sings for joy because with each movement in her womb she testifies to the full humanity of God that will know our joy, happiness, sorrow, and pain.

Mary’s words interrupt the Gospel and they should interrupt us. They come to us in the midst of this holiday season that pulls us in so very many different directions. They call us to slow down and pay attention to the story that many of us have heard over and over again. They interrupt us so that we do not miss the wonder of what God has done and the depth of God’s love for us that is made flesh in Christ. 

It is an interruption that can be disquieting for us as it is joyful. Mary’s words carry the reminder for us that whatever the circumstances of our lives may be that God has interrupted and turned upside down the human understanding of power. That God cares deeply for those who have been pushed aside or suffered. Most of all it reminds us that God’s reality, God’s love and care and redemption is not framed by the petty, greedy, power hungry motives that so often fill our world. Rather, God reaches out with unimaginable love for those who are lost and forgotten. That God is bound in the most wonderful way to the marginalized and the oppressed.

This morning, in this season, and preaching on this passage there is no closing prayer I can offer. Mary’s words have already said it. So instead there is an invitation to be interrupted. It is an invitation to take a few deep breaths, to find a centered place, and as Mary’s words are read once more listen to them closely. Let the words soak to the depths of your soul and ponder where God is calling you to be interrupted.