Todays readings for the 4th Sunday in Advent 2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16 Song of Mary Romans 16:25-27 Luke 1:26-38
Transcript of the Sermon given by Reverend Roberta Hamilton.
How well do you remember the women’s movement of the 1970s? I was a teenager and it was a very important part of my growing up, and part of my rebellion just as it was for so many women at different ages. Women rebelled against being the unseen partners, the hidden actors, the ones taken for granted. And the slogan, among several that has stayed with me and has formed me as a person, and that is perhaps the greatest gift of the whole movement for both men and women, is that “The Personal is Political”.
Mary was born into a world where a young and unmarried female was valued only for her potential in making a good alliance for her family. She was valued for her potential childbearing, and to be barren was the worst thing that could happen to a woman, and of course she was valued for the work that she would do, within the walls of her home. The thing that she was not expected to do was to have encounters with very important beings like angels, and certainly not expected to have contact with God that was not mediated through her husband. There is a tradition that Mary was a young woman who illicitly studied the Torah, which was man’s work, and if true points to a girl who wanted to know God. Whether that tradition is true doesn’t really matter, of course, for whatever reason she was chosen by God for the job of bringing Jesus into the world.
In the reading that we had from 2 Samuel, we have evidence of the covenant between God and God’s people. The great promise is for a “house” that is a dynasty, that will be built and the throne established for ever. That is the promise in which Mary takes a vital role in agreeing to be the THEOTOKOS or God-bearer.
So in Mary’s case the personal, the one little baby that she carries in her body, and it doesn’t get much more personal than that, becomes for the whole world the catalyst for change. Jesus is the most influential political figure in the whole history of human kind, because his ideas about the value of every single human life, and of loving your neighbour as yourself, have gradually spread all around the world and influenced the major powers of Europe, the British Empire and the United States. It could be said that we humans follow Jesus’ ideas very imperfectly, and seemingly, increasingly imperfectly, but never the less the figure that got himself crucified because of his politics has continued to have a huge impact. The personal is political for Jesus. And God’s covenant with humanity goes on. We are all part of that covenant of love into which God has entered.
God is faithful to God’s side of the relationship and Mary is faithful to hers. She describes herself as ‘lowly’, she is female, she is young, she is inexperienced and unimportant and yet she recognises that God wants her and needs her for God’s purposes. Mary moves from “How can this be?’ to “Let it be!” In her being, which is very humble- through her agency- God makes something political happen. And Mary herself recognises that. Her song moves from a recognition of her own small person into the great political deeds that God is doing.
God cares for Mary and God regards Mary, and indeed God uses Mary regardless of how humble she is, indeed perhaps because of her humility. We tend to think that we need to be important, clever, talented or special to be used by God, but we are all of equal value in God’s eyes. As I said last week, just like Mary, we are all loved by God, and indeed, all liked by God.
Mary’s song moves from the personal to the global. It can be a shift that is difficult to make, but one that is important for us to understand because it affects how we think about things. The global, the big scale, is just made up of lots of small elements, like a long beach which is made up of billions of small grains of sand. Each person who is affected by the big decisions of the politicians, is an individual with the same dreams, fears and hopes that we have. Lottie Moore who has been staying with me graduated from her Kindergarten the other day and she was given a photo, which was a great big glossy that had every single child pictured on it, in many individual little photos. She was also given a magnifying glass so that she could look at each person, individually and separate them one from another. And that is what God is like. God is the magnifying glass that enables each one of us to be seen and known and loved.
For us as human individuals it is easy to be overcome with fear, particularly when we are confronted by important things. When we see huge issues on the global stage we can feel very small, but just as the angel says to Mary we must not be afraid. It is easy to be fearful of taking our place in the world. Mary probably was as well, and yet she said ‘yes’ to God and thereby changed the whole of history. We are often afraid of being overlooked, and it is a horrible feeling when we are passed over and someone else is found for a job or a relationship. God wants each of us, just as he wanted Mary, to be in relationship with God, and to do the work that God gives each of us to do. Do not be afraid of insignificance because God values you.
Sometimes the form that our fear takes is the fear of our own inadequacy, ‘how can this be,’ Mary asks, ‘since I am a young girl?’ She has no experience to fall back on and she doesn’t think she is ready but God uses her just as she is. I think that fear of inadequacy is one of the things that holds many of us back. Another potential inhibitor is a fear of lack of recognition when we have done things. Mary, however, knows that she will be remembered as blessed by all generations. For most of us, it is true that our earthly recognition dies with us, but God knows us and knows all that we have done.
The final fear that I want to think about today is the fear of not being loved, of not being accepted, or of being rejected. This fear inhibits us from making relationships, from speaking the gospel and of living our lives to the full. And yet, Mary knows that it is God who has filled the hungry with good things. And if our hunger is for love that is just as important as our physical hunger, indeed more important because that is the most fundamental hunger of all, the hunger to be in relationship, to be loved and to love. This is what the Trinity is all about, relationship. God in God’s incarnation, in taking on flesh has committed God’s-self to seeing us and knowing us. We are held in God’s gaze, in the gaze of love. ‘How can this be?’ we ask with Mary. The God of the covenant, the God since before everything began has promised us that we are all valuable, and that we are all part of God’s plan for the world, for each other.
We have to be like Mary and embrace that to which God is calling us. Part of that embrace is in loving ourselves as God loves us, unconditionally. The next step is that we see the vast billions of humanity as individuals beloved of God, and therefore individuals worthy of our attention. When we can love our neighbours as ourselves we will begin to take our place in God’s amazing dance. We will be like Mary and see the personal as political, and the political as personal and we will embrace our part in the dance. “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”