Year C, Advent 4
It’s that time of year when we start talking about Mary. It’s pretty much the only time we talk about Mary, which always bugs me a little. There is a lot more to Mary than the nativity story. There is more to her than a blue robe and a beatific smile.
Throughout my life I have had an on again off again relationship with Mary. Being that the Roman Catholic Church was a rather male dominated denomination, I often found myself talking to Mary-just so I could talk to a woman. I felt like she could understand me better. As I started questioning my place in the Catholic Church, Mary was hurled at me as an example of the perfect female; submissive, obedient and sinless. I began to resent her and saw her as another impossible ideal that I could never live up to.
A couple of years ago, I had another change of heart about Mary. For the first time I read the Magnificat as a powerful manifesto of sorts. She talked about bringing down the powerful and sending the rich away empty. It seemed like a rebel cry, a cry of a woman who had been one of the lowly, the poor, the ostracized. For the first time, I saw the feistiness of Mary and I once again found myself identifying with her. This time I tried to look at the whole picture of Mary. It turns out that the whole picture is not so very whole. Very little is said about Mary in the Bible. The Gospel of Mark does not even mention her by name. Paul (who wrote one third of the New Testament) only refers to her once and she was not named.
What we know about Mary comes from the 3 Gospels that mention her as well as The Book of Acts. This is what those sources tell us: She was engaged to a man named Joseph and lived in Nazareth where she was visited by an angel and agreed to bear the Son of God. She visited her cousin Elizabeth who also had conceived miraculously. She was a Virgin and gave birth to Jesus. She was Jewish and followed the purity rites by having Jesus circumcised on the 8thday. She worried when she lost him for several days while in Jerusalem. She asked him to perform his first miracle. She was at his crucifixion. She was with the disciples after his crucifixion. There are a lot of things we can infer from that information, but as far as facts, that is all we have.
Yet sometimes it is the small things that allow us to really know a person. We don’t need to know the life story of someone to feel that we know them. In my quest to know Mary this time around, I became fixed on two verses. The first comes from what we heard today. “My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” I kept wondering what it means to have your soul magnify the Lord. Magnify essentially means to declare something great, to exalt. It would seem that she did not need words to magnify the Lord, her soul, her very being magnified the Lord. If that was all I knew about someone, that would probably be enough. I started wondering what it would take to have your soul magnify the Lord. Would it require constant prayer…a sinless life? It seems like a long shot.
As I read on in the Gospel of Luke, I came across what is commonly referred to as the Song of Simeon. When Mary took Jesus to be circumcised at the temple, she encountered two very devout individuals. The first was Simeon who immediately recognized this 8 day old infant as the Son of God. He then proclaimed to Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed and a sword will pierce your own soul too.” Simeon was essentially telling Mary that her child would be rejected and it would be so painful it would pierce her soul. Her soul….her soul that magnifies the Lord was destined to be pierced.
It was. When they pierced her son’s side at his crucifixion, there is no doubt that her soul was pierced at the same time. Yet her soul, her soul that exalted the Lord by its very existence was scarred but not broken. I suspect that all along, her soul was preparing for that moment, that moment that caused stronger men to run and hide found Mary, and her radiant soul at the foot of the cross watching her son die.
I wish my soul magnified the Lord. There are moments when it does, and it is then when I feel most whole, like you could pierce so many holes, and I would still be standing. The Lord wants to be worshipped. God talks about it all the time in the Bible. It almost seems a little needy. If God is so great, why does he need little old humans to worship him?
I believe that we worship God not only to please God, but to strengthen our own soul. In worshipping God, we create and maintain a relationship with him. God wants to be worshipped so that we can know him and he can know us. When our soul magnifies the Lord, it means that we are in relationship with God and that relationship gives us strength.
That is what people like Mary teach us, how to be humans in relationship with God. Sometimes things will fall into place. We will know exactly what God wants and like Mary, we will have Elizabeths in our life who can affirm what we are feeling. Sometimes, our relationship with God will look a bit like an impressionist painting, kind of blurry, but beautiful. And sometimes, there will be pain and confusion. We will wonder why there is so much pain in a relationship with a being as perfect as God. Mary experienced all of this. She prayed and questioned. She leaned on people when she needed to. And sometimes she was alone in her faith and fear. Yet in the end, she was the mother of God, and nothing could change that. You might think, yeah, but I am not the mother or father of God. You are right. We are children of God. And no matter where we are or what we do, nothing can change that. Our souls can be pierced, but they will not be broken.