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The Star Wars Holiday Special, Mary, and Us: The Fourth Sunday of Advent

Sunday, December 19, 2021:
Luke 1:39-55

Over the last few years, along with Die Hard getting getting added to the official Christmas movie canon, another, somewhat forgotten movie has started to get more attention: The Star Wars Holiday Special. It was the second Star Wars production, preceding The Empire Strikes Back by about a year. And it’s truly terrible; one of the worst things ever put on television. There’s a (perhaps apocryphal) quote from George Lucas: “If I had the time and a sledgehammer, I would track down every copy of that show and smash it.”

One of the problems with it is that the main characters are Wookies, the 8 foot fuzzy monster things, like Chewbacca. They sound like a dog, crossed with a sea lion, crossed with a tyrannosaurus rex. And yet George Lucas, wanting to immerse the audience into this fantasy world, absolutely refused to have their language subtitled. And so there is one scene, bordering on ten minutes, of a family of Wookies in deep conversation. And for ten minutes — without the benefit of Han Solo as translator — we’re watching them howl at each other. Occasionally catching on to what’s going on, but mostly feeling a significant and confusing disconnect between ourselves and what’s on the story playing out in front of us.

What we celebrate — not in Star Wars, but in our observance of Advent and Christmas — is that what once was and should be (we would think) an irreconcilable gulf between God and humanity has been bridged. And the history of the people that had been a part of that story between God and humanity — an amazing, fantastical story of heroism and cosmic drama, that nonetheless reflected, at times, a challenge in communication — it comes to a crescendo in the person of Mary. This ordinary, young woman is “the climax of God’s working within the process of history.”* No wonder, when she sings to her cousin Elizabeth, she shows herself to be as trusting, bold, and as yearning for justice in the world as the great prophets of her people.

She casts a vision for God’s action in the world (“[God] has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly…”), and her famous response (just before we picked up the story) is “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” And so Mary, for us, is an example for us: for her bold vision, her faithfulness. St. Paul, in the early years of the Church, would write to one community: “we are God’s servants, working together [working together with each other; working together with God]; you are God’s field, God’s building.” And Mary exemplifies that co-operation with God. We are all, in our own way and our own context, are called to be God’s building: a place for God to dwell, a “temple of the Holy Spirit.” And so we relate to her. This will include opportunities of saying ‘yes’ to God. But don’t forget that Mary’s story also includes moments of being “perplexed.” Moments of “pondering” what is going on. And later in the story of Jesus, clearly moments of tension, confusion, and struggling with what the adult Jesus is doing. That can be part of the life of faith, too.

And yet, Mary is a partner to, and dwelling for, God, in a way that is unique. The quite remarkable and thoroughgoing view of the Church that we and most present-day churches descended from, against some of what we call heresies of the early centuries of the Church, is that in the Incarnation, God took on nothing less than human nature. The Anglican Thirty-Nine Articles describe it as “the very and eternal God… took [humanity’s] nature in the womb [of Mary], of her substance: so that two whole and perfect Natures [divinity and humanity] were joined together in one Person, never to be divided.” That, at first, might sound a bit tricky or purely academic, but the important point being made here is that God didn’t just beam into a person and drive the body around like a car (and then jettison the body when things went south). No, it was something much more rigorous and intimate: the fullness of God embraced and entered into the fullness of humanity. We’re talking not just about a new person, a new baby; but, through that person, that baby, we find a new humanity, a renewed, restored human nature, with God truly experiencing human life. And that human nature that God took on, and eventually took up into the heart of God, was from Mary. The fruits of the slow process of history that culminated in her saying ‘yes’ to the angel Gabriel’s message. But also the radical breaking in of God at a particular moment, in a miraculous way.

Mary sings her song in the past tense: God “has” shown strength and scattered the proud. God “has” done great things, and lifted up the lowly. God has already come. God is already at work in, and around us. And yet the implications of all this, and the working out of God’s justice in the world, is in some ways, yet to come. It is an ongoing process that is gestating. So in this situation, we, like Mary, are called to partnership with God. To question in our perplexity. To ponder these things. But to ultimately to say ‘yes’ to the God who wants to be born in our lives, and to reshape the world.

© 2021 The Revd’ Matthew Kieswetter