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Hail Mary(?): Sunday, December 24, 2023 (8:00 AM)

The Fourth Sunday of Advent:
2 Sam 7:1-11, 16
The Magnificat
Romans 16:25-27
Luke 1:26-38

One of my early pandemic projects was a video (on our YouTube channel) about Mary, and the role she plays (or doesn’t play) in the lives of some Anglican friends (and also some Roman Catholic friends). Archbishop Linda Nicholls, Primate of our national Church started things off by saying — and I think many will relate — that Mary was brought out and dusted off for Advent and Christmas, and then tucked back away for the rest of the year. But then she related a story of being on retreat and following a particular spiritual practice that I believe involved dialoguing with a Biblical character, and — having committed to really seeing this retreat through on its own terms — she was confronted with the Mary, and the necessity of giving her a more active role. And, while I wish I could remember how the rest of the conversation went, I don’t… and so I’ll simply commend the video to you, again, available on our St. Andrew’s YouTube channel.

Back in the 1500s, right in the heart of the English Reformation the Church eliminated a number of observances on the calendar related to Mary. But just a few short years later on — still in a pretty reform-minded time — they ended up adding back in a bunch of those feast days. I think there was one holdout that ended up getting added back in in the 20th century. It says something about that dynamic push-and-pull. That wariness or uncertainty, balanced by a captivation that we might not always be able to articulate.

Today we come to one of the most vivid scriptural passages related to Mary: her encounter with the angel, and her resulting song, the Magnificat. (The Magnificat being a prominent part of the Anglican evensong liturgy going back to those early Reformation days, we might also note.)

In (what I find to be a quite attractive) joint document by Anglican and Roman Catholic figures [Mary: Grace and Hope in Christ], published just 20 years ago, it’s noted that

her obedience and acceptance of God’s will has sometimes been used to encourage passivity and impose servitude on women, [but] it is rightly seen as a radical commitment to God who has mercy on his servant, lifts up the lowly and brings down the mighty. Issues of justice for women and the empowerment of the oppressed have arisen from daily reflection on Mary’s remarkable song. Inspired by her words, communities of women and men in various cultures have committed themselves to work with the poor and the excluded.*

And the document goes on to speak of Mary as a model for Christians, and as a prophetic figure of the Church. Which means, in one way, that she acts and speaks in line with the great prophets who declared and called for God’s justice, but also that she is prophetic in that she is a sort of precursor for us. The grace that she experienced — which is to say, the depth with which God reached into her life — is the depth of connection with God for which we are all destined. What, for us, is our hope in the future and coming Kingdom, was for Mary a present reality. And similarly, different Christian traditions speak (in sometimes slightly different ways) of Mary being received into God’s glory. Well, for us, we see in that a glimpse into the fulness of God’s presence that will one day be a reality for us.

There is much more that could be said, both on her song and on this joint document I’ve referenced. But the key thing for us at this stage in the Advent season is to see how this part of the story — and the characters, most specially Mary — are integral to the story of Christmas that we’re so eager to get to (in a few short hours). In that video project I mentioned, my main learning was that the people who identified in whatever close way with Mary were people who valued story. There was no chasm between the story of Jesus and the story of Mary. And they saw how Mary, as a character and as a three-dimensional person: her story — her whole range of experiences (touched upon, but not exhausted by scripture) — might help us make sense of our own stories. Life stories containing hope, risk, vulnerability, a sense of purpose, sometimes a sense of confusion, and both joy and grief.

God entered the world not by way of doctrine, like a dry mathematical formula. But by way of story. And Mary might be someone who helps us connect our story to the story of Jesus, which is to say: the story of salvation.

© 2023 The Rev’d Matthew Kieswetter