In nomine Jesu!
From this day all generations will call me blessed.
In the middle of her song of praise, Mary pauses to offer a prediction. A prediction that for generations to come people would talk about her. She had no idea.
For about as long as the church has gathered for worship, we have argued about Mary. In the second century, we argued about whether Mary was actually pregnant or whether, in the words of one Gnostic writer, Jesus "passed through Mary as water runs through a tube." Five hundred years ago, we debated whether we pray with Mary or to Mary. And in our own lifetimes, we've disputed whether Mary ascended into heaven or not. Our condition is best captured in the remark of a famous Catholic theologian who, when asked at Vatican II what the biblical evidence for the assumption of Mary was, supposedly replied, "We haven't found it yet."
Thankfully, we've moved towards some consensus and mutual understanding over those disagreements. But the fact remains that far too
often we have treated Mary as an idea to be considered or as a problem to be solved rather than what she is. Which is a woman who should be listened to.
Which is really too bad. It's too bad because it has often driven us further apart as a church. It's too bad because it has muted one of the already too scarce female voices in the New Testament. But most of all, it's too bad because it has kept us from hearing what Mary can tell us about how grace comes into and shapes our lives.
Today's gospel comes from the gospel of Luke. Luke is unique among the four gospels because it comes to us as part one of a two part series. It's as if Luke got to the end of his gospel and then realized he had more to say. He had more to say because he realized that it was impossible to convey the good news of Jesus Christ without saying something about the Holy Spirit and about how the Spirit filled the life of the early church.
And if you read through the gospel of Luke and Luke's Acts of the Apostles, you'll start to notice a pattern. That when the Holy Spirit shows up, people start talking. When an angel shows up to
tell Mary that the Spirit of the Lord will come upon her, the first thing Mary does is leave Nazareth to find her relative Elizabeth. When the Spirit of God was poured out on the church at Pentecost, the first thing people did was talk. When the Apostle Paul realized that salvation in Christ was for all people, he knew he had to go tell the gentiles. The Spirit has a way of doing that. Of moving people to tell other others what had happened to them. To tell other people what God had done. Of leading people to witness.
It was no different for Mary. Mary, who gave created flesh to the uncreated Word. Mary gave that flesh not only by bearing God but also by her act of witness. By singing God's praises. By making known what God had done. That same Spirit that led Mary, Paul, and the Pentecost church leads us to witness, leads us to put contemporary flesh on God's timeless promise. That promise spoken to Abraham but made to all of us. That promise of hope and redemption. That promise that God would never abandon us. That promise that death would never define us.
That same Spirit leads us to witness. To speaking, embodying, and singing what God has done in Christ Jesus. Putting flesh on the
promises of God so that all might know.
To be sure, Luke's is not a tame view of the Holy Spirit. Luke has no patience for tranquil doves or personal tongues of fire. Were he alive today, Luke probably wouldn't have much patience for our tendency to make the Holy Spirit a mirror that reflects our own desires. No, for Luke, the Spirit of God isn't a mirror but a window. A window into the world that changes our entire perspective. That lets us see what God has done in Christ and transforms our entire sense of who we are.
And in it's in being changed, in seeing the world as God sees it, that the Spirit leads us into the world. It leads us by transforming us into body of Christ for the world not in some abstract sense but to be the body of Christ for the world today. That empowers us not only in the days of King Herod, but in these days. These days of dog-whistle politics and straightforward sexism. These days of rampant individualism and systemic injustice. It's a world like this that the Spirit reveals and draws us into. A world that doesn't need to be saved so much as it needs to be reminded. Reminded of how God has fed the hungry. Looked with favor on the humble. Lifted
up the lowly. And lifted up all of us in Christ Jesus. It's a world that needs to be reminded of what God has done in Christ Jesus. It's a world that needs new flesh put on the promises of God.
That's why witness is always at the heart of our life together. Not just because the world needs our witness. But because witness is what joy looks like in public. If you believe Luke, the Spirit of God is so moving, so transformative, that once you feel it in your life you need to tell someone. You need to find Elizabeth. You need to go to the gentiles. You need to write a second volume. The gospel has a funny way of doing that. Of leading us out. Of leading us out of Nazareth. Out of our churches. Out of our upper rooms. Out into the world. The story of Mary isn't a story about obedience. Or a story about purity. It's a story about joy. A story about how life in the Spirit moves us towards joy that is a witness to others.
Which is harder than it sounds. It's easy to talk about joy, but hard to actually feel it in such a broken world. It's easy to talk about witness, far harder to find the right words to do it. It's easy to talk about being moved by the Spirit, but hard to still feel moved on the Twelfth Sunday after
Which is why we pray every week that God would deepen our common witness. It's what we say in those nine words towards the end of the intercessory prayers. Keep us in communion with Mary Mother of God. Keep us in communion not only in the world to come but the world as it is. Keep us in communion, so that we can join in Mary's communion of witness. Not just that we would be raised with her in death, but that we would raise our voices with her in our song of praise. Led by Mary, the first cantor of the church, we join in the hymn of the new creation. Praising God for new life and hope. And sharing with others what God has done in Jesus Christ. That the promises of God go on forever, from generation to generation.
Led by Mary, our song goes on. How could we keep from singing?
Joseph Schattauer PaillĂ©