In nomine Jesu!

Mary has something to say. It’s her first and last, her only speech in the Gospel according to Saint Luke, and she wants us to listen. It’s not on behalf of or about her son, she’ll let him speak for himself, thank you very much; and it’s not on behalf of or about herself, although she makes one unfortunate prediction about herself “all generations shall call me blessed,” to which the only possible response is Nancy Lindeberg’s mother Bea’s Minnesotan response, “So how’s that goin’ fer ya?” Mary has something to say today and she wants us to listen. Mary wants us to know what is “the design of God’s great love.”

Mary comes to know God’s design honestly. She’s been living its opposite, what we call “the waste of our wraths and sorrows” for her entire life; her ancestors have been living it for generations, ever since they lived as slaves amidst the Egyptian pyramids. As a point of fact, what she and her ancestors have been living is shaped like a pyramid — a pyramid they helped to build — a pyramid in which everything is top down; with those at the bottom bearing the greatest burdens. Mary and her ancestors have being living at the bottom of “the waste of our
wraths and sorrows” for generations; they are forced to survive on its scraps; and they see no way out; they see no other alternative; they envision nothing better.

Worse than that, they have learned to survive and some have learned to strive in order to thrive, by adopting the rules that “the-waste-of-our-wrath-and-sorrows’” pyramid demands and prescribes. Get to the next level! Elbow away those on the same level with you! Climb! Scramble! Treat those who are beside you and especially those who are above you as obstacles in your way. Play by “the-waste-of-our-wrath-and-sorrows’” rules and maybe, just maybe, if you make it high enough, there’ll be enough to trickle down to those below.

Mary comes to know God’s design honestly. She and her ancestors have been living its opposite, what we call “the waste of our wraths and sorrows” for their entire lives. So are we.

Mary comes to know “the design of God’s great love” honestly.

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a
virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. Gabriel came to her and said, ‘Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.’ But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.’

Mary heard. Mary saw. Mary felt. And Mary has something to say. So Mary sings the design of God’s great love; the upending of the “wrath and sorrow” pyramid; no longer from the top down but from the bottom up; a new model of authority, power and might embody in her child who would take the form and forever be, a servant, the bringer of genuine peace. In Mary’s Song she sings God’s design to “creatively shape life in the city.”

Mary comes to know God’s design honestly. So
do we. When the Word of God is embodied in her, when the power of the Holy Spirit flows in and through her, Mary sees an alternative way of living; Mary experiences a new surge of hope and energy; Mary has something to say and Mary can’t help but sing. Hers is our experience. Not once in some mytho-historic event, but over and over again as Mary’s Son is embodied in us and the Spirit of God moves in a through us to give us a new surge of hope and a new surge of energy so that we have something to say to the world, to each other about the design of God’s great love; so that our lives would take form and forever be as a servant, a bringer of genuine peace. So that led by Mary, Mother of God, we too can always sing!

Pastor Stahler and I share a favorite liturgically-nerdy hobby; we edit Eucharistic prayers. His editing is always more wordy, but ultimately we come to a felicitous phrase that conveys the Good News in a faithful and useful way. The Great Thanksgiving we’ve been praying this Advent is a perfect example you’ll be hearing again today. The prayer begins with a tumble of “blessed are you,” which are succinct and beautifully evocative. The last of these is perfect, connecting the bread and wine on the altar with
the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ. It’s the one before that which has caused the trouble: diminishing Mary. Making her passive. Making her experience useless to us. It used to read this way, “Blessed are you for Mary’s openness to your will.” A little too passive for Jared and me. Sexist, in our opinion, and demeaning to women. Pretty much useless to you. And so now we pray, “Blessed are you for Mary’s response to your Word.”

What we pray about Mary, we are also praying about you and for you, with you and to you — about and for and with and to us. Living as we do amidst the wastes of our wraths and sorrows, we are the blessed. For God comes to us, Christ is embodied in us, the Holy Spirit is surging in us and we know the design of God’s great love. Led by Mary, Mother of God, how can we keep from singing?

Amandus J. Derr
Saint Peter’s Church
In the City of New York