Dec20SunDecember 20, 2020
Fourth Sunday of Advent
Scripture Meditation on Mary's Song of Praise (https://youtu.be/oAq-c6nrcYY)
Mary of the Gospel
Today we hear both the Annunciation and the Magnificat, strangely in reverse order.
The annunciation story - does just that - it announces that Mary will have a baby. In the Magnificat, which we call Mary’s Song of Praise, Mary tells the story of god’s goodness in her life and the lives of others so that the generations to come may be blessed in hearing about God’s faithfulness not only in her life but in those around her.
It starts with Mary praising the Lord. She acknowledges her lowly position but that God has shown her favour. In her weakness, God’s strength shines through and God makes her spirit rejoice because of this. The scriptures tell of how Mary did not keep God’s blessings to herself but that she shared it willingly for the benefit of future generations.
Next, it’s as if Mary decided that you can only look inward for so long. Now Mary looks outward and her song of praise looks at God’s handiwork with others throughout history, showing faithfulness from generation to generation. Seeing God at work in others is also a blessing for Mary of which she sings. There is no jealousy but gratefulness, awe and wonder. Again, God has blessed the lowly, by showing mercy, filling the hungry, scattering the proud, casting down the mighty, and lifting up the lowly. God helps the people and remembers the promises made to their ancestors, promise that are their’s as well.
In the readings on this the Fourth Sunday of Advent, Mary is empowered with of greater agency in her life. And you know, when one is empowered so are those around. There is a ripple effect. When the lowly are lifted out of their lowliness, the entire community is strengthened. When the poor are fed, clothed, housed, when the outcast is welcomed, and when the sick are made well, wholeness is restored to communities. The kingdom of God comes near. This is perhaps one of the purposes of Mary’s song of Praise.
The relationship between Mary and Jesus is an important part of the God- with-Us faith narrative. While Lutheran’s don’t venerate or worship Mary as being a mediator between Christ and humanity, Luther considered Mary a God bearer, who had received God’s love, favour and blessing.
How is Mary Portrayed in Art? (Watch Visual Reflection Here: https://youtu.be/uywOjFmkvEA)
It’s no surprise that the infant Jesus and mother Mary have been the inspiration of artists world over for years. One of my favourite ‘galleries’ was at the Church of the Annunciation where an outdoor courtyard was host to mosaic pictures of mother and child, created by artists from around the world. If I were to go back to the Holy Land, this is a place I would re-visit for certain. Even now, I enjoy looking at the photos of the contextual interpretations. This is why I’ve made a video reflection with some of photos that were taken by my mom and me when visiting Nazareth back in 2013. It was sent in our weekly email and is posted on Youtube.
While there is nothing outrageous in these pictures, there is a nuanced contextual variety, of lovely and varying skin colours, traditional clothing and even body shapes. It’s interesting to look at the eyes and hands of Jesus as well as how the child is cradled by mother.
Looking at these mosaic art works we see a mother who loves her child. At times her eyes smile, while others pictures portray concerned or even sad eyes to depict a woman who knew that mothering Jesus - the son of God - would be filled with complexity.
Jesus sits in the forefront with Mary supporting him from behind. Sometimes his eyes gaze outward or at Mary. His hands cupped in front of him with palms up and outstretched, others have baby Jesus with both hands raised and blessing, another has one hand on his mother’s arm with the other arm raised to bless, while another has Jesus grasping his mother’s collar with one hand and blessing with the other.
Jesus is cradled in a variety of ways: on her lap, in her arms, with his head on her shoulder, and where they are cheek to cheek. It shows an affectionate relationship between mother and child. Yes, in these images we see the infant Jesus was both human and divine.
Some images of Mary and Jesus are communal and empowered. It’s no surprise that Jesus gathers people. We see a a strong woman with her son gathering people of all ages around. Children and adults are bringing gifts of bread and flowers, singing, and praying as they gather together. Some pictures are with regal clothing fit for a king and some are with more ordinary clothing.
When I look at the image of American Mary she is without Jesus. Her hands are outstretched and open. It makes me think of how far behind America is in offering paid parental leave -which is an indicator of childhood health. Out of 41 countries, the US offers nothing at a national level. Canada is somewhere in the middle with one year of paid leave and Estonia is at the top offering 86 weeks of paid leave. Although, this in not the intent of the art piece, for me it’s what comes to mind. Mary is fiery and maybe even rage rilled with the lack of helpful policy to support families.
Art is one expression and interpretation of meaningful events such as the relationship between Jesus and Mary. So often, the image of Mary is meek and mild, passive, and even soft spoken. While I have appreciated these characterizations of Mary over the years we also need to consider a more empowered Mary.
One of my favourite bloggers who writes on the topic of intergenerational worship suggests:
“The challenge with children is to help them see Mary less as a passive, gentle, agreeable person and more as a prophet who saw God at work in her world and was willing to take big risks to be part of the action. The story and the Magnificat insist that she was a strong, brave, active young woman who was aware of the realities of her world. That’s a good role model for today’s children, especially today’s girls.” 1
This certainly isn’t just a challenge with children, I suspect. Even I need to remind myself of this other very healthy way of viewing Mary. And I love this a lot. It not only empowers girls, but it also empowers boys and young men as well to live outside the the box of gender stereotypes. Living within the margins of stereotypes is often not helpful. For example, for years men were told not to express feelings but men have feelings too and it’s good for men to share said feelings. Also, Dad’s aren’t babysitting their children but co-parenting their children and they are doing a mighty fine job. There children’s lives are enriched because of this hands on participation. Girls and boys, men and women are both competitive and assertive people. It’s not unusual for girls to be called bossy or worse when they are assertive instead of good leaders. Too often we fit baby boys into the all blue category and and baby girls into the all pink category.
In raising up strong young justice loving, compassionate, respectful people, the world is made a little more whole. Strong girls are friends with strong boys, not threats. Strong women and men do good work together to offer blessing from generation to generation, for the sake of the world.
From Generation to Generation
God mercy is know from generation to generation. Mary sings in her song of praise, Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed. Yes, from generation to generation we are blessed.
It’s like the times we are blessed by the faithful witness of those around us, at church and in our extended families. The grandparent, aunt or uncle who sits you on their lap for a bible story or gathers you around the piano for a song. Or the parent who even though exhausted and unable to answer all of the faith wonderings, sits together in curiosity with their wonder-filled child. The person at church who draws you into community, encouraging you to get involved by drawing out your gifts. Or the teacher or pastor who opens up scriptures in a new life giving way for interpretation. Or the little child’s honest comment that resounds with profound truth. Mary sang her song of praise so that future generations may be blessed by her witness. And we are. Mary sings a song of praise as an example. So that we also might be a blessing to future generations.
Here’s a little homework with two questions to ponder (2):
What do you hope generations to come will see about God’s mercy when they look back on your life and this community?
What stories are you telling people younger than you about God’s goodness?
For these are very good stories to tell and pass on.
We have been gifted with Mary’s story so that we might gift others with a living story of how God’s faithfulness takes root in our lives.
It is through our weakness, that God’s strength is made know and God makes us strong so that we are a blessing from generation to generation.
1. Brown, Carolyn.Worshiping with Children Blog. http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com
2. Adapted questions from Sunday & Seasons.