Sermon by Rev. Todd Weir
December 18, 2016
Scripture: Matthew 1:18-25
When you think of Mary the Mother of Jesus, what is the first word that comes to your mind. I’ll bet that many of you the word was “virgin.” Seldom do we say just Mary. More likely we say, the Virgen Mary or the Blessed Virgen or just the BVM for short. For some Christians, the perpetual virginity of Mary is an essential article of faith, proving that Christ is truly the Son of God. For others, it sounds absurd and archaic, or even a patriarchal plot to keep women subservient.
As the Episcopal preacher Barbara Brown Taylor puts it, all this talk about the Virgin Birth limits our understanding of Mary role and importance. Taylor says,
“Mary is the perpetual virgin. How absurd. The Holy Spirit enters Mary, apparently through her ear, Jesus is born without any screams of agony, utters not a cry, wails not a tear. Mary’s anatomy is not altered in the slightest by giving birth, she stays a size 3. And her marriage to Joseph remains chaste. These assertions do not bring much honor to the labor of mothers and wives, nor does it make Christianity any easier for the 21st century seeker to believe. We confuse science with truth. By focusing on the biological miracle, we ignore the bigger miracle. The Spirit of the living God came and lived among us, shared the struggles of human life and showed us God’s great love for all people and the way to true and eternal life. That’s the miracle. It’s the miracle of God’s incarnation into the real world, not Mary’s exit from reality.
I’d like to propose a different role for Mary, for the storyline in Luke’s Gospel castes her in the classic tradition as a prophet. Patterns are key to understanding the Bible and the pattern we have here is the same as the calling of a prophet. First, there is the Word of the Lord the calls her at an unexpected time and place. She is startled, just as Moses was at the burning bush. She is then told her vocation of giving birth to the messiah. She asks a question, which every prophet always asks one question to understand their role. “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” She receives an answer, and finally adopts God’s vision as her own, saying, “Here I am, the servant of the Lord. Let it be with me according to your word.” This is basic pattern is the same as God’s calls to Abraham, Moses, Samuel, Isaiah and many other great prophets. Then following this passage, chapter one of Luke shares with us the Magnificat, a prophetic utterance of Mary.
“God has shown the strength in his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly. He has filled the poor with good things, and sent the rich away empty.” This is a masterful piece of prophecy; in fact, it has been set to more music than any other portion of scripture. Mary can truly be called a prophet and has more to offer God and the world than her womb.
Why important? What does Mary call us to do? Not docile following God and raising families, but boldly seeking to change the world. Some in raising families and some in other places. Meister Eckhart, a medieval mystic and theologian, wrote:
“We are all meant to be mothers of God. What good is it to me if this eternal birth of the divine Son takes place unceasingly but does not take place within myself. And, what good is it to me if Mary is full of grace and if I am not also full of grace? What good is it to me for the Creator to give birth to his Son if I do not also give birth to him in my time and my culture? This, then is the fullness of time: When the Son of God is begotten in us. (Meditation with Meister Eckhart, Matthew Fox, pp.74, 81.)
Greetings favored one! The Lord is with you. Be not afraid, for you have found favor with God.