Date: Decmber 16th & 19th
Preacher: Pastor Ashley Rosa-Ruggieri
First Reading: Micah 5:2-5a
Second Reading: Hebrews 10:5-10
Gospel: Luke 31:39-55
The month of December is often full of family traditions. Among these could be events that are celebrated, songs that are sang, recipes that are shared, or activities that are experienced. Each of these traditions that we are a part of have a history to them. The history itself could be short or long, but the end goal is that this tradition might be passed down from generation to generation. This idea of passing something from one ancestor to another so that it might end up in our lives here and now, and in the lives of those who come after us, is also part of our Gospel lesson today. Mary, mother of Jesus, upon hearing of her pregnancy, hurries to visit her cousin Elizabeth, and their interaction causes Mary to become a prophet in her own right, through a song of praises to God and messages of the justice found in the reign of the Lord. A song that has become a tradition itself in our Christian faith, and is used throughout different worship services. This song is as old as the generations of which Mary sings. But, I don't want to start with the song of Mary in this passage, I want to start with the relationship of Mary and Elizabeth.
These two women are cousins, but it is unclear exactly what level of cousin they are. Although they both find themselves miraculously pregnant at the same time, this is where the similarities of their stories might stop. Elizabeth is a woman old in age. Up until recently when the angel appeared to her husband Zechariah, she was thought to be barren. Elizabeth and Zechariah tried for years to have a child, but were not able. So here she is, much past the normal age of childbearing and yet suddenly jubilant at the gift of an unexpected child. Her community celebrates with her at this miracle! On the other hand, Mary is so young. She is barely of marrying age at the time, and as we know, is set to be married soon to Joseph, but is not married yet. And so, Mary finds herself as a young, unwed woman, who also is jubilant at the coming birth of her unexpected child. But unlike the community response to Elizabeth, the response to Mary would be much more reserved and less congratulatory. There could have been rumors, questions, looks of judgment cast upon Mary, while Elizabeth may have been approached with well wishes and praises.
Their situational and age differences also matter when we are considering tradition and generational impact. Elizabeth would have been an elder compared to Mary, and so would have needed to be treated with the proper respect when addressed by her. But, when Mary appears at Elizabeth's home, the baby within Elizabeth, the same baby that will grow up to be John the Baptist and prepare the way of the Lord, signals to Elizabeth that the baby Mary carries is no ordinary one. Elizabeth is so overcome by this realization that she becomes the one to greet Mary with great respect and even some awe. “why is this happening to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me?” Already the cultural roles that would have been in place are upended by the way of the Lord that is beginning to form. Elizabeth forgoes formalities and greets young Mary as a messenger from God. Mary then responds as the very messenger that Elizabeth has greeted her as, and speaks in song.
Mary begins with praises for the Lord and everything that God has done. Even then she recognized that she was part of a story that would last generations, a tradition that lives on through our celebration of Advent and Christmas today. After acknowledging that God has done great things for her and that all following generations will recognize that, she goes even farther and says that the Lord's mercy in general goes from generation to generation. Mary is emphasizing that what is happening at the birth of Jesus, Emmanuel, God with Us, is something that will last much longer than her lifetime. It will become a tradition of sorts. Even only a few months pregnant, she already is calling for the world that we know as the reign of Christ or the kingdom of God, and she calls for it as something that becomes reality for generations to come. Her song continues as she tells what this reign will look like. The proud will be scattered, the powerful taken from their thrones, the lowly lifted up, the hungry are filled, and the rich are turned away empty. These are prophetic words from Mary. Not only because they speak to a different world than they knew at the time and a different world than what we know of now, but also because these are not words that the powerful in society want to hear. It is always important to remember that the words of the prophets were met with anger, confrontation, or worse, and that the words of prophets are never meant to be comforting for the powerful who hear them.
Mary finishes her song by going back into the generations before her, all the way back to our ancestor Abraham. These promises from God have lasted from the generation of Abraham to Mary, and she realizes that she is a part of the same story that will continue on for generations to come, to our own generation today. At the center of today's story, Mary is stating what world she believes can exist for her descendants, for the generations that will come after her and follow in the calling of God just as she was doing in her time. She sang these words in her time as a song of hope and prophecy that would continue on into each generation to come and continue to lead the way into a new creation that God calls us to build together.
This passage is a familiar one for me. I have read it, sang it, or preached about it many times, but in this moment of time in this generation, the questions I am asking myself are: what are we creating now for our descendants? and, How are we heeding the words of Mary spoken so long ago and yet so relevant to the world today? Although I may have my own answers, this is a question that we as a church are called to reflect on, and then we are called to take action. In only a week we will be celebrating the birth of Jesus, Emmanuel, God who came to be with us. And then we know that he will grow up to teach about the same things his mother prophesied about when she was pregnant with him: casting down the powerful, lifting up the lowly, feeding the hungry, and sending the rich away empty. Things that upend societal norms just like Elizabeth did when greeting Mary on that day so long ago. But, we are not at that part of the story yet. For today, we linger and listen to the song of Mary, mother of God and prophet of the Lord, who sings about her hopes for how God's promises will come to be. The same promises given to Abraham, and his descendants, and the same promises that she wishes upon the generations to come. Promises of a world of justice where all people are healthy, whole, safe, and can live in peace. This promise is what we are seeking when we follow the work of the Holy Spirit, a tradition that has lasted through the ages. And this is the tradition that we are being called to carry on this Christmas, and for generations to come. Thanks be to God.