Sermon Advent 4

It is the final Sunday in Advent, and we are only days away from finally being able to celebrate Christmas and the birth of Jesus. So we don’t have long left in our preparation. And as part of our advent preparations today, our attention is pointed towards Mary, the chosen one of God to be the Mother of Our Lord.

Mary has been hugely influential throughout the course of human history and rightly has been inspiration for many artistic expressions. Paintings of her are often re-produced as Christmas cards.

The imagery traditionally used for Mary is one of a woman, dressed in blue and surrounded by saints or angels, deep in prayer, or gazing adoringly on the Christ child in her arms. And she can keep that adoring gaze because as the carol tells us, “The little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes”

The pious mother of God, or the queen of heaven, they are often people’s first thoughts.

And beautiful ones they are. However they are not entity fitting or suitable for the image of Mary in our gospel reading this morning.

Because these images obscure the stark reality of what has and is taking place, and how God has broken into the life of not a devout nun or a saintly queen, but of an unmarried teenage girl from a poor area of town.

Mary’s world upside-down, but, she is not alone.

If you think back to the message from the angel, he ends with the news that Mary’s elderly cousin Elizabeth, who has never been able to have children, and had given up hope long ago, was also pregnant.

So what does Mary do?

She puts on her shawl & travels to the hill country to get a second opinion.

I can’t help thinking whether this visit also had a practical reason, of getting Mary out of the way of the Nazareth gossips and relieving her family of the social stigma associated with their daughter’s mysterious but most embarrassing condition?

Regardless, as soon as the cousins meet- even before Mary can say anything more then “Hello”- Elizabeth greets her with, “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the child in your womb, and why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me?”

So Mary knows that the angel spoke the truth and she breaks into song, her song of joy her Magnificat.

It’s annoying that the gospel appointed for today is only 6 short verses, but I’m sure most of you know the magnificat to some extent. (but for those of you who don’t, it goes…..)

As I said earlier, we are in the final days of our advent preparation, and so part of this should be to move away from the romanticised image we carry and rid ourselves of the myths that have etched their way in over centuries of re-interpretation, so we can see clearly the central message of this encounter for our own lives and to understand that God has always used ordinary people to do extraordinary things.

And this is in part the message that Mary sings about.

She sings about God’s subversion, about how God reverses human plans and designs.

She sings about how God chooses the insignificant instead of the important, chooses the weak instead of the strong, how God lifts up the lowly & puts down the powerful.

When we portray Mary as the perfect heavenly queen, the pious virgin, then it seems only right and fitting that God should break into her world.

She is, after all, a holy saint, very different from you & me.

But to see things this way is to miss the central point of Mary’s Magnificat, and the focal message of the entire Gospel.

Mary sings not about herself but about God who turns everything upside down, -for her, for you & for me.

So the episode that we know as the Visitation says that if God can break into the life of an ordinary peasant teenager from the back of beyond, then he can and will do the same for all lowly, broken, insignificant folk like you and me.

And doesn’t that sum up precisely the mission of this Child whom she was called to bring to birth?

After all he was born in a stable.

He grew up in Nazareth, a back-water far away from the centre of power in Jerusalem.

As an adult he chose as his companions the poor, the destitute, those on the edge and beyond acceptable society,- because they were the ones whose ears were open to his message and whose lives were open to his transforming presence.

Mary sings in praise of God who has a passion for justice, who fills the hungry with good things and sends the rich empty away.

I wonder what we make of Mary’s warning about the God who scatters the proud in the thoughts of our hearts, who sends the rich away empty?

When we understand Mary’s song then perhaps we too may dare to allow Christ’s coming to break into our lives, over-turning our selfish desires and enlisting us, like Mary to be servants of the Lord building his kingdom of justice and peace among his people today.


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Minor Canon Youth Chaplain at St Albans Cathedral. Dog owner, historian, technology geek, pilgrim.

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