Loving God, may we who have been redeemed by your Son, Jesus Christ, share with her the glory of your eternal kingdom.
As some of you may know, my background in the Church is as a life-long Anglican. The church where I spent my formative years (from six months old to three weeks before going to seminary) was a high church Anglican parish in the UK. We had statures, incense, banners and many candles, as well as a so-called Lady Chapel. This is a side chapel from the main altar set aside for midweek and other smaller services. A Lady Chapel is dedicated to Mary, the mother of our Lord, whom we remember and celebrate today.
For most of us, our mothers play, or played, a vital and key aspect in our growing up and development. By nature, they spend most time with us when we are born and in our early years. Most of us, and I include myself, have much to thank our mothers for, in how our lives developed.
Jesus was no different. Mary was a vital part of his growth and development and was also an influence on his ministry. Who can forget the time there was a family wedding in Cana and Mary suggested Jesus needed to do something when the wine ran out. Some would say that Jesus was nudged into starting his active ministry on this occasion, at his mother’s prompting.
It is very easy to suggest (says Sarras) that Jesus’s message was about sin, forgiveness and newness of life. We often suggest the disciples (including Peter) were disappointed that Jesus as Messiah did not come to end the Roman occupation of Palestine, as many Jews hoped and dreamed about. However, although Jesus was concerned for the spiritual well-being of the people with whom he came into contact, there is no evidence to suggest he did not also care about the suffering under which his nation was ruled by Rome.
There is little doubt that as a people the Jews understood Jesus to be their salvation as far as the ending of the occupation of Roman rule was concerned. In today’s gospel passage Mary speaks to her sister Elizabeth in response to the news that both she and Elizabeth are to bear children. It is a hymn of praise and thanksgiving; from the Latin, we call it the Magnificat.
The middle section of this hymn leaves us in little doubt that Mary and others looked for the end of oppression:
[God] has shown strength with his arm; [God] has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. [God] has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; [God] has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. Jesus is seen as God fulfilling the promise to redeem the people from Roman rule, not only for the Jews, but for all those suffering the under of oppression of Rome throughout the region.
Mary is now part of that salvation, by carrying Jesus (the Saviour) in her womb. By her actions (in being the means of life for the child Jesus) and by trusting in God’s salvation, Mary plays her role in standing up for her people against those who occupy their land.
In these words spoken by Mary, we understand that God acts on behalf of all oppressed people everywhere, in opposition to the proud and powerful. Accordingly, the Magnificat speaks to those oppressed for their race, their sexuality or gender, for their faith. For those who are poor in all and every situation today as in any era over the last 2000 years. God rules through Jesus, with peace and justice, gently, rather than through violence or power.
When we look around us we see people in need in our community and in our province, across our country and throughout the world. Like Mary before us, God calls us to be with those who are oppressed and to stand with them against all that undermines and threatens their life and well-being.
Many of our community at Epiphany know about oppression first hand, especially those who came from Iraq and elsewhere to make their home in Surrey. We all know people who are discriminated against (from our church community) because of the colour of their skin, or the language they speak, or because of their gender.
Like Jesus we are called to speak up for the oppressed and support those in need, by our love, our concern, as well as words and actions.
More directly, how does what Mary did, inspire us to act boldly also. Brother James of the SSJE community says this:
We remember Mary today because, in so doing, we remember our true vocation: to bear and carry and give birth to the One who is Bread, Word and Redeemer. It was Mary’s vocation to bear God for the world. And every time you say "yes" to God, this becomes your vocation as well: to bear, carry and give birth to Bread, Word and Redeemer.
Let us, like Mary, say yes to God, so that we too may bear, carry and give birth to Christ, as Bread, Word and Redeemer.