Mary didnâ€™t have much to her name. No real property or wealth of her own. No splashy position in society. No way to influence public opinion. Nor was she looking for it. Nor, it seems, was her father. Who betrothed her to a humble carpenter, Joseph of Nazareth. She didnâ€™t have much to her name. And Josephâ€™s wouldnâ€™t give her much of one either.
Imagine what happened to Mary, this young adolescent of all but twelve years, when she learned she would bear a child. And not Josephâ€™s child. Imagine the rumors. The scornful looks. Her fear. She probably didnâ€™t tell her parents. We know she didnâ€™t tell Joseph. God wisely left that to an angel, who shared the news with him, and then implored him to stand with her.
The Bible records one family visitation â€” a surprisingly supportive one â€” to Maryâ€™s cousin Elizabeth, who herself, many years Maryâ€™s senior, was bearing an impossible child, John the Baptizer. Perhaps bearing unexpected children birthed their affinity for one another. So much so that they could rejoice with each other, when others â€” including their long-time or to-be husbands â€” could not.
Elizabeth greets Mary: "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus.â€ť
Elizabethâ€™s was the first greeting of joy Mary had ever received. And likely the last. A few months later, as Mary traveled to Bethlehem with Joseph to register in Emperor Augustusâ€™ census, the Bible tells us there is no room at the inn. The real story is why they have to look for a room at an inn in the first place. Surely some of Josephâ€™s kin lived in Bethlehem and could have housed them. But none would. Not this woman and her child, accompanied by a man who was not the father. Family sequestered her to a stable for shelter and a manger for a bed.
Mary didnâ€™t have much to her name. And the news that she would bear a child didnâ€™t add anything to it. At least nothing good. And you know, when people learned that the child was God, that didnâ€™t go over so well for her either. She stood at the foot of his cross. Not with any friends of her own. But with some of his disciples, the few who had not abandoned him.
And yet Mary sings. From deep within. â€śMy soul magnifies the Lord,â€ť her voice soars. â€śMy spirit rejoices in God my savior,â€ť she declares. She continues, almost defiantly. â€śFor you, Lord have looked with favor on the lowliness of your servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; For you, the Mighty One, has done great things for me, and holy is your name.â€ť
Why sign of Godâ€™s holy name, we wonder. For nothing about this birth brings anything good to her name. Among family, friends, neighbors or so many of Jesusâ€™ own disciples. She may as well be dead. And yet, she sings. Praising the way of God.
Its not necessarily a new way, but new to her. God has a particular concern with lowly people. Israelites captive, enslaved in Egypt. An insignificant people that would go on to complain endlessly in the wilderness. A starving widow close to death in Zarephath. A little boy standing up to a giant bully, constant persecutor of his people. And now this presumed virgin, engaged to Joseph, but bearing a son. Bearing God!
Act surprised â€” many do! But in another way, donâ€™t. God always seems to be found in these sorts of situations. With these sorts of people. On the margins. In places of need. Where chaos broods. At the turns of life few tread. No good comes to Maryâ€™s name. But good certainly comes to the world. Yet again.
Yet again. God stoops down into the mess of life, the brokenness of life. And dwells there with her. Dwells there with us. That prompts Mary to sing. Not because anything will change for her right then and there. Not because she expects God to bring wealth, position or influence.
But because she receive a promise: the marginalization she endures, the suffering she suffers, the hardship she navigates are not absent God. But with God. As close to her as her own child. Fittingly called, Immanuel. God with her. God with us. Mary bears God. Even as God bears her. Bears us, and all life brings.
Which means this: We never stand apart from God. Especially in those moments it might be better to be dead.
Especially in those moments when are dead â€” our faith tells us. God stands with us.
And through the Spirit â€” the very same one that gave Mary voice â€” we are free to shout songs of praise. Free to rely on God not as some distant judge, but close and loving, deeply caring, ever empathic. Seen first in this holy one, Mary. God who when we cry, cries with us. When we suffer, suffers with us. When we long, longs with us. Thatâ€™s the truth Mary proclaims. Thatâ€™s the truth we proclaim.
Faith is not about pulling ourselves up to higher ways, better plateaus, honorable pedigree. Faith is God coming down to where we are. And in dwelling with us, leading us in surprising ways. Even unto death, we claim: eternal life.
Some of you are waiting for a word about stewardship. Every sermon Iâ€™ve preached since June has been about stewardship. Three months ago talk of stewardship was distressing. Nothing good. And yet, we could speak freely and without reservation about where we are headed because we knew that God is with us in the thick of it.
Today, we hope to get out of the marsh. And we very well may. But weâ€™ll still be in the woods.
Wherever we are, God will be there, too, with a song to sing. Freely, just as Mary does.
And she wonâ€™t mind if we borrow the tune or the words.