December 19, 2021, Jesus Takes Sides, Luke 1:39-55 – Mtr. Kathryn Boswell

“Black lives matter.”

That short phrase has become very much a political football these past few years, so that just saying those three words is often enough to set people’s teeth on edge. But the simple meaning of the phrase remains powerful and important. To say that Black Lives Matter, ultimately and simply, is to speak in defiance of a system that historically has denied, and still denies, the basic worth of the lives of Black Americans, in a multitude of ways. To say that Black Lives Matter is to reject a whole system that says by its laws and actions and attitudes that Black men and women don’t deserve the same pay as White men and women for the same work; that they don’t deserve the same quality of medical care or equal opportunities for housing and higher education; that Black children don’t deserve the same quality of education as White children. To say that Black Lives Matter is to affirm the inherent worth of Black people, but more than that, it’s to call for the transformation of a whole system that is in so many ways false and unjust.

And that might not seem to have much to do with the Blessed Virgin Mary. But, in fact, it has everything to do with what she says to us today. As we read today, Mary has had her visitation from the Angel Gabriel. She has said “yes” to the astonishing plans that God has for her life. And now Mary leaves her home and her hometown, where surely there are a lot of people with opinions on her condition, and she travels up into the hill country and comes to the home of her cousin, Elizabeth. One of the remarkable things about the two people in the gospel reading today is surely that of all people, their lives were not counted as being of great value in the eyes of the world they lived in. Mary was a young woman from a backwater village who was pregnant before her wedding day. Elizabeth was an elderly woman who up to that time had been unable to give her husband any children. Two women in a society that didn’t hold women to be worth as much as men, and both of them held in disgrace by the standards and values of their day.

And when they came together, Mary spoke, a powerful, world-changing word.

We honor Mary for her humility and submission to God’s will, and we certainly should honor her and follow her example. But it’s just as important for us to pay attention to her powerful foretelling of the way God was about to transform, to dismantle, to upend, the false and unjust systems of the world. And the child that Mary was carrying was the one who would set that transformation in motion. When Isaiah foretold the coming of Mary’s child, he wrote:

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor;
he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God;

And as he began his ministry, Jesus read out these very words, saying “Today this word has been fulfilled in your hearing.

When John the Baptist, Elizabeth’s child, grown to manhood and sitting in Herod’s prison, sent messengers to Jesus to find out if he was really the One they had been waiting for, Jesus sent back this message: “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.” Jesus knew that John would understand this, that mercy and healing were the signature works of the Messiah.

But Mary also prophesied something much more radical than comfort and relief for the poor and the helpless. She prophesied the coming of an entirely new system, a new world order where the powerful are cast down from their thrones and the powerless are raised up, where the hungry dine on choice foods and the rich are sent away with empty bellies, where the impressive schemes and philosophies of the proud are scattered like dust before the wind, while the meek and the lowly are held fast by the strong arm of God. Mary foresaw and foretold the coming of the kingdom of God.

And as Mary’s child grew, he revealed in his own life more and more of this new kingdom that Mary was talking about, a kingdom that was already breaking in upon the tired old systems of this world. Jesus taught about a kingdom where the one who wants to be great must stoop down to serve the lowly, where the meek would inherit the earth and the poor would be shareholders of the kingdom, where the first come last and the last come first. Jesus revealed a kingdom whose model citizen was a little child.

And for all those of us who have been baptized into Jesus Christ – that means we have become citizens of that kingdom. We are no longer citizens of the kingdom where mega-corporations and political heavyweights and wealthy celebrities own all the power and all the glory. I think that’s a hard thing to grasp, because that’s the kingdom we see all around us every day. We have to remind ourselves, often, of the reality of Mary’s prophecy. We have to remind ourselves that if we belong to Jesus, we don’t belong to that reality anymore, that our lives are no longer shaped by the world’s systems. And that is a revolutionary thing. But just how revolutionary a thing that is, most of us have barely begun to realize.

Now, we know that God loves all his children. We know that “God so loved the world – the whole world, and every single one of his creatures – that he gave his only Son.” We know that the Father loves us even in our sinfulness. That is our great comfort and our great hope, because we are, every one of us, hopelessly imperfect. But we are wrong if we go from that comfort and hope to an assumption that the kingdom of God just means everybody being nice to everybody else. We are mistaken if we assume that God’s favor is generic. Because Mary’s prophecy describes something much more shocking. In the Magnificat, we see a God who takes sides. In the kingdom of God, Mary tells us, God comes to live among his people, and when he comes he chooses to stand with the poor, with the oppressed, with the despised and rejected.

The Song of Mary reveals a kingdom where black lives matter, where the lives of women matter, where the lives of the poor matter, where the lives of the mentally ill matter, where the lives of the elderly matter, where the lives of prisoners and the disabled and immigrants matter. And not just because all lives matter – which, of course, they do – but in a special and particular way. We know that, because Jesus has told us, “Whatever you do for the least of these, my brothers and sisters – and by brothers and sisters he specifically meant the oppressed and the abused and the neglected – whatever you do for them, you do it for me.” Jesus, the Son of God, identifies with the poor and the oppressed and the neglected so closely that when we offer any kindness to one of “the least of these” he takes it as a personal favor, just like you or I are personally delighted when someone is kind to our own beloved child.

So, the question would be, what do we do with that? What are we called to do in response to Mary’s prophecy, this beautiful and very, very challenging Song about God’s coming kingdom? We can all do our part to limit evil and promote justice as we live within the systems of this worldly kingdom. In fact, we all should do everything we possibly can to speak out for justice, and to be lights in the darkness. But the Song of Mary is not talking about patching up the old kingdom with social programs and political lobbying; it’s talking about living according to the ways of the kingdom that is already breaking in to our world, the kingdom we belong to. The birth of the Child that we celebrate this week was the dawn of a new day. And our part is to choose whether we will welcome its coming, whether we will say “yes,” to God, as Mary did. Will we join Jesus in taking sides on behalf of the poor and the oppressed? Will we take our stand with our Lord, alongside the ones the kingdom of this world has rejected and mistreated and despised?

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