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Saturday, August 15, 2015

Favored Lowliness

The mystery of the Incarnation begins with this young woman, Mary, who was able to see the eternal God coming to her and working within her own abilities, her ordinary gifts, her humanity, to save the world.

Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
   The feast of St. Mary, Mother of Our Lord
   text:  Luke 1:46-55

Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen

“My spirit rejoices in God my Savior, who has looked on the humiliation of his slave.”

We heard “looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant,” which is good, and interprets the context. But the harsher reading gets us deeper into Mary’s truth.

Mary recognized that the one, true God was identifying with her. This magnificent song is a praise of what happens when God does that. It begins with God looking on our humiliation. Looking with favor on our lowliness. This young woman grasped what it takes many of us a lifetime to comprehend: if God was going to be born in her, then God was going to be working in person in humiliation and weakness to save the world.

Maybe she didn’t grasp it fully at first. But she said yes to the one thing that was asked of her, the one thing: she agreed to be a mother.

She agreed to do what women before her and after have done so often.

As a man, I can’t claim that bearing a child is easy. But Mary said yes to what was a normal thing, something she had already anticipated, hoped for, as her future, something many women had done, including her mother, grandmother, and relatives like Elizabeth.

There was little else given to her. God gave no particular parenting instructions for this child. There was no provision for the child’s food and clothing. No inheritance set aside, no housing, no special gifts.

Mary said, “let it be as God says,” with little guidance for what came next.

But she realized this: what God needed from her was something she could do.

Mary’s call was to be herself. Through that, God would save.

She would bear this child as women do, with the help of women around her, at home, and in Bethlehem. She would do what her body was designed to do.

She would parent this child, as parents always do, with little to go on but her own love, wisdom, common sense, and the advice, wisdom, and love of her family.

She would travel to see relatives, as people often do. She would make a pilgrimage with her son and husband to Jerusalem, as people did. She would deal with life and being the mother of this child to the best of her ability, as mothers do everywhere.

And she understood that this was all God needed. She wasn’t asked to do anything beyond her normal, human capabilities. She was asked to be Mary, mother of Jesus, wife of Joseph, child of Nazareth, herself.

And that would be the way God would begin the salvation of the world.

That’s the grace that surrounds us on Mary’s feast day: the Triune God saves through the ordinary lives of human beings.

Now we celebrate Mary as Theotokos, as Queen of Heaven, as the Mother of Our Lord, lots of capital letters, much praise and glory. In truth, the glory of Mary is found in God’s full identification with the humiliation of our humanity.

What she sings, of God lifting up the poor, casting down the proud, feeding the hungry, sending the rich away, could sound like a revolution of violence and power. In fact, it is a revolution of humiliation of the One who made all things.

God my Savior has looked upon my humiliation, Mary sang, looked with favor on my lowliness. God has decided to enter the humiliation, the lowliness of human life, in all our fragility and brokenness, to bring human life back into the life of God.

If we want to see where God is working, it’s no consolation prize to say, “look at what God’s people are up to.” It’s the place God will surely be seen. It’s the grand prize truth of what the birth of the Son of God to Mary means for the world.

This means we also are not asked to do what we cannot do.

That’s the gift Mary gives us with her “yes.” She reveals how utterly basic it will be for us to be a part of God’s salvation of the world.

We are not called to be someone else, with someone else’s gifts. We are not called to have great worldly power, unless we have it. (And if we do, God will use that, too.) We are, like Mary, simply asked to be ourselves.

To see ourselves as part of God’s great overturning of the ways of this world, and keep that awareness in our hearts and minds as we act, decide, live, love. Mary parented Jesus to the best of her ability, but with that one addition, that she understood her involvement in a greater plan of God. She still had to change his diapers, feed him, teach him, maybe even scold him. She likely parented with similar skills and attitudes as her parents had, as we all do. But with one difference, she knew God was working through her to love the world.

We have the same gift. We live, love, decide, act, work, play in this world as we are able, with the gifts we’ve been given, but now we know something else. Now we know the Triune God is working through us to bring life and love to this world.

God looked on our humiliation, our human-ness, and said, “That’s where I will work.”

It’s terrific news. It’s enough to give each one of us purpose and meaning to every moment of our lives, to give import and grace to every interaction we have with another child of God.

It’s also alarming news. To think that what we are doing in this moment, or the next, is something God is working in to make life happen can be intimidating, even frightening.

So we remember Mary. She smiles at us in love and says, “it’s not as scary as you think, and the joy of knowing God believes you are necessary, of feeling at God work in you, is immeasurable. So all will be well. Go ahead and say yes.”

God give us the courage and spirit to do just that.

In the name of Jesus.  Amen

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