Luke 1:46-55


            I spent this past Friday morning at Portsmouth Christian Academy for their annual Christian Educator’s Day.  As part of that day, the pastors and other church workers who attend go around to different classes and answer questions posed by the students.  It’s a fun time, and when I visited a first grade class with a whole row of bugs in jars, we all gathered round and had a bug blessing.

            There were basic questions like how long had we been in ministry and what was it like to the more profound, like the fourth grader who asked what sacrifices I had made to go into ministry or the first grader who asked what confession was all about.  But I think the most important question that I got on Friday morning was from another first grader who asked, “How do you teach people about God?”

            That question makes us think about how we really learn about God, and for many fortunate people, that question zips us right back to Mom.  We might learn some of the technicalities from Sunday School lessons, Bible studies, and sermons; but the real learning of who God is, comes by example, and the first shot at that is given to our mothers.

            As many of you know, I’m no more equipped to tell you how to be a mother than I am to tell you how to have a good marriage.  I haven’t done it, and I’m not an expert.  But what I can tell you where to look to find out, and so I invite you to look at Mary.  When God was looking for a mother…not just a mother for someone else…when God was looking for who would be God’s own earthly mother, God picked Mary.

            Protestants don’t typically pay a whole lot of attention to Mary, and that is both unfortunate and unfair.  Mary has been called the first apostle because she was the first one to bear the Good News to the world.  When the star shone so brightly over a Bethlehem stable, Mary literally delivered the Word of God to the world.  The Bible describes Jesus as “the Word made flesh.”  It was Mary who allowed that to happen in her womb; and it was Mary who, by her loving example, taught the baby Jesus about the God that he was.

            Think about it.  Jesus was not born as an adult in a baby’s body.  He wasn’t quoting the prophets to the cattle and shepherds the night of his birth.  He was a baby in all senses of that word and the Bible tells us that he grew in wisdom and stature.  In other words, he wasn’t born knowing everything.  He grew, he learned, and much of what he learned, he learned from his mother.

            Imagine that job.  An angel shows up and tells Mary she’s going to have a baby.  That’s tough enough for a young girl who isn’t yet married in a culture where she could be stoned to death for being unmarried and pregnant.  But more than that, she is told that her job is to raise the savior of the world.  Gee, no pressure or anything.  Even without the whole virgin birth thing that’s a heck of a message to get on some Wednesday afternoon.

            But in Mary’s response, we see the nature of this remarkable young woman, which can give us some clues about what God values and about what God wanted passed on to Jesus as Mary taught her child.  Remember, Jesus is not some sort of sub-deity.  Jesus is God…or at least as much of God as can be contained in a human body.  So God is about to do a wild thing…to become human…to become limited in both body and mind.  And God isn’t starting as an adult.  God is going to have to forget who he is, wipe the brain clean, and become a newborn baby, dependent on those around him to rediscover his own identity and purpose.  So God looks around to see who has a true picture of who God is and what God wants to do in the world, so that God as a baby can be truly taught.  God picks Mary.

            As the angel makes this incredible announcement, Mary’s response is acceptance.  “Let it be with me according to your word.”  It is the first thing we see in Mary and it is one of the first things she would have to teach her special baby.  Let it be.  Even when God asks you to do something that might get you killed, let it be.  As she begins her famous words to Elizabeth that we have since come to call “The Magnificat,” she shows that this news is a blessing to her.  It is scary, it is dangerous; but it comes from God and God’s call is always a blessing.

            What an important lesson for a mother to teach her children.  However odd and impossible the calling may seem, accept it.  You have been blessed; you have been chosen; and there is nothing else worth doing in the world.

            As Mary goes on to praise the God who has chosen her, we see some of her theology…what she believes about the nature of God.  She talks about God’s mercy from generation to generation and about God’s strength.  But God’s strength is directed in a particular way.  “He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.  He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly.  He has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.”

            That’s what Mary believes about how God behaves, and God chose Mary to teach Jesus about God through her example.  So I think it’s a safe bet that what Mary says here is accurate.  The things that are important to most people are not the things that are important to God.  It’s not about power and control and wealth.  It is about humility and about not having more than you need so that everyone can have enough.  What Mary says here can be found again and again in Jesus’ own teaching and example, and back here in Mary’s song of praise to God, we see where he gets it from. 

God first taught it to Mary, then Mary teaches it back to Jesus, and then Jesus teaches it to the world.  Mary is the first one to bear the message.  She holds it and ponders it in her heart, she carries it in her womb.  She doesn’t let the message get lost or distorted and finally, when the time is right, she delivers the message intact. 

Mary is present at other critical moments.  At a wedding in Cana, Jesus is resisting the beginning of his ministry.  Mary gently moves him back to the very first lesson…accept it…let it be…and he gives in and changes water into wine.  The basic preparation of his life…the water…is over.  It is time for the transformation…time for the wine.

In the Gospel of John, the next time we see Mary is at the next moment of transformation.  The water of youth changed to the wine of adulthood and abundance.  The next time we see Mary is at the foot of the cross, as the wine becomes blood and comes full circle to the water of Mary’s tears.  But again, she is there to hold the message, to be sure the nature of God is not forgotten.  She is, even there, still teaching her son about the love of God that is present with us in the valley of the shadow.  Jesus knows that by now, of course, but Mary embodies it for him, so that he can know it not only in his head, but in his heart.  Even in the agony of a cruel death, God keeps vigil and stands by our side.

Lastly, Mary is found in the book of Acts, in the upper room on the day of Pentecost, again holding the message until it is poured out into every heart through the Holy Spirit.  On that day, her job is done…her witness complete.  She has held God’s love within her body, delivered it to the world, taught Jesus the truth about himself, launched him into ministry, walked with him to the grave, and witnessed his love spread to the world through the Holy Spirit.  No one else in all of the Bible has such a role.

But we don’t talk about Mary just to remember a great woman or even to learn technically how to be a mother, although I think it’s tough to come up with a better example of that.  We’re talking about Mary because she shows us the answer to the little boy who wanted to know how to teach about God; and the answer is, you live it.  You live it when it is scary, you live it when you get to watch miracles.  You live it in the dark places and in the dead places and in the places where there is so much life that you wonder how the roof stays on.  You live it with humility, taking only what you need, but with the full knowledge that you have been blessed beyond measure because God chose you.

We teach others about God by bearing the message in our own bodies.  We teach God is love by loving.  We teach that God is merciful by showing mercy.  We teach that God cares for the poor and the outcast, by working for justice in our land.  As the Body of Christ in the world, our lives tell the Gospel to others.  What does your life teach to others who are watching?  What did you teach this morning before church?  What will you teach this afternoon at lunch?  If someone sat down and wrote a description of God from looking at your life last week, what would they write?

That’s not meant to be a fearful thought, because God is not out to stomp on us if we don’t do it well.  But it is meant to help us keep in our awareness that every one of us is a preacher and teacher.  If we don’t get it quite right today, we can pick up and try to be better tomorrow; but we are called to try to be better.  We are called, as Mary once was, to carry the message in our bodies, and to deliver when the time is right. 

It was my own mother who first taught me how to pray.  My father taught me how to boo the Yankees, but my mother taught me how to pray…not by sitting down and saying, “Okay, Anne, this is how you do it,” but simply by praying herself.  She prayed for me and with me, even before I was old enough to speak.  She sang the hymns of faith to me.  She also sang the Chiquita Banana song, which might explain some of the oddities in my theology.  She taught me how to give by giving herself…of her love, her time, her money.

That’s how Mary taught, that’s how most mothers teach, and by their example all of us can learn how to tell others about the love of God.  Let it live in you…or as the song has said, “Speaking words of wisdom, let it be.”  Amen.

(c) 2005, Anne Robertson

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