Mary's Love Dave RogaLsky Dec 17 2017
Theme: Mary, out of love for God, was willing to bear the shame of her culture, and take the risk of losing her place. But Mary believed that God also loved her, and her class of folk – the weak, the powerless, the poor, and the hungry.
Love, love, love
There's nothing you can do that can't be done
Nothing you can sing that can't be sung
Nothing you can say but you can learn how to play the game
There's nothing you can make that can't be made
No one you can save that can't be saved
Nothing you can do but you can learn how to be you in time
All you need is love
Love is all you need
(Love, love, love)
All you need is love
Love is all you need
There's nothing you can know that isn't known
Nothing you can see that isn't shown
There's nowhere you can be that isn't where you're meant to be
All you need is love, love
Love is all you need
All you need is love, all together now
Love is all you need...1
Released in 1967 and attributed to John Lennon and Paul McCartney, the Beatles saw this as a political song. If all the world were just to love, then “It’s easy.” Coming four years before Lennon’s Imagine, it shows the way his thinking was going – strip the world down to simple relationships and it will be easy. But is it? Today we look at Mary, the mother of Jesus, and her love, her uncomplicated but very difficult love.
Our scripture reading today comes from Luke’s story about Mary coming to be the mother of Jesus, whom we believe to have been God among us, Emmanuel (see Matthew 1:22-23 and Isaiah 7:14). The story is familiar but goes like this:
Mary was a young woman, probably a virgin, definitely unmarried, living in Nazareth in the north of the Jewish lands in Palestine. She was engaged to be married to Joseph, a direct descendant of King David. These engagements usually lasted about a year.
One day as she was going about her daily duties she was met by a messenger from God. This messenger identified himself as Gabriel. Gabriel means “powerful man of God,” and is identified as one of the leaders of God’s messengers, God’s angels.
The angel greeted her as “favoured” or “full of grace” one,” adding, “The Lord is with you.”
Mary remained silent, entering into the first of several times in Luke’s gospel that she “pondered in her heart” (see 1:29, 1:66, 2:19). We believe that Luke interviewed Mary as he prepared his story of Jesus’ life.
The angel, probably aware of some fear on Mary’s part already, or about to come, tells her “Do not be afraid,” and then adds:
31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end." Luke 1:31-33 (NRSV)
Mary, a proper Jewish girl, got stuck immediately – “But . . . how can this be. I’m a virgin.”
Gabriel expected this and tells her that this will be a special birth, God will impregnate her without sex. “Nothing is impossible with God,” he tells her, adding that her aged cousin Elizabeth, thought to be unable to have children, is pregnant and in her sixth month.
Mary’s response is amazing, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word." Then the angel departed from her. Luke 1:38 (NRSV)
So Mary went to visit her cousin. As she arrived the baby in Elizabeth’s womb leapt up in joy. And Elizabeth shouted out, inspired by God:
42 "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43 And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44 For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord." Luke 1:42-45 (NRSV)
And Mary broke into song, the passage that Kate read for us already. It’s called the Magnificat from its first word in Latin, “Magníficat ánima mea Dóminum.”1 “My soul increases the Lord,” she sang.
Mary loved God. When God spoke to her, she believed that what God was doing was for good. Her love lead her to trust God implicitly.
But it certainly wasn’t easy.
Think first of where and when she lived. Galilee was under the rule of the Herods who only held power with the help of mercenary troops and the backing of the Roman legions. To be a follower of God, wanting to stay true to the laws of Moses, meant that Mary would have always been looking over her shoulder, on the lookout for soldiers who saw her as fair game for their lust and demands. If she wanted to follow God’s law she needed to protect her virginity.
Nazareth was a little village, not wealthy, making due, not seen as worthy to most Jews. When people heard that Jesus came from Nazareth they asked, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” (See John 1:46.) Because they lived near to the Greek city of Sepphoris they were seen as suspect. Mary, who loved and followed God would have been one of the poor of whom she spoke in the Magnificat. Being poor was hard. Trusting in God in poverty is hard.
And then consider, she was a young woman, living in a patriarchal society. Since she was already engaged she must have had her first period. That meant that men would believe her to be unclean in religious practice. She would have been confined to the back of the local synagogue, behind a screen so that the men wouldn’t be distracted while they worshipped. Mary loved God, but the way God’s laws were interpreted made it hard.
Now, consider what God asked of her. Pregnant but not by her fiancée. He would immediately suspect that she had had sex with someone else and would annul the contract between himself and her family. Loving God was hard. She was going to be rejected by everyone and be cast out to bear her child alone, rear him alone, and try to survive. But she chose to follow the God who was everything to her. I don’t know how many young women of her day would have agreed to God’s request. She was a very special person!
Matthew tells us that Joseph immediately thought that she had cheated on him and decided that he would annul the contract (See Matthew 1:19-25). But God came to him in a dream, sending an angel to tell him:
20 "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins."
Matthew then added, “22 All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: 23 "Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel," which means, "God is with us."” Matthew 1:20-23 (NRSV)
Mary lived in a time without modern medical science. Many women in her time died in child birth. Mary accepted this potentiality in saying yes to God.
Loving God can be dangerous in many ways – socially, physically, mentally/emotionally, and even religiously. It is often difficult.
A man came to Jesus once and asked, “What do I need to do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 10:25-37.) Jesus asked him, “What does the law say?” The man answered, “Love God, and love your neighbour.” Jesus agreed, but the man asked, “Who is my neighbour?” In response Jesus told the story of the man who was assaulted by muggers along the road. Robbed and left for dead he lay in broad daylight. Several good Jews passed by, leaving him to die. Finally a Samaritan, from a group thought to be religiously suspect and rejected, came, treated his wounds, transported him to an inn, took care of him, and gave the innkeeper money for continued care. “Who,” asked Jesus, “was the neighbour?” Who loved neighbour? He might as well have added, And who loved God? “The one who showed mercy,” said the man, unable to choke out the word Samaritan. “Go and do likewise,” said Jesus.
Loving God is hard work – dirty, dangerous, without thanks, moving us to love neighbours in need, going against our society, maybe even our religion. Mary’s love was that kind of love. The nativity scene here portrays Mary loving God in all its costs and dangers.
If it’s true that loving God means loving those around us too, love can be hard work. I find it that way.
Where is it hard in your life to love? Who around you is difficult to love? Are there people who you’re your forgiveness? People who have wronged you? Are there people you will meet this Christmas who are hard to love?
Now, one of the things we often forget is that forgiveness is a spectrum of behaviour and actions. Some forgiveness is only in our own hearts. Some includes full reconciliation with the one who hurt us. There are many potentialities in between. Some people we forgive for our sake, so that the hurt stops rotting our hearts. But the relationship would be far too dangerous for our lives and souls to attempt reconciliation. Forgiveness is part of hard love – think of how we are forgiven by God over and over, God who loves us exactly as we are.
Loving neighbour means sometimes not thinking about their fault in getting to where they are – addicted, poor, alone – and acting in love toward them anyway. The man robbed along the road in the Bible story should have been travelling with a group for safety. But Jesus didn’t judge him in the story, and neither did the one who took care of him.
Where might those around you think of you as odd if you act in love. When we speak up for the poor, refugees, street people, indigenous people, LGBTQ2 people, those of other races, cultures and religions, then some would like to argue, distance themselves from us. Love is hard work.
And perhaps it’s hard to talk about God. Only fanatics talk about God you know. But when we’re in love we do talk about the one whom we love – not all the time – but we do talk about them and our relationship with them. We talk about God by mentioning we’ve been in church, by offering to pray for those with needs, by mentioning when we’ve seen God in action. Hard work! But worth it as we invite others into relationship with the One who loves us all exactly as we are, and too much to leave us alone in our hurt, pain, sorrow and worry.
Mary’s love wasn’t easy. But it was worth it!