Sermon preached by the Reverend Cindy Stravers
St. Paul’s on the Green, Norwalk, CT
The Feast of St. Mary the Virgin – August 15, 2010
A few months ago I got a message from a friend on Facebook: “Are you the kind of person that when your feet hit the floor in the morning the devil says, “Damn, she’s up!”
That’s how I’ve been thinking about Mary lately. A spunky, independent, confident young woman who tosses off the covers, throws her feet to the floor and makes a difference. Mary knows that important godly stuff is often surprising, almost always risky, perhaps a little scary, and always worth getting out of bed for.
The story of the angel’s visit to Mary and startling news that she was pregnant – the portion of scripture that immediately precedes today’s lesson – could have caused a very different reaction in Mary than we read about in today’s Gospel. Luke tells us only that God had found favor with her and on that account, caused something very strange to happen. God had done something out of the ordinary, miraculous, beyond explanation within this young woman.
It’s interesting to note that Mary didn’t really have a choice in this matter. According to Luke, God never really asked Mary to carry this baby – she was told it would happen and she accepted the news. Okay, she said – let it happen.
We often think of Mary as a passive recipient, an empty vessel dressed in blue without much of a will of her own – a young woman who figuratively went back to bed, pondering away the next nine months. But that’s not the whole picture. Yes, she said okay to the angel – let it happen – but then she went on a journey – she didn’t crawl back into bed to wait it out.
Off she went to visit her beloved cousin Elizabeth who, though really too old for such things, was also pregnant. As they greet each other, Elizabeth’s baby “leapt” in her womb (the Greek verb used here is the same one used when King David danced naked before the Ark of the Covenant, by the way) and Mary sang for joy (the Greek verb here doesn’t have a great English translation – it’s closer to Mary “whooped” for joy).
It seems as though the meeting up of these two women confirmed that the strange thing that had occurred within each of them was, indeed, wonderful. These pregnancies were gifts – gifts that were to be celebrated as well as pondered.
Mary’s song, this portion of scripture often referred to as the Magnificat – or to our choristers, “the Mag,” – occurs immediately following the dancing and whooping. It’s a dancing and whooping of words: look what God has done – look what God is doing now. Look! Look! God is at work and things will never be the same!
As a parish, we’re in a similar kind of situation. Our pregnancy test has come back and it’s positive. I’ve got a sneaking suspicion that the actual conception took place several years ago when St. Paul’s took some risks – choosing to do church differently, choosing to welcome all people into our midst, choosing to invest in the future of God’s Kingdom instead of dwelling on the past or choosing an easier path.
Today we find ourselves pregnant with some things we never expected: lots and lots of new faces, a generous bequest, an empty building that will allow our education program to expand, our music program to have a home that actually fits, space for meetings and ministries of outreach and mission – just what we need to grow and deliver something new – something of the (dare we say it?) divine.
The gift of this pregnancy, like any other pregnancy, can be daunting. It’s going to take a lot of work to bring a new creature into existence. We may feel a bit queasy, our ankles may swell and our backs may ache. Our skin will stretch and frankly, it may be that we’ll never look quite the same again. Yes, there is risk involved.
Going back to bed may be one of our options, I guess. Being pregnant is a lot to face. We’ll need extra food – extra resources of time and money. We’ll need more people to step up and share the work of ministry. We’ll need to provide confirmation for each other that this pregnancy is viable, and remind one another that this pregnancy that was conceived by God. We’ll need to encourage each other when exhaustion sets in and when we are afraid and we worry about what this new creature will actually look like.
Yes, going back to bed is an option – but going back to bed isn’t the best option, and I’m pretty certain it isn’t the one Mary chose.
I doubt Mary had much of an idea of what was ahead for her – experiences of great joy and pride, experiences of confusion and fear, experiences of pain and suffering. They are all there. But Mary’s response to God’s surprising gift began with a whoop of praise and a willingness to plant her feet on the path God had already prepared.
After all, Mary knew her God. Hers was a God of mercy, a strong and faithful God, a God who lifted up the lowly and filled the hungry, a God who did surprising and whoop-producing things within and among his faithful people. It was this God who had placed new life within her very body.
Is this the kind of God we know? Is this the kind of God we have experienced? Is it too audacious to believe God has caused new life to be conceived in us – as individuals and as a parish?
I think not. The rabbit seems to have already died; our body is already taking on a new shape. So, let’s throw the covers off and together move forward in a way that causes the devil to say when our collective feet hit the floor, “Damn, they’re up!”