the things we carry: songs and sacred spaces

Message for Mary Sunday, contemplative service, December 2, 2018

This week, I have spent some time gazing at various artistic renderings of Mary and Elizabeth and Mary singing the Magnificat hoping to glean some insight as to what Mary was carrying with her in that moment of song.  As you can imagine, various artists interpret the scenario very differently—Mary as quiet and humble, Mary as smiling and joyful, Mary as strong and self-confident.  I have been sitting with this vision of a teenage girl, young and pregnant but rooted in her faith and trust in God.  And I’ve been wondering, what was she carrying in her heart?

I see the faces of pregnant teenage girls from my high school years, ashamed and invisible, trying to hide from the whispers and looks of disdain. What were they carrying in their hearts?

I remember the faces of pregnant teenage girls I have ministered to over the years, seeking motherly advice and unconditional love from people who did not abuse or abandon them. What were they carrying in their hearts?

I imagine the faces of pregnant teenage girls fleeing their homelands, dreaming of better lives for themselves and their unborn children, risking all that they have to find safety and peace. What are they carrying in their hearts?

PRAYER:  Let us pray

Oh, God,

Parent to all children,

As we enter this time of sacred space and prayer today,

we cannot know what each of us carries in our hearts.

But you are there, filling us both with silence and song.

May we come to you in this time,

As Mary came to Elizabeth,

Filled with awe of the journey that we will take

To meet you at the manger.  Amen

Let’s take a few steps back and remember where Mary’s journey actually began.  With a visit from an angel who proclaimed that Mary had found favor with God and that she would bear a child, the Son of God.  A holy ruler who would reign forever.

And then Gabriel assures Mary of God’s great power by relaying that Elizabeth in her old age has conceived a son.

Mary’s response?  Here I am.  Let it be with me.

And so Mary begins this journey physically and spiritually holding sacred space for Emmanuel—God with us.  She carries in her heart obedience, faith, and trust in spite of the social and political mores and traditions of her time.  I often wonder—did Mary find favor with God because of her being so rooted in her faith, or did God find favor with her because of her willingness to surrender and obey?  Perhaps both.

Either way, Mary’s status as a pregnant teenage girl serves to remind us that God finds favor with the lowly, the humble, and the unexpected.

PRAYER:  Let us pray

Holy Spirit,

May we encounter you this season

As Mary encountered you

With the humility of trust

And the wisdom of obedience.  Amen

So in Luke’s account, the next part of this remarkable journey takes Mary to Elizabeth’s house, and there, these two women together hold sacred space for their children and for God’s blessing of motherhood.

Can you imagine the conversation?  The air thick with wonder and awe and joy?  Maybe they were sitting around a table or hugging in a doorway.  As we take time to pray, envision this scene of these two women sharing this sacred space together.

PRAYER:  Let us pray

God, from whom all blessings flow,

We envision the inspired connection between Mary and Elizabeth.

We can only imagine what they carried in their hearts as they shared their stories.

And now, just as these women did, we create a sacred space here

To hear the words of Mary, the mother

To hear the words of Mary, the prophet.

May we invite the song to fill our spirits

And prepare us for the coming of Emmanuel, God with us.  Amen

Our scripture reading for today is the Magnificat – Mary’s song.  Found in

Luke 1:46-55 The Voice

My soul lifts up the Lord!
47     My spirit celebrates God, my Liberator!
48     For though I’m God’s humble servant,
God has noticed me.
Now and forever,
I will be considered blessed by all generations.
49     For the Mighty One has done great things for me;
holy is God’s name!
50     From generation to generation,
God’s lovingkindness endures
for those who revere Him.

51     God’s arm has accomplished mighty deeds.
The proud in mind and heart,
God has sent away in disarray.
52     The rulers from their high positions of power,
God has brought down low.
And those who were humble and lowly,
God has elevated with dignity.
53     The hungry—God has filled with fine food.
The rich—God has dismissed with nothing in their hands.
54     To Israel, God’s servant,
God has given help,
55     As promised to our ancestors,
remembering Abraham and his descendants in mercy forever.

This is word of God for the people of the world. . .thanks be to God.

Today, we listen to a song from the lips of a pregnant teenage girl—a song filled with words of God-news and hope and justice. A song from her heart that carries with it joy and confidence and promise.  And yet, also words unexpected from this young woman.

Author Rachel Held Evans reflects that

With the Magnificat, Mary not only announces [the birth of Jesus], she announces the inauguration of a new kingdom, one that stands in stark contrast to every other kingdom—past, present, and future—that relies on violence and exploitation to achieve ‘greatness.’ With the Magnificat, Mary declares that God has indeed chosen sides. It’s not with the occupying force, but with people on the margins. It’s not with narcissistic kings, but with an un-wed, un-believed teenage girl entrusted with the holy task of birthing, nursing, and nurturing God. This is the stunning claim of the incarnation [Evans writes]: God [chooses to make] a home among the very people the world casts aside. And in her defiant prayer, Mary—a dark-skinned woman, a refugee, a religious minority in an occupied land—names this reality.

Not what we might expect from a pregnant teenage girl.

And yet, isn’t it the way of God and isn’t it ONLY God who chooses someone so unexpected, so vulnerable to bear the Light of the world and the Word of God?  It’s what inspires in us – faith.  No matter how ashamed or invisible, neglected or abused, scared or hopeless, each – one – of us can be a light bearer, a God-news proclaimer, an obedient pregnant teenage girl holding sacred space and carrying songs in her heart.

Prayer:  Let us pray

God of Advent,

God of Expectation,

We come to you humbly

We come to you faithfully

We come to you with obediently

Affirming our desire to hold sacred space.

To carry you in our hearts

As we journey with mother Mary, prophet Mary

And prepare for the coming of her child, your son, Emmanuel – God with us.  Amen.

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