Mary Knew and She still said Yes

Sermon for Third Presbyterian Church December 13, 2020

Mary Knew and She still said Yes

Sometimes when I think about the Magnificat, I think of great choral works, and forget exactly where and how it fits in the Christmas story.  This song isn’t sung by a multitude of heavenly hosts accompanied by orchestra.  This song is sung by a young woman, who already knew these words that were sung by women prophets’ generations ago. 

The prophet Miriam sings of God’s saving acts as the people of God watch their former captors drown in the red sea.  Pharaoh’s men, horses and chariots did not make it through the parted waters.  God destroyed the powerful and saved the oppressed (Exodus 15).  The other biblical references to Miriam, acknowledge her as a prophet, a leader, and singer.  

Deborah’s story can be found in Judges 4 and 5, she is known as a Judge, a leader, a prophet, the mother of Israel, and she sang too of God’s glory and of social revolution.

Another woman sings a song of reversals too.  Hannah prays for a son whom she dedicates to God.  And after leaving Samuel at the temple, she prays about a great reversal; the mighty are broken and the feeble given strength, the hungry filled, and the rich are brought low.  Hannah’s story, including her prayer can be found in 1 Samuel 1-2.  

Amy-Jill Levine notes the similarities in the prayers of these women in her book “Light of the World: A beginners guide to Advent” that we are reading in adult forum.  She says, “Mary speaks as if these reversals of fortune had already happened.  She is singing the same song Hannah sang, a thousand years earlier, “God raises the poor from the dust,/lifts up the needy from the garbage pile” (Samuel 2:8).  We see the accomplishment of these reversals in the songs of Hannah and Mary, in their lives, and in the lives of their children.  We see the accomplishment whenever those who have give to those in need.  We see it in the servant-leadership, and we see it in fidelity to Torah and later to Gospel.  We see these miracles because, as God’s children, it is our responsibility to carry them out.” p. 77

Mary’s song is not a brave new idea, but it is the song the women of God have been singing, and teaching to young girls like Mary.  Amy-Jill Levine reminds us that, “Mary sings not only of divine glory; she sings also of ancient promises of social revolution.  She sings the songs of Miriam and Deborah and Hannah, but in a new key for a new time.”  p. 16  I love the sentiment of singing the old song in a new key and for a new time.  The ancient promises of social revolution are made new again.  Mary is expecting God to once again bring down the mighty and uplift the lowly.  Mary knew how hard participating in the work of God was for the women who sang those songs before her.  And she knew it was worth it.  

Mary Knew and She still said Yes

Luke begins the gospel with the silencing of powerful voices and the amplifying of the voices of two women. When the birth of John the Baptist is foretold, Zachariah is rendered mute and it is Elizabeth who must give voice to what God is doing, and more than that she embodies the message and the messenger, her body responds to God’s plan as it forms the one who will cry out in the wilderness to prepare the way of the Lord.  The baby in the dark waters of Elizabeth’s womb will baptize the repentant to prepare the way for his cousin still being formed in Mary’s womb.  The silent work in one womb recognizes the silent work in the other.  And from this quiet, without the words or presence of fathers, from this quiet the mothers speak of blessings and the new world to come.  Elizabeth, full of baby and full of holy spirit loudly exclaims “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 1:42b – 45).  

And it’s not in the text, but those of us who know the song can hear the unspoken words here.  Sancta Maria, mater dei, ora pro nobis.  Holy Mary, Mother of God pray for us.  Mary, tell us what God is doing in you, sing that song we know, our favorite song, remind us of God’s promised salvation.  And she does.  The Magnificat is the response to the Ave Maria.  

Luke 1:46-55

46 And Mary said,

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
47     and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
    Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
    and holy is his name.
50 His mercy is for those who fear him
    from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm;
    he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
    and lifted up the lowly;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
    and sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
    in remembrance of his mercy,
55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
    to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

When Elizabeth blesses Mary for believing that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken, Mary responds by with an affirmation of faith that reminds all of us that God’s salvation includes social justice.   Amy-Jill Levine says it this way, “For the Jewish Scriptures and for Jews in antiquity, salvation is less an eschatological matter of getting into heaven or having enteral life; nor is it a matter of forgiveness of sin, since they knew that God always forgave the repentant sinner.  Salvation means freedom or release from current circumstances: slavery, poverty, ill health, hunger, and thirst.” pp. 75-76  I would call this freedom from sin and freedom from the results of sin.   Slavery is the circumstance that results from the sin of treating people like property.  Poverty is the circumstance that results from the sin of greed.  Ill health is the circumstance that results from the sin of polluting our planet and burying the powerless poor in garbage.  Hunger and thirst are the circumstances that result from the sin of gluttony and hoarding resources.  If we are truly repentant, we must reverse these circumstances that result from our sins.  Forgiveness, restoration, and salvation are hard work.  The kind of hard work that requires a lot, it upsets the system, which could result in death, maybe even death on a cross.

Mary Knew and She still said Yes

We don’t know what made Elizabeth and Mary so special that God used them to bring about salvation yet again, and maybe that’s the beauty of Luke’s gospel, that these women could be any two of us who know the song, who know of God’s salvation, and who choose to remember that action and actively participate in it.  Mary sings the song that she knows and invites us to sing along.  And with her we can find the new key for our new time as we repeat the song our mothers sang generations before us.  Salvation, the cycle of life, death, and resurrection are sung anew in each generation.  This cycle is not only for the forgiveness of sin but for the reversal of the oppression and injustice caused by sin.  

Like Mary, we knew.  We knew the story of God’s work in this world.  When asked to participate in this work, will we say yes?

[Pregnant Pause]

Let us pray:

God of Mary and Elizabeth, We thank you for holding space for the words and emotions of these women in the story of Your coming. To experience waiting through their eyes is a healing gift to all of those who have waited for peace and goodness in the shadows of those whom society most often centers.  As you guide us into experiencing holy silence this Advent, help us to distinguish what kind of silence and for whom?  Help those whose social positions make it that they speak quickly and are heard quickly, learn a silence in this season that considers the quiet and suppressed stories in their midst.  And like Joseph and Zechariah, keep the powerful from becoming defensive and insecure when they feel their role being transformed in your wake.  Let us use this season to hold space for the unseen and unheard.  And when they speak, let us believe them.  Let us hold their words as sacred, knowing our faith is diluted without the sounds that they carry.  Amen.  (This prayer is by Cole Arthur Riley @blackliturgies) 

Here is the affirmation of faith I wrote based on the Magnificat for the Clergy Emergency League:

With Mary, we will glorify God with all that is within us.
From the depths of our souls and the movements of our bodies we will rejoice in God our savior.
For God has looked with favor on those whom the world says are worthless. We believe that God highly favors the marginalized and shows bias towards the poor.
We are called to do the same, in God’s holy name.
God shows mercy from generation to generation of believers.
God’s strong arms cradle the weak and scatter away arrogant thoughts and proud inclinations.
God has pulled down the powerful and uplifted the lowly.
God fills the hungry with goodness and sends away those who are full of themselves.
God will come to the aid of the faithful, remembering the ways of mercy,
just as was promised to our ancestors, to Abraham and Sarah, and to their descendants forever. Amen. 

This sermon is primarily inspired by Amy-Jill Levine’s “Light of the World: A Beginner’s Guide to Advent”

Other inspiration came from the following:

Kaitlin Shetler Poetry


they gift our girls

with purity rings

that they be 

full of grace

instead of choice and grit

then they shame our girls 

for pregnancies

which is a funny way 

to pay homage 

to a bastard god 

she barely agreed 

to bear the divine

but church rarely has time

to talk consent 

when a woman’s 

body is involved

i don’t doubt

mary’s song 

just the tune

because you can still magnify 

the things that frighten you

and call holy powers 

that oppress 

i want to believe 

in the agency 

of a young virgin child 

in a god that sought her 


instead of compliance 

but that story’s not found 

in blue books behind pews 

but in the grit

of the girls 

shamed for their choice 

and i keep looking for them

but they were kicked out 

there’s no room

in an inn built for

kings and wise men 

because ego can’t stand 

mothers of god 


Fran Pratt @thelitanist

In the Advent readings for Week 3, Year B, we reflect on the proclamations of the prophet Isaiah, foretelling the work of the Christ; and the proclamation of Mary in the Magnificat. Mary consents to the work of the Spirit upon her body, and knows that it is work that will turn the world right side up, toppling unjust rulers, honoring the powerless, “filling the hungry with good things” (Luke 1:52,53). 

In Advent, we practice waiting in deep expectation of the goodness of God, knowing that goodness will not fail us, keeping watch for it in the dark hours of winter. 

With Mary, we will rejoice:

Unjust rulers will be toppled. 

The powerless will be honored,

The hungry filled with good things….

Fran Pratt @thelitanist

We need the feminine aspect of the Divine, as well as the feminine experience of it.

Here’s something I’ve been pondering as I worked on this year’s Advent and Christmas liturgy:

We need Mary’s story, her feminine experience of God. 

An example: Jesus told Nicodemus that he had to be born again (in spirit) to have the consciousness of Heaven. Yep, just keep being born. This is a fine metaphor, helpful to many. But Nicodemus had trouble understanding it and probably (I’m guessing) could have identified *even less* with the more complex feminine metaphor embodied by Mary….

Which is: That we are asked to give birth to God/Christ/The Divine in the world.

As one who has birthed humans into the world, I identify more with Mary’s path: the consciousness of Heaven taking root in me by my consent, quietly grown in my being, then birthed forth out of me, nursed and nurtured by my care and love, and set out lovingly into the world to continue its journey. Again and again, Christ born in my heart, a child I prepare for, care for and protect until it is full grown. Again and again, I am transformed by the growth of the Christ within me.

You don’t have to have a uterus, or have given birth, to understand this. But if you happen to have, then my gosh this is a powerful, visceral image. And a wisdom I can access in my body.

And this is why we need the feminine story, imagery, and witness. And why Mary is so important. 

Christena Cleveland, PhD @drchristenacleveland

In the annual liturgy of the Divine Feminine, *this* is the week of Advent during which the Black Madonna especially enters into the uncertainty and pain of this world and reminds us of who She is, what She is about and with whom She stands beside. So this week, I am especially savoring these life-giving words from Clarissa Pinkola Estés — and keeping my eyes, ears and heart peeled for presence and action of the Black Madonna in my world.

“The Black Madonna, in all her representations, is known as the healer of crippledness, the healer of harmed women, hurt men, and injured and abused children. There is nothing superficial about La Virgen Negra, Black Virgin Mother. She is mother mild and tender, mother most alert and tending to, mother most fierce and protective, and mother who heals the worst of the wounded.” — Clarissa Pinkola Estés

“Mary is not passive. The image we’ve been shown has truth in it, but it is a limited truth. I derived great comfort in the fact that Mary was an earthly mother, that she went through a pregnancy as a teenage mother, that she had known homelessness, that she had borne at least one child. She had witnessed that child’s suffering and death, she knew the depths of a mother’s sorrow. ⁠

But Mary’s passivity may be all we’ve allowed ourselves to see. A woman rising up against authority, a woman strong and fearless, a ferocious woman, an independent woman, a heroic woman, a physically courageous woman – to have seen Mary this way would not have served the social order…⁠

This is a Mary we need now, a fierce Mary, a terrific Mary, a fearsome Mary, a protectress who does not allow her children to be hunted, tortured, murdered and devoured.” ~ China Galland 

Brian & Shay @QTheology “May the spirit of Mary, who also watched her own son be executed by the state, be with the family of Brandon Bernard.”

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