12/23/18 – Mary’s Song


December 23, 2018
4th Sunday of Advent
Micah 5:1-5; Luke 1:46b-55; Heb. 10:5-10; Luke 1:39-45
Rev. Denise Clark-Jones


I’ve heard skeptical theater-novices complain about the lack of reality in musical theater: “In real life, people don’t just break out into song when they are having a conversation with someone or just walking down the street.” Yet as early as the Greek Chorus, ancient literature and theater used the device of song to underscore a message. The bible is filled with song – actual songs like Mary’s song we just sang. The bible also directs us to sing songs of praise and thanksgiving to God. There is a whole book of the Bible devoted to songs, the book of Psalms, which tells us ‘God has put a new song in my heart.’ From the choirs of angels in Scripture to the choirs that lead our congregations in worship, songs tap into our mystical connection to our Creator.

Mary does indeed break out in song when she is told she is to give birth to the Son of God, but that doesn’t mean she was no more than a docile recipient of God’s dangerous gift who blindly submits when the angel Gabriel announces a fait accompli. Mary’s song is similar to Hannah’s song when she learns that her barren state has been reversed and she will bear the long-awaited child, Samuel. Mary’s song also contains elements of a song in Isaiah. Mary’s song celebrates that God is sending a real human being infused with divinity to transform the world.

Just because Mary said “yes” doesn’t mean that she had no fear. Mary struggled with heeding the angel’s command, “Do not be afraid” just as we do when we hear those words. Luke tells us the first thing Mary does is to “make haste” to travel to a relative for support and comfort. After her brave consent, she still must deal with the reality of pregnancy – and a very inconvenient one at that!

Mary, literally, heads to the hills rather than to her parents’ home. In Deuteronomy, we read that an unmarried woman who is found to be pregnant would have been subject to stoning at the entrance to her father’s house. (Deut. 22:20-21) No wonder she ran to the home of a distant cousin. She didn’t run away from God, but she sure ran away from danger. God would have expected no less than she protects herself and God’s child from human violence. An unjust law defied God’s will.

According to Luke, Mary traveled several days on foot to reach Elizabeth’s house in the hill country of Judea. In the early stages of pregnancy, she would have been tired and perhaps nauseated. Elizabeth provided her with security and nurture for three months, when she was strong enough to return home. Mary wasn’t looking for an escape from her call; she was just looking for help, which is what most people in need want.

Mary reminds me of the mothers who left everything behind to travel to the U.S. from Central America with their children. These women are running away from very real dangers in their home countries and seeking asylum in another country. Imagine Mary walking through the desert with them. Instead of the welcoming arms of a relative like Elizabeth, these mothers, and fathers, have been met with tear gas, separation from their children, and armed soldiers. Their children have been sent to unknown destinations around this vast country under the cover of darkness. On the border, their children have been placed in cages and tent cities. One 7-year old died and hundreds have been reported as being abused while in custody. When the order came to separate children from their parents at the designated asylum posts, no plan was made to keep track of the children and the families to which they belonged. They were not even important enough to have a number. How would we treat this young, pregnant teenage migrant? Would we welcome her like Elizabeth or do we stand behind the kind of welcome our government has given?

Mary and Martha, the sisters of Lazarus, are known for representing two necessary roles we are called to play in our life of faith – Martha the doer and Mary the one who studies the Word. Mary, the mother of Jesus and Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, also represent two roles of faith. Mary was called to bring forth Christ into the world. Elizabeth affirmed and supported Mary just as her son will do in the future. We could also apply these roles to the Church. At times our congregations are taking the risks and doing the labor of discipleship out in the world and at times congregations are being the welcomers and supporters. Every church needs a balance of each just as we need that balance in our own lives of faith.

God surprised two women, a young girl and her elder kinswoman, Elizabeth, with pregnancies. Once again, God demonstrated the power to produce something out of nothing. A barren old woman and a young virgin were brought together by miraculous conception. We’ll be hearing often from Luke this year that God just loves to surprise and humble us by favoring our outsiders by making them God’s insiders. This Christ child we are awaiting is not some Hallmark card picture and neither is his mother a pretty statuette in white porcelain. How we would welcome a poor, pregnant teenager from outside our community is how we would receive Mary, the mother of Christ. How we would treat the child of this poor mother is how we would treat Christ.  In Matthew’s gospel Jesus described the fulfillment of his commission to be his body in the world to prepare for the kingdom of God: “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” (Matt. 25:40) “If we are to make good on our claim to follow the Jesus whose birth we await this season, we will extend hospitality to strangers instead of building walls to keep them out. We will feed the hungry, tend the sick, and welcome children.

Mary is a model of trust, obedience and Christian discipleship. Knowing there would be risks and sacrifices, she said “Yes” to God and then followed through on her commitment. With belief in God’s promises, the assurances of the prophets known to her from Scripture, she knew what the world would look like whenever her Son brings salvation. It would look like justice. She knew what it feels like. It feels like hope, peace and joy and love. God put a song in her heart and on her lips. And, with grace, he provided her a backup chorus, a small but inspired cast that played supporting roles.

That old song of Mary charges us with making all things new according to His Word – bringing down the powerful from the thrones they have constructed, lifting up the lowly who have been made low by the powerful, filling the hungry with good things and not giving more to those who already have far more than they need. Mary’s song still needs to be sung. Let’s join the chorus and make it so according to God’s will.



© Rev. Denise Clark-Jones, 2018, All Rights Reserved
Westminster Presbyterian Church
1420 W. Moss Avenue – Peoria Illinois 61606
WestminsterPeoria.org   |   309.673.850