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The Virgin Mary - Advent 4 The Annunciation

There are a great many myths and legends around the Mary the Mother of Jesus who we hear in our reading from Luke today with the magnificent words of the Magnificat.

The Infancy Gospel of James written about the middle of the second century tells of a young woman named Salome who refuses to believe that Mary is a physical virgin after having given birth to Jesus. She says to the midwife that examined Mary,

“unless I thrust in my finger, and search the parts, I will not believe that a virgin has brought forth.”

Echoes here of the well known doubting Thomas story. Salome goes to Mary and physically examines her but her lack of faith brings misfortune for not only is Mary still a virgin, but for daring to touch the Virgin in such a manner her hand begins to drop off as if it was being burned with fire. Fortunately for Salome, when she holds the baby Jesus she is cured, but the general thrust of the story is that Mary is above reproach.

The important thing for us is to ensure that we read the Biblical text carefully in relation to Mary and neither embellish it with magic or strip Mary the Mother of our of the significance which she has in the birth and upbringing of Jesus.

First SLIDE Corinne and I visited the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth, dedicated to Mary and the great visitation which she received which told her of the birth of Jesus.

Second Slide The picture which you have in Partnership News this morning is one of many representation from different countries of Mary. This one was contributed by the USA.
All round are many mosaics which show Mary and which have been given by different nations.
The next slides show
3. Ecuador
4. China
5. Japan
6. Thailand
7. Italy

The obvious common factor is that each country makes Mary in their own style. We have been doing this in art in western culture for centuries of course.

Slide 8 This is a common style of painting of Mary
I went to the National Portrait Gallery and they have lots of paintings of Mary

Slide 9 This is The Virgin Mary in Prayer by Sassoferrato. Mary is quite demure, she is pale in complexion, she is well behaved and respectable. We like this sort of Mary and she would be at home in our Christmas Carols in her ’customary ’Maiden Bliss’
We can make Mary almost anything that we want to. Alex is home this weekend and as a special for her I even found in the National Gallery this painting of Mary

Slide 10 This is from Hans Memling which has a Ginger Mary.
So we need to ask what the real Mary was really like, what does she really have to say, as opposed to what we think she should say! Let’s start by getting rid of those images. Mary was young, she was middle eastern, no pale skin and she was most certainly not blond or a ginger.

Slide 11 This picture is perhaps closer to what she would have looked like, probably younger, older than twelve, perhaps 14 years old.
Luke tells us about the birth of Jesus to Mary, the other Gospels Mark and John don’t mention it and Matthew tells us the story from the man’s point of view, the visit of an angel to Joseph. In Luke we read that Gabriel the angel comes to Mary and tells her that she is going to have a baby and she is going to call the baby Jesus. Mary goes to see her cousin Elizabeth and they share baby stories because Elizabeth is going to give birth to John the Baptist
It is whilst with Elizabeth, that the words of the Magnificat become attributed to Mary.

Slide 12 These are quite amazing words to come from Mary. If you had a daughter who came out with this kind of stuff you would think that she had been radicalised. Bringing down the powerful from their thrones is the kind of talk that would get you in trouble today under the prevent strategy.

Slide 13 Theologians have been quick to point out that this sort of language was handed down through scripture. 1 Samuel has Hannah speaking about the birth of Samuel and the words which she uses are remarkably similar. Its all quite radical again, the language of the overthrow of the rulers and an uprising of the poor. This is the language of the prophets like Amos who spoke of the exploitation of the poor and the coming of justice.
We should not therefore be surprised being brought up in a home like this with this radical woman that Jesus turned out the way that he did and of course his ministry very much reflected this reversal of fortunes which his mother spoke about in the context of his birth.

Slide 14 This is the image of Jesus who fulfils these words which his mother spoke. Jesus is the great turner of the tables. He looks from the bottom up, not top down. God is seen to favour the poor and the vulnerable and the rich who have neglected their duty to care as they were told to do by the prophets are sent away empty.

When we present Mary as the ‘Mild Mother’ we forget the shocking nature of her words and we do not learn from her the important truths which she presents. Let me give you two things which perhaps we can take away this morning.

First of all the Challenge to care
C S Lewis called the Magnificat a ’Terrible Song.’ He meant terrible in the Latin root, terribilis, which is startling, earth-shattering, a terrible song in the sense this young girl sings about the scattering of the proud and upsetting of the whole normal order of things. What he meat was that it was threatening, it challenged you and if you took it seriously you could not be unmoved, you had to do something. The Magnificat challenges us to care for all human beings because God cares for all of his children.
The story is told of the French Christian scholar Muretus who became ill on a journey. he was taken to doctors who did not know that he was educated and could speak Latin. The doctors discussed his case in Latin and they were saying that he was a poor creature of value to no one and that it was hopeless and unnecessary to expend care and money on attention to such as him and they could experiment on him. Muretus looked up and answered in their own Latin,
“Call no man worthless for whom Christ died.”
Because of God’s grace like Muretus said, none of us are worthless. In fact, in God’s eyes we each have infinite value and therefore we are challenged to care

Secondly Mary sees that God is the ‘Mighty One’
‘Mighty One has done great things for me’

When Mary is faced with a huge challenges she does not become overwhelmed but recognises that God’s presence is sufficient in whatever circumstances she may find herself.
When her problem appears big, her response is to magnify not the problem but God.
Mary says ‘My soul magnifies the Lord’

Again this is the kind of thing which Mary would have learned through the pages of scripture.

Psalm 34:3 says ‘Magnify the Lord with me’
So Mary encourages us in whatever problem we may find ourselves to get a perspective. The problem is small when we face it with God at our side.

O teach me what it cost You, Lord,
To make a sinner whole,
And help me understand anew
The value of one soul! —Anon.