While reflecting on this week’s readings, I was struck by something… Something was jumping out from the pages and capturing my attention. Something was nagging at my brain that it was there… there was something to be said, something that I needed to preach today.
The problem, of course, is that I had no idea what this “something” was. It was at the back of my mind, but it hadn’t taken shape yet. So, being an English major, I turned to those tools to bring this something to light. In literary studies, we often look at something called “voice”… examining how the author is speaking, and whether the words they are saying are enhanced or distracted by the way that they say it. And so reading the Magnificat, looking for Mary’s voice, I found it in her verbs. I found it in the way that she talks about God versus talking about herself. Most importantly, I found that she doesn’t talk about herself. The only mentions of Mary in the Magnificat… in the beautiful text that we acclaim her for… are framed in the context of God.
A mentor recently gave me advice on a document that I would need to fill out for my discernment process—she said: “don’t use passive voice. As you write, use active voice… because you are a part of your own story. You’re not sitting back in a chair watching as these events take place. Own it. Own your story.”
Here in the Magnificat, is the ultimate example of owning your story. Perhaps surprisingly, it’s Mary who barely speaks of herself, and her place in this story. Instead, the person whose story it is, is the one whom she talks about. She is giving us a message that this is not her story. It’s God’s.
And that is a good thing… If it was hers, solely her story, the news that she is unwed and pregnant in a culture that rewarded this situation with death would be catastrophic. If she did not have such absolute faith that this story was God’s, and not hers, then her Magnificat would sound quite different from the one we hear today. But because she knows who the owner of this story is, she knows that it’s not about her. Surely if God can bless a virgin with a child, then he can work through the other issues too.
Hence, the Magnificat as we hear it today, is about God’s story. Indeed, the only actions that she attributes to herself in this retelling, refashioning of the otherwise devastating news are those of praise. “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”
I wonder if Mary, who is so selfless, so confident in God’s power to change lives, would like the way that we have so often talked about her. “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us now and at the hour of our death, amen”. I fear sometimes that there is such a focus on Mary that we forget something that Mary is trying to tell us. We forget that, although she is certainly worthy of honor in our tradition, some of the only words we hear her speak are ones where her “soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord”. She acknowledges that “all generations will call me blessed”, but then goes on to say that it’s not because of her. It’s not because of her power, or her work that she is worthy of this praise. Instead, she is saying that “all generations will call me blessed” because of what God has done through me. It’s about God, the creator, and owner of this story.
And the part of this story that God has revealed to us is that “when the fulfillment of the time came, God sent his Son, born through a woman, and born under the Law. This was so that he could redeem those under the Law so that we could be adopted. Because you are sons and daughters, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba, Father!’ Therefore, you are no longer a slave but a son or daughter, and if you are his child, then you are also an heir through God.” This is the Good News of Jesus Christ, accomplished through a young woman named Mary who knew that God was the creator and owner of this story that encompasses all of ours.
I’m reminded of the song called Bless the Broken Road… sung by either Selah or Rascal Flatts, depending on which radio station you listen to. The singer says “this much I know is true, that God blessed the broken road and led me straight to you. It’s all part of a grand new plan, that is coming true”. The song acknowledges that it’s hard to write our own stories. The roads we travel on are broken, the stories we write are half-finished and messy. But, the song goes on to acknowledge that, we’re part of something bigger. God’s doing something else… he’s not leaving our stories fragmented.
You see, our stories are all part of this larger story that God laid out before the beginning of time. And all of us are called to acknowledge, like Mary, that ultimately, our stories do not just belong to us. We create them together, in community with one another. All because of our God, who loves us so much that he wants to redeem our stories, to redeem us from the burden of having to write our own broken histories. God wants to make our stories whole… but that can only be accomplished through the person of Jesus Christ, who took on our form, who was born under the Law, so that he could redeem those of us under the law.
God wants to redeem us. He wants to make our stories, our lives whole. Mary knew this, which was why she spent so many verses in the Magnificat talking about God’s story. You see, she knew that the secret to writing her own story was to focus on God’s. And it worked. We still talk about Mary today, we tell our children about her life, and the Annunciation is a prominent part of the Nativity story. Mary made history by allowing her life story to become part of God’s bigger picture.
May we have the courage to do the same. To do the things that are hard, to follow God’s commandments, and to remember that we live in communities and spaces with our neighbors—the neighbors that God asks us to love as ourselves, to remember that they also are living within God’s all-encompassing story. May we, like Mary, proclaim the greatness of the God… the creator and owner of all stories, and lover of our souls.
(Preached on 8/22/2016–transferred feast day celebration)