Sunday, August 14, 2016

My Spirit Rejoices

She gave birth to a son, a male child, destined to rule all the nations with an iron rod. Her child was caught up to God and his throne. The woman herself fled into the desert where she had a place prepared by God. Revelation 12:5-6A

Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through man, the resurrection of the dead came also through man. For just as in Adam all die, so too in Christ shall all be brought to life. 1 Corinthians 15:20-22

From the St. John's Bible
And Mary said:
“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed:
the Almighty has done great things for me
and holy is his Name.
He has mercy on those who fear him
in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm,
and has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has come to the help of his servant Israel
for he has remembered his promise of mercy,
the promise he made to our fathers,
to Abraham and his children forever.” Luke 1:46-55

Today’s solemn feast marks the end of Mary’s mortal life and her direct assumption into heaven.  However, the Scripture leads us to one of the earliest stories about her life.  Rather than reflect on her just reward, we remember how this poor Jewish girl answered an unlikely and shocking call. We are treated to her most expressive, expansive and powerful passage in the entire corpus of Sacred Scripture.

The Lord shows sympathy for and affinity with the poor.  Rather than come into the world as the son of the Roman Emperor or another king, God chose Mary. Yet, after finding she was pregnant and realizing that her fiancĂ© would not disavow their union, Mary rushed to visit her elderly cousin Elizabeth. 

In essence, Mary is the first disciple, maybe the perfect disciple. For Mary, Spirit is both an internal and external manifestation of her response to God’s call.  Her internal spirit rejoices when she realizes that the Lord has looked upon her and called her to perform a special duty. Yet, the Spirit also is an external manifestation of her faith because it is through the Spirit of the Lord that the Word comes to her. Her immediate reaction to everything happening around her is not depression. It is not alcoholism. It is not to go fishing. It is not to hide out in the Upper Room with the door locked.  Mary sets out to see her cousin and upon her arrival, breaks into a song of thanksgiving in her jubilee year of mercy!

With wisdom far beyond her years, she sings with gratitude that the Lord has looked with favor upon her, his slave.  She sings of the hesed, or mercy, that he shows from generation to generation.

As she comes to the end of her song, there is an almost imperceptible shift.  At one moment she is singing of the Mighty One who has scattered the proud, and then in the next moment, she sings that he has exalted the lowly.  Mary has begun to sing of the radical reversal that will so captivate the heart of her son Jesus.  She celebrates that the hungry will have good things but the rich are sent away empty. This is all just as God had promised it would be to the ancestors and to Abraham.[i] 

The assumption is the last step. However, Mary’s entire life shows us the stages of discipleship:[ii]
  1. She received a very unexpected and difficult call to be the mother of a unique child in a very strange way.
  2. She tested the call by asking questions
  3. Without reserve, she accepted the call.
  4. Immediately, without concern for herself, she set off to help another, a cousin who was old and in her sixth month of pregnancy.
  5. She shared the Good News with her cousin.
  6. She returned home to give birth and to show the child to the shepherds, to the magi, to Simeon and Anna, without fully understanding who he was and what he was all about.
  7. She persevered to the end, finally standing beneath the cross and burying Jesus.

The miracle children of Mary and Elizabeth will change the world, one person at a time. Including you and me.

What job does the Lord have for you?   You might think – especially on a feast like today – that we cannot be like Mary. She seems so perfect. Yet, other disciples -- like Peter the Denier, Thomas the Doubter, James and John to Sit-At-Your-Side Requestors -- went through a version of these same seven steps.  Maybe it is easier to identify with some of the more flaw-filled later disciples.  But, they all have in common one critical component: “Blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it.” (Luke 11:28) 

How do you hear the Word of God and observe it?

[i] Michael Card.  Luke: The Gospel of Amazement. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, an imprint of InterVarsity Press, 2011, P. 41.
[ii] Gerard P. Weber, S.T.L., and Robert Miller, S.T.L. Breaking Open the Gospel of Luke.  Cincinnati, Ohio: St. Anthony Messenger Press. 1990. P. 17

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