Magnificat, silence and speech

A sermon preached at Wine Before Breakfast on September 10, 2019.

Luke 1.39-56

The man of the house,
had nothing to say.

In an extremely patriarchal society,
a respected elder,
an esteemed member of the priestly order
was rendered mute,
while an unwed, pregnant peasant girl
proclaimed one of the most revolutionary prayers of all time.

This may be the house of Zechariah and Elizabeth,
but Zechariah has nothing to say,
he has no role in the story of Mary’s visit.

And if he was in the room at all,
he is a passive observer,
not an active participant.

If you remember the back story,
both Zechariah and Mary had an encounter with the angel Gabriel.
And while Zechariah was terrified and overcome with fear,
Mary was perplexed and pondered what all of this might mean.
For his doubt, Zechariah, the elite priest, lost his ability to speak,
while Mary, the lowly and marginalized girl, retains (or perhaps discovers) her voice.

But it is not Mary’s voice that we hear first. It is Elizabeth’s.
While her baby is doing somersaults in her womb,
the old lady is overwhelmed and cries out,
“Blessed is she who believed that there would be
a fulfilment of what was spoken by her Lord.”
While Zechariah’s doubt is cursed, blessed is Mary’s radical faith,

Notice that it is the theologically trained priest,
the one who carefully enacts the liturgies,

and teaches the story of God’s covenant faithfulness, who forgets.
Old couples hearing news of surprising pregnancies
is the oldest story of the Torah,
but Zechariah finds it unbelievable when the news is made personal.

No, it is the young woman who remembers.
It is the peasant girl who embraces the news of liberation.
It is Mary who receives this word, this upturning of her life.
It is this vulnerable, pregnant, lowly and marginalized girl
who will see the story of God opening up anew in her womb,

and has the faith and the courage to believe that the kingdom revolution is at hand.

You see, while Mary may well have said to Gabriel,
“Here I am, the servant of the Lord;
let it be with me according to your word,”
it is clear that this is no passive child,
no meek and mild girl overwhelmed
by an angel showing up in her bedroom.

While Mary may have been perplexed before Gabriel,
by the time she got to Elizabeth’s house,
much had become crystal clear.
You see, if Zechariah’s muteness was born of his amnesia,
then Mary’s revolutionary speech was born of subversive memories
of other women in the story, other moments of God’s faithfulness.

Lest anyone mistake Mary for a good girl
who simply accepted a pregnancy that could have resulted in being stoned to death,
the Magnificat introduces us to a valiant woman of faith
who knows that praise and protest always go together,
who knows that the holiness of God is always about justice,
who knows that in lifting up the lowly, the lofty must be brought down.

So can we sing the Magnificat on September 10, 2019?
Dare we sing the Magnificat at 7.22 in the morning,
while the powerful remain in their boardrooms,
the rich are bloated and the poor line up at food banks,
the planet has been presented as a sacrifice to greed and affluence,
and we study at a university where the proud imaginations of our hearts are boundless?

Dare we name names, like Mary does?
Do we hear our names in these radical prophetic reversals?
What are the thrones from which we must be toppled?
Are we the lowly or the proud?
The well-sated rich or the desperate hungry?
Where do we find ourselves in this abrasive prayer?

And what could it possibly mean to sing this song today?
Can you talk about anyone being toppled
on the eve of the anniversary of 9/11?
How do we put together the lament of that day,
with the revolutionary fervour of Mary’s song?
Can we hold together pastoral tenderness and prophetic truth-telling?

Well, friends, that’s kind of what Wine Before Breakfast is all about.
And it is certainly what the gospel of Luke is all about.
Praise and prophecy.
Healing and confrontation.
Lament and tenderness.

Deep memory and radical reversals.

It’s all there in this gospel.
It’s all here in this chapel.
You’ll find it all in our music.
You’ll struggle with it all in our prayers.
You’ll be confronted with it all in our preaching.
And it will all come together at our table.

Welcome to Wine Before Breakfast.
Welcome to a year in the gospel of Luke.
Welcome to a community in transition.
Welcome to a year of discipleship with Jesus.
Welcome to joy and sorrow, praise and lament.
Welcome home.

Brian Walsh
Brian is an activist theologian and the CRC Campus Minister at the University of Toronto. He engages issues of theology and culture, and has written a couple of books you might want to check out. His most recent offering is cowritten with Sylvia Keesmaat and entitled Romans Disarmed: Resisting Empire, Demanding Justice.

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