Advent People (3) Mary

On this third Sunday of Advent we turn to an obscure Jewish palestinian teenage girl called Mary.

It’s probably safe to say no-one has been more buried under later theological developments and controversies than this young girl.

So let’s put aside an image of Mary as meek and characterless, detached almost completely from her first century context.

Too many statues of Mary lead us to think of her like that – lifeless and bland.

Too many crèches have her as a sweet smiling passive figure.

Too much theology has her as so perfect so as not to be fully human at all – a sinless, pious, perfect “supermum”.

Yet her Magnificat has nothing much meek and passive about it. It’s a revolutionary proclamation against Herod and the might of the Roman Empire. It’s a celebration of the liberating action of God in keeping his covenant with his people. It’s a song of joy at being chosen. It’s an outburst of praise and worship to Yahweh.

And do you see how Mary mentions humility twice? God has been mindful of his ‘humble servant’ whom he has lifted up …

At the heart of Christian humility is a recognition of our true place and standing before God.

It is those who are NOT humble who he judges and casts down – the rulers like Herod and Caesar …  the powerful and so often the rich … those who are proud, self-sufficient, who protect their own status and power, who are happy to use others for their own ends, who have no interest in justice for the poor. Who think that they are in control of their own lives …..

There is no way on earth that they will acknowledge Jesus as LORD – no, Herod’s first reaction is to try to kill his rival …..

Some speculation here: I wonder if the current debt crisis is one huge lesson in humility. Out of control lending by banks to private investors – driven by status and greed. Building huge buildings like Anglo HQ on the Quays – now standing half built – a monument to vanity.

Of so many taking on unmanageable debt – vast portfolios of property developers, – of helicopters, of mansions, of billion euro bets on banks, of apparent wealth and success ….  of political patronage and massive over-confidence

Of a huge consumerist binge …. of a myth of endless growth and profit and the story that we are the masters of our own fate, without limits – dreams of endless progress ?

And suddenly all this house of cards has come crashing down ….

Has God scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
Has he brought down rulers from their thrones. Has he sent away the rich empty?


But before we say ‘well that wasn’t me’ – we all need to acknowledge that deep down, we are proud. Each one of us wants to be right, and in control of our own lives.

Christian humility like that of Mary is not low self-esteem. Christian humility is simply this – acknowledging that Jesus is LORD and I am not.

It leads to repentance; to give our lives over to God in faith just as Mary did. Wholeheartedly, without reserve and in joy.

Mary’s Song

46And Mary said:

“My soul glorifies the Lord
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
holy is his name.
50 His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
51 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
53 He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful
55 to Abraham and his descendants forever,
just as he promised our ancestors.”

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