My Soul Magnifies the Lord
December 2, 2018
Rev. Fritz Nelson
Text: Luke 1:47-55
Someone once wrote into Miss Manners asking how to respond to an acquaintance whose child had come into the world with less than ideal timing.
Miss Manners reply would become a classic. “You say congratulations,” she wrote. “All babies are good news.”
Mary, a young woman in the small town of Nazareth, becomes mysteriously pregnant. She’s already betrothed – an arrangement made between her parents and her future husband – but the couple has not been together. She refuses to reveal the identity of the father. So Mary’s parents do what parents have done since forever – send her away to a distant, and also mysteriously pregnant relative.
With Mary safely sequestered, Mary’s parents frantically try to do damage control. Is Joseph going to publicly shame Mary and her family, maybe even rally the village to stone her or will he dismiss her quietly? Might he even agree to go through with the marriage, to adopt her child and raise him as his own?
We know very little about Joseph. He’s a descendent of King David. He’s a tradesman of some type – tradition lists him as a carpenter, scripture uses a more generic term akin to builder. Some traditions, seeking to ensure Mary’s perpetual virginity, suggest Joseph was quite elderly, a widower who already had several children from a previous marriage, who dies during Jesus’ early childhood. Others suggest Joseph was only slightly older than Mary and they go on to raise a family together. Both Matthew and Luke tell us Joseph was righteous and receptive to the movements of the Holy Spirit in his life.
When Mary walks through the door of Elizabeth’s house she has no idea what will happen, what will become of her. Will she ever be able to show her face in Nazareth again? Will she ever be able to get married? Will her son be marked as illegitimate and cut out of society? Who would support them? Pregnancy is stressful enough in modern times with ultrasounds, neo-natal ER’s and What to Expect When You’re Expecting. Pregnancy is stressful enough when you’re well supported socially and economically. Take away Heidi Murkoff. Add a heavy dose of scandal. Mary has every reason not to rejoice.
Yet she walks into her relative’s house, the baby jumps in her womb, and Mary joins with the psalmists and the prophets of old in praising God.
My soul magnifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior
For he has looked with favor on the lowliness of her servant
I’ve never envied Mary as a mother. From the scandal of her pregnancy to traveling to Bethlehem at full term to her son becoming an enemy of the state at two and her family being forced to flee the country, to dealing with her son’s identity issues growing up, to his refusal to marry, to settle down, to be everything a good Jewish son should be, to his once again becoming an enemy of the state, a person scorned, ridiculed, laughed at, persecuted, hunted, hung on a cross.
How much of this did Mary know, sense or realize when the child jumped in her womb? Yet she praises God, for through her, literally in her, God is doing great things.
Reading the gospels I’m always struck by the trials and sufferings experienced by those who follow Jesus. Very few of the disciples die peacefully in their beds. Those who do often die far from the homes of their birth. Missionary zeal drives some. Persecution chases others. None in their own time became famous. None became rich or ascended into positions of secular power. None had anything amounting to normal family lives.
Writing to the Corinthians, Paul sums up the physical consequences of following Jesus:
“Five times I have received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I received a stoning. Three times I was shipwrecked; for a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from bandits, danger from my own people, danger from the Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers and sisters, in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, hungry and thirsty, often without food, cold and naked. And, besides other things, I am under daily pressure because of my anxiety for all the churches.”
As Paul list his trials, he’s not complaining. He’s boasting. He understands his suffering to be proof of his calling, proof of his faithfulness, proof of his dedication to his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. He expects nothing less. I expect Mary expected little less as well. To faithfully follow Christ is to walk east while the rest of the world walks west, is to kneel down while the rest of the world climbs up. To be the lowliest of servants in a world governed by those who grasp power for powers sake; to speak words of peace in a world steeped in violence; to be governed by love in a world dominated by hate; to commit every breath to following a savior who died poor, penniless, on a cross, labeled a blasphemer, a traitor, an enemy of the state, a corrupting influence on his religion, alone except for his mother and a few other women who stood vigil at the base of the cross.
Mary, in exile due to the scandal in her womb, walks into the safety of Elizabeth’s house, feels the baby jump, and begins praising God. Its only the first act of what will be a far from normal life, a far from peaceful life, a far from prosperous life, but it’s the first act of a called life – and that is enough. Enough for her. Enough for us.