Sunday, December 20, 2015

Sermon for Advent 4C at Coventry Cathedral. You can never have too many Marys

Once upon a time, not in a galaxy far far away but in a diocese just down the road, the local Home Education network held their Christmas celebration in my church. Imagine the scene. The children had written their own script based on the Biblical accounts, and the narrators proclaimed the gospel with grace and dignity while younger children took their part in presenting a kind of nativity tableau. Because all these children are taught by their parents at home, there had not been a chance to rehearse together nor indeed to plan every last detail. Of course that was not a problem – it enhanced the freshness and spontaneity of the story that is both old and ever new – but it did mean that we had quite an interesting cast of characters including no less than four Marys.

They sat there on the dais, each cradling an infant son – and it struck me you can never have too many Marys....for it is through her obedience, her faith and her fortitude that Christ is born in our world.
The Orthodox Church call her Theotokos, the God-bearer – and surely that is her principal calling - as it is for each of us too.
Like Mary, we are called to be obedient to God's word
Like her, we must allow God's Son to transform our lives from within
And like her we must share the impact of that transformation, and our experience of the One who brings it about, with a world that needs Him as much as ever today.

Again and again Mary is depicted with her child in her arms – slightly controversially he's there already in our Cathedral crib -...but we know that even as Mary holds him, she offers him to others, that they too may be touched by his Love.
Like any parent, her role is to work herself out of a job, to give her Child away to the world...As I contemplate the enormity of sending my first born across the Atlantic to Canada in just 10 days time, that seems remarkable enough in itself.
Mary, did you know...did you know how it would feel to let go of that precious child, when you and John waited at the foot of the cross...?

We often think of Mary bringing the Church to birth at that moment when Jesus says to her “Woman, behold your Son” and to John “behold your mother” and in that new relationship, based on their connection to Jesus, a new family is born – the Church of God, of which we are members.

But it seems to me that she brings the church to birth, too, at the moment of visitation which we hear of in today's gospel.
She takes her unborn child to visit Elizabeth – and the transforming grace of his presence within her enables Elizabeth to grasp the wonder that has entered her house
Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me?

So - together the women recognise Christ – and worship him...and so make Church....For what else is the church but the community of those who recognise Christ and worship him, who live to rejoice in his salvation?
My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Saviour.
And then.....then Mary proclaims the Kingdom in all its revolutionary power and splendour as she launches into that song of high revolt which we down-play and sanitise at our peril.
Mother of the Church, Mary shows her children what they are called to be and to do.

And her manifesto for the Church is a declaration of faith and of hope...
Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord”
Yes – Mary needed to believe in the miraculous birth to hold on, in the face of reason, to the knowledge that her child would be all that was promised – all she and the world would ever need...
But there's more to look forward to as well...
She – and we - need to have faith that we, as the Church, can BE Church – can together become signs of that Kingdom that is both now and not yet.

Mary, Mother of God – mother of the Church...models this for us. She has faith that God will act – and act He does.
I wonder - do we expect God's action today – or is it something for other times and other places?
So often it seems that our faith is in a God of yesterday – not one who is active here and now in THIS place...
Of course faith can be hard in a world where grief and pain seem so often to have the upper hand – but keep your eyes open and there are more signs of the Kingdom than you'd dare to expect...

The Magnificat agenda is played out again and again – just open your eyes and see and then, with Mary, magnify the Lord...
The signs are there – here and now...
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly”
When the powerful choose to accept Christ's invitation to use their power in the service of others,to let go and enable God to work in them and through make space for Him as Mary did.
That's a choice for us too...We can make space for God...become God-bearers..
Remember you can never have too many Marys

And the Kingdom revolution continues , its signs all around us...Open your eyes and see!
He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty
See Christ sitting at the tables of the poor, where scanty resources are stretched by good will and love...Christ present as churches come together to create a Winter Night Shelter for those who are destitute amid the overflowing plenty of a western Chrismas, Christ where Foodbanks enable those with enough to share with those struggling, where empty retreat houses are offered as places of safety to those fleeing conflict we can barely imagine .
My soul magnifies the Lord
Here, here are signs....
Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord”
You can never have too many Marys – to recognise God at work and to celebrate...
Are you in?
WE are to proclaim and celebrate the Kingdom and to live in ways that make it real...
WE are to share Christ with a needy world, giving him away again and again but realising that as we do so He is closer to us than ever

You can never have too many mother the Church and bring it to birth, to model and rejoice in the Kingdom life ..and to bear the Christ child into his world this Christmas time and always.

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