Luke's Mary

Mary was a prophet. A prophet is a human being who is given a message from God to deliver to a person or group of people. Sometimes that message is about the present. Sometimes that message is about the future. Usually that message is God’s commentary and assessment of what the person or people being addressed are doing, but sometimes it’s just a good word or an encouragement.

Mary was a prophet. When prophets speak their message, they don’t really understand the significance of what they are saying. They may know what the words mean, and they may have a sense of what those words have to do with what’s happening right around them, but they can’t really understand the full impact of the message they are delivering. Messages from God are so full of possibility: they are more like living beings than mere words. A prophet is like a mother giving birth to a child. She cannot know the impact that child will have, but she knows the child deeply as it is, in the moment, at its birth.

Mary was a prophet. When she spoke the words, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour...” she was bringing a message from God into the world. She knew that something extraordinary was afoot, that God was doing something, but she could not know really what it was. Her words are the words of one who lived in a time when her pregnancy in highly suspicious circumstances probably made her the focus of much negative gossip and many unfriendly stares in her hometown. And they are also the words of one whose people had been subjected to the whims of powerful foreigners and the excesses of their own corrupt local potentates.

When she said, “from now on all generations will call me blessed,” she might well have had a fairly narrow picture of her own vindication in mind. When she said, “His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation,” and “He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly,” she probably had a limited picture in mind of God setting things right in her life and in Israel.

But Mary was a prophet, speaking a word from God, and that word has meaning beyond whatever she may have thought she was talking about. The prayer she uttered in her elation was not only her prayer, but a prayer for millions over the centuries. It is a prayer that is both an encouragement for the downtrodden, and a warning to the powerful. It is a prayer that reveals something about what God is doing, but it does so differently and uniquely in each generation.

Mary was a prophet. As I reflect on her words for myself in our society, I see a message of warning and hope for all of us. When she says, “He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts,” and “he has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty,” this tells me that God is at work tearing down the walls of self-delusion that we all build to make ourselves important or unimportant in our society. When we convince ourselves that we are terribly important and deserving of other people’s deference and respect, or that we are indispensable, and therefore have one over on others, the little boy Jesus comes breaking in and says, “Look, the emperor has no clothes! Who are you kidding? Your importance is an illusion, and you can be quickly replaced by several million other people I happen to know personally.” And when we convince ourselves that we are unimportant, that no one cares about us, that no one would miss us if we were gone, or that no one wants us, the grown-up Jesus taps us on the shoulder and says, “Stop the pity party already, I’ve got a job for you, and as long as you’re moping around like that, it won’t get done. You are important to me, and to more people than you give yourself credit for.

The rest? Have pity on them, they are poor deluded souls who haven’t taken the time to get to know my masterpiece -- you.” Mary was a prophet, but she was a prophet like no other. Her greatest message was not a string of words arranged in sentences and later written on a page. Her greatest message was the living Word of God, the literal child to whom she gave birth. She may never have fully understood or appreciated the significance and impact which this prophetic Word of God would have. But prophets never really do. They are prophets because they speak as God moves them to, and act as God sends them. Mary was a prophet. Thanks be to God for her faithful witness. Amen.