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  • Rev. Diana Wright

Mary Meek and Mild: NOT

Advent 4C

23 Dec 2018

Welcome to the Festival of Fools!! You see the purple hat? I am the court jester today and you are all part of the celebration ladies and gentlemen. Really, to do this right, someone from the congregation should be celebrating the Eucharist. Would anyone care to be the celebrant? No?? Ah, then, you are not getting into the spirit of the Festival of Fools. For at least a day it is time to turn the world upside down; role reversal in the extreme. If only I could take you back 700 years or more. You would be dressing in all sorts of outlandish garb, singing in your worst voice, and bringing animals, especially asses, into the church. No, wait. We have enough asses in church. Now I can tell you the powers that be do not like this at all for it suggests that they are not in control. They don’t like the peasants and the subdeacons, who are after all acolytes and not even clergy, taking over all the important roles in the church, let alone dancing in the streets and behaving in such an outlandish manner. Those who have the education, training, and authority, or at least one of those traits, should be in charge. You common folk need to know your places, they say, for you are not as holy as we are and your place on earth and in heaven is not assured as is ours!! (Of course, we all know that we would not want to share our wealth with you for then we would have less and we, after all, are the nobility and deserve all of this.) Yes, they say all of this for they have the power and think that they should keep it. Aah, but those like you who are called fools know just as well how to do what we do. Who are the real fools?

Well, we all should have known this would not last and that sooner or later the authorities would stamp out the celebration, for those in power can not tolerate even the suggestion that those who are not can and should have a voice.

I wonder how they would have felt about Mary? This was no submissive babe who felt herself used and abused!! This was the woman who braved an unknown future and wrote the first Advent hymn. Her visit with Elizabeth was not one of “what-on-earth-am-I—going-to-do-now?”

No, it was one of rejoicing in what was taking place. Elizabeth and Mary were perhaps plotting the takeover of the world in that home in the hill country. Two comrades engaged in the plot of God to clean up the world.

And thus this hymn:

Mary said,

“With all my heart I glorify the Lord! 47 In the depths of who I am I rejoice in God my savior. 48 He has looked with favor on the low status of his servant. Look! From now on, everyone will consider me highly favored 49 because the mighty one has done great things for me. Holy is his name. 50 He shows mercy to everyone, from one generation to the next, who honors him as God. 51 He has shown strength with his arm. He has scattered those with arrogant thoughts and proud inclinations. 52 He has pulled the powerful down from their thrones and lifted up the lowly. 53 He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty-handed. 54 He has come to the aid of his servant Israel, remembering his mercy, 55 just as he promised to our ancestors, to Abraham and to Abraham’s descendants forever.”

(The Message by Eugene Peterson)

Indeed, role reversal and justice are promised and Mary knows she will be a main part of that story!

And so the church sang that hymn from the earliest times; it was imbedded in the memory of those early Christians. It was also in the memory of folks in Medieval Europe, where many countries sported versions of the Festival of Fools. In all fairness it was not just Mary who inspired this; even pagan traditions included times of role reversal.

But Mary was just too much for people, just too much to handle. Once you have power and authority are you willing to share it or give it up altogether? Now there are times when authority is vested where it should be: as when experienced fire fighters come to battle a blaze or when an experienced surgical team performs a delicate operation. I doubt any of us would be happy with the outcome if the Fools took over.

Mary, sweet lovable Mary, becomes a sort of Wonder Woman. Not an action-packed super hero Wonder Woman, but nonetheless Wonder Woman. Or maybe someone in the French resistance in WWII. I have a woodcut by an artist named Ben Wildflower. He was raised in an evangelical tradition, bereft of a tradition of Mary and the Magnificat, and first heard this when he attended an Anglican church during Evening Prayer. He was struck by the subversive nature of the hymn, as have been Christians from the very earliest times. It so startled him that he saw a scrap of wood and produced the woodcut. The second woodcut is this year’s version of the Magnificat. [1]

Apparently the most popular version of the hymn is one by Randy Gill, which is a beautiful acapella version which stops at verse 50. Something missing here??

The hymn has been banned at one time or another in three countries. [2] British Colonial India found it too dangerous, as did the countries of Guatemala and Argentina. The natives were restless and the powers that be did not want them to know that God was on their side.

Oscar Romero called on the words of Mary in El Salvador; the hymn is one of the underpinnings of Liberation Theology. Diedrich Bonhoeffer described the hymn as, “the most passionate, the wildest, one might even say the most revolutionary hymn ever sung. It is not the gentle, sweet, dreamy Mary that we so often see portrayed in pictures, but the passionate, powerful, proud, enthusiastic Mary, who speaks here. None of the sweet, sugary, or childish tones that we find so often in our Christmas hymns, but a hard, strong, uncompromising song of bringing down rulers from their thrones and humbling the lords of this world, of God's power and of the powerlessness of men”[3]

So the 4th Sunday of Advent is not the sweet finale to our weeks of preparation. It is a manifesto by Mary to action, to follow her with Jesus as he turns the world upside down. In two days we celebrate the Nativity of God made human, of the one who gave to us the Feast of Fools when he became love incarnate and showed us what the character of God is.

Turn the world upside down.

Let us close with The Canticle of the Turning, Rory Cooney’s powerful version of the Magnificat. [4]

[1] https://benwildflower.tumblr.com/post/168559341019/ben-gets-many-requests-for-a-high-quality-image-of


[2] Mayfield, DL. Mary’s ‘Magnificat’ in the Bible is revolutionary. Some evangelicals silence her. Washington Post, Acts of Faith. 20 Dec 2018. https://www.washingtonpost.com/religion/2018/12/20/marys-magnificat-bible-is-revolutionary-so-evangelicals-silence-it/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.dc989ac8c4a5


[3] Bonhoeffer, Diedrich. Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Christmas Sermons, Zondervan 2005:


[4] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F9QeTmRCpW4

Ben Wildflower's Mary

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