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Luke 1:46-55

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Luke 1:46-55

Simply Sing Out the Praise of God

By The Rev. Charles Hoffacker

The church year contains
a long sequence of green Sundays
that stretch from late spring through late autumn;
these green Sundays
occupy about half the year.

Today we interrupt that series
to celebrate the feast of St. Mary the Virgin.
We can move this August 15 feast
to a Sunday
because our chapel bears her name;
Mary is the patron saint for this place.

Several other feasts
are connected with the life of Mary,
but this one is her own special day
marking the end of her earthly life.
The Orthodox churches call this feast
her dormition, which means her falling asleep.
Roman Catholics know it
as the Assumption,
reflecting the belief that she was taken up,
body and soul, assumed into heaven.
The Episcopal Church calls this day simply
the feast of St. Mary the Virgin.
In the collect we pray:
“O God, you have taken to yourself
the Blessed Virgin Mary,
mother of your incarnate Son.”
We do not claim to know, as a matter of faith,
how this happened.
We do, however, claim as a matter of faith
that it did happen:
Mary is now in heaven.

As we celebrate the life and witness
of the mother of Jesus,
we would do well to consider
just what it is that makes her so special.
For the Bible presents her as special
and so does the tradition of the church.

Christian tradition carefully distinguishes
the honor and respect in which we hold the angels and saints
from the absolute worship
which is due to God alone.
The worship to which God alone is entitled
is known by the word latria.
The respect shown to the saints
is known by the word dulia.
But there is a third term as well,
hyperdulia.
This is the honor and respect shown to Mary
as the most outstanding of the saints,
preeminent among the servants of God.

How is it
that Mary is respected and honored
to such a degree?
She is, of course,
the human mother of Jesus,
entrusted with caring for him
in all the ways that a mother
cares for her child.
But there’s more to it than that.
We need to look at her response to God.

Today, as we recognize
the earthly life of Mary in its totality,
let us look back to when she first appears
in the scriptural story,
at the Annunciation
when the angel Gabriel announces
to this teenage girl
that she is to be
the mother of God’s Son.
What is her response?

She asks for clarification.
“How can this be,” she says,
“since I am a virgin?”
The glorious angel tells her
of how the Spirit of God
will overshadow her.
Mary’s response
is faithful acceptance:
“Here I am,
the servant of the Lord;
let it be with me according to your word.”

Notice what she does not say.
Mary does not say,
“I am not worthy.”
Nor does she say,
“I am worthy.”
Worthiness is not the point.
Somehow this young girl understands:
it’s not all about her;
it’s all about God.

The angel’s message is continuous
with all the ways
God attempts to give God’s own self
to people.
God makes attempts to do so
before the Annunciation.
God makes these attempts
throughout all of history.
God makes attempts
to give God’s own self to people
even now,
right here in Baden, Maryland.

And you know what happens,
most of the time?
We come up with an excuse;
we refuse the gift.
Oh, we’re usually polite enough
about it.
Our most common excuse is:
“I am not worthy.”
We miss the point;
it’s not about worthiness.
What it’s about
is God doing what God likes to do,
loves to do,
best of all:
giving away God’s own self.

Not only do we miss the point.
We turn our misunderstanding into an iron cage
that holds society captive
and replaces authentic faith
with a substitute for Christianity.
We come to believe it’s about
whether or not we are worthy,
when what it’s about
is instead
that God is gracious,
always attempting
to give away God’s own self.

The greatness of Mary
is that she is not caught up
in concerns about worthiness.
She neither boasts at the angel’s message,
nor pulls away,
claiming not to deserve it.
Instead, she recognizes that message
as what it is:
sheer gift.

How often is our response
so contrary to hers.
We are caught up in timidity,
low self-esteem,
a focus on our shortcomings.
Or we have an inflated sense of ourselves,
and constantly we must work
to keep this balloon inflated!
Mary, on the other hand,
avoids these traps,
placing the emphasis
not on herself,
but with the God
who initiates all good things.
Her center is not her little ego,
but the Holy One
who exceeds every limit.

Jesus is our salvation,
and he represents and sums up
the entire mystery of how salvation
is offered to us by God.

Mary is for us
the personification,
the one who represents and sums up
how salvation is received
by human beings.
She is thus a stand in, an exemplar
for all of us.
This is why the older Christian traditions,
including our own,
pay her special attention, extraordinary respect.
Mary is us;
and if we are to be our true selves,
the ones God made us to be,
we do well to follow her example.  1
She invites us to move past
obsessions with our worthiness
or unworthiness,
and focus instead
on how each of us is here,
not simply to do God’s will,
but to be in a unique way
God’s presence, God’s action,
in this world.

Today’s feast
has for its gospel
the Magnificat, the Song of Mary.
We also sang Mary’s song today
as the hymn before the gospel
in a magnificent paraphrase entitled
“Tell out, my soul, the greatness of the Lord.”  2

It’s her song, to be sure.
In Luke’s Gospel, it comes forth from her lips
during her pregnancy
when she goes to visit her relative Elizabeth.  3
But how soon in Mary’s song
does any references to herself disappear.
It’s really about
the power and goodness of God.
And how this teenage girl
exults the Lord,
raising her young voice in praise!

The same happens in our lives also.
Our worthiness is not the issue.
Our unworthiness is not the issue.
We live in a larger realm than that,
namely the kingdom of God.
As Mary receives Christ
at the Annunciation,
so we receive Christ at the altar,
that we may be God’s presence,
God’s action,
in the world.

Our faith keeps inviting us:
recognize Christ
in the Bread and Wine of the altar,
recognize Christ
in the world for which he died
and in every neighbor,
recognize Christ
present in ourselves.

Don’t say you are worthy.
Don’t say you are unworthy.
It’s not about you;
it’s about the Holy One.
Be like blessed Mary,
and with your breath, with your life,
simply sing out the praise of God.

1.  “Mary as Corporate Personality” in Richard Rohr, Yes, And: Daily Meditations (Franciscan Media, 2013), 289.

2.  Hymn 437 in The Hymnal 1982 (Church Hymnal Corporation, 1985).

3.  Luke 1:46-55.

Copyright 2015, Charles Hoffacker. Used by permission.