Those who grew up in the Catholic Church will know well Luke 1:42.[Hail Mary, full of grace,] ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. [Jesus]
For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leapt for joy.
Luke’s Gospel starts off a bit like a musical. Ok there is a fair bit of talking before we get to Mary’s song. Not long after that we hear Elizabeth’s husband Zechariah singing at the birth of his son. There is more narrative before Simeon bursts into song when he takes the baby Jesus in his arms.
No doubt if they were living in the 21st century, they would take a selfie of themselves singing and then upload it to the internet with the #blessed.
If I was one of Mary’s friends on Facebook I would comment “Mary, 15 and pregnant, is not #blessed” try #disaster
Others in Nazareth grieving because their cousins in the nearby town of Sepphoris in Galilee were massacred by the Syrian and Roman army would probably comment:
What the hell, Mary?
Casting down the mighty from their thrones: and lifting up the lowly!!! Yer right!
The Roman Army ravaged our village even murdering children. #crimesagainsthumanity[i]
It is almost impossible for us to hear Mary’s song and Elizabeth’s prayer as anything but very sweet pious words of love. May be we need to watch a u-tube video of Billie Holiday singing “strange fruit” and then reread Mary’s song. Holiday’s deep feelings of pain will capture some of the depth expressed in Mary’s song. In Mary’s song the world is turned upside down, the rich are sent away empty and the poor are filled with good things. It is indeed a vision of love, a vision of a new kingdom, it is anything but a sickly sweet romanticised love.
When we baptise young babies like Mack we are baptising them into an exciting joyful revolution. In my mind, this vision is of a time when young families can get a loan to buy their first home and Bank executives take a pay cut, when women making clothes for our department stores, earn a good living and feel safe where they work, and executives are happy to name their supply chains. The vision Mary dreams of, includes people who are most affected by devastating climate events working alongside Prime ministers and Presidents to change destructive abuse of the earth. I see the vision including restful holidays rather than a “festive holidays” where there is never enough time to get everything done.
Mary knows she is blessed, not because she is overjoyed at being 15 and pregnant, or because she has wonderful meals to upload to Facebook or because she can travel to Bethlehem for the holidays. No, Mary has confidence in an exciting new world because, as Luke tells us, Mary heard the word of God through an Angel. This tiny vulnerable infant she is carrying has the capacity to transform our lives, and in us to transform the world.
Mack is about to be baptised into a world of hope. He joins a rag tag community of very ordinary people who in a way, like Mary, know that God is alive within us. We like Mary will give birth to God in our lives. Now you might wonder how Mack who celebrates his first birthday to day can give birth to God in his life. Or for that matter how any of us can give birth to God. That seems almost blasphemous.
As we open ourselves to the Spirit of God we enter into Mary’s experience of carrying the Child of God. We open ourselves to the Spirit of God through prayer, through gathering with other Christians, through taking time out to be quiet. As we do these things the Spirit of God opens us to the experience of the joy of generosity, the freedom from forgiveness, the deep peace from being loved by God. As these things grow in us they become like fruit. Paul calls them the fruit of the Spirit. But maybe these things aren’t merely the fruit of the Spirit but are signs of the Spirit of God within us.
So today as we hear again the promises of Baptism: to turn to Christ, to repent, to renounce evil, let’s hear it as the cry of a revolution. It is a revolution that says no to violence and instead offers love, peace and hope. It is a revolution where the cry of the most vulnerable is heard. As we know only too well from the story of Jesus’ crucifixion the powerful don’t take kindly to this revolution. Because this revolution that fills Mary’s heart with joy is based on love and non-violence it takes time to grow. And sadly, when we look back on Church history there has been an endless parade of times when the church has lost sight of the vision. Things like the abuse of power, and violence and greed have not just captured the hearts of individuals but have become culturally acceptable to the Church as a whole at times. Fortunately for us, when the Church loses its position of prominence in society and is pulled up short by things like the Royal commission, we are then able to get back to the original vision. We return to being a people of God’s joyful revolution, changing the world through love, kindness, gentleness, patience and generosity.
My prayer is that Mack, and his mum Selina and all of us will be filled with the same joy as Mary. Our hearts will be bursting with the knowledge that God is within us, giving us new life and transforming the world through us.
[i] John Dominic Crossan, God and Empire: Jesus Against Rome, Then and Now (publication place: HarperOne, 2009),109.