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MARY, THEOTOKOS AND THE FIVE MARKS OF MISSION
FOURTH SUNDAY OF ADVENT
Rev. Dcn. David Justin Lynch
December 21, 2014
St. Thomas Independent Catholic Church, San Diego, CA
2 Samuel 7:1-5;8-12;14,16 Luke 1:46-55
Romans 16:25-27 Luke 1:26-38
+ In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
My wife, Beeper, and I were married at Saint Michael’s Episcopal Church in Anaheim, California in April, 1996. The rector at the time, who married us, was Father Adam McCoy. At that time, St. Michael’s hosted a flourishing Hispanic ministry, and as you may know, Our Lady of Guadalupe is a prominent spiritual figure in their community. But when an icon of Her appeared in the church at St. Michael’s, some of the low church, protestant-minded members of the white congregation objected. Unlike the many gutless Episcopal clergy who cave to political pressure when someone says something about appearing “too catholic”, Father Adam did not remove her. Not only did She stay in the Church, he took to the pulpit and proclaimed, “Without Mary, we would not have Jesus.” Those words have stuck with me ever since. Today’s Gospel makes that idea very clear: no Mary, no Jesus. Mary makes Jesus possible. Mary is part and parcel of the redemptive acts of Jesus. Some people have gone so far as to call her a “co-redemptorix”, much to the chagrin of many protestants.
But lest we come down too hard on our protestant sisters and brothers, if we dig deeper into their history, we will find that their founders did not share the same anti-Marian ideas as some of their followers do today. Particularly passionate about Our Lady was Martin Luther. He believed in the Immaculate Conception. In a 1527 sermon on the day honoring Mary’s conception, he said, “It is a sweet and pious belief that the infusion of Mary’s soul was effected without original sin; so that in the very infusion of her soul she was also purified from original sin and adorned with God’s gifts, receiving a pure soul infused by God; thus from the first moment she began to live she was free from all sin.” Luther also believed, to some extent, in the Assumption, proclaiming in a sermon on that feast in 1522, “There can he no doubt that the Virgin Mary is in heaven. How it happened we do not know.” In today’s gospel story itself, that of the angel Gabriel announcing to Mary that she will bear Jesus, Luther had this to say, “She shut her eyes and trusted in God who could bring all things to pass, even though common sense were against it; and because She believed, God did to Her as He said.” Luther recognized Mary’s faith in God, that is, Her trust in God, the free will of Her surrendering Herself to become Theotokos, Mother of God. Mary chose to listen, to trust, and to say, “Yes.”
Marian devotion honors Mary for her “Yes.” In a sermon on September 01, 1521, Luther described the veneration of Mary as “inscribed in the very depths of the human heart.” It is certainly inscribed on my heart. The first prayer I learned as a child from my mother was the Hail Mary, and I continue to pray it every day when I pray the Angelis as I wake up in the morning and before I go to sleep at night. The Angelis is the quintessential Marian devotion that honors the Incarnation of Jesus as God among us. Through the Incarnation, Jesus becomes one of us folks, feeling all that we feel, yet with an inborn sense of his divinity which would propel his mission among us and for us.
The Annunciation and birth of Jesus was supposed to be not biologically possible. So far as I know, parthenogenic cloning of people has yet to be perfected. So-called miracle babies can be seen in the Hebrew Bible stories about Isaac, Samson and Samuel, and in the New Testament in the story about the conception and birth of John the Baptist. All were born to barren mothers. But rather than dwell on whether these births were biologically possible, more important is the meaning those stories have for us.
God’s choice of David in today’s Hebrew Bible lesson, and Mary in today’s gospel, tell us of God’s commitment to them, and God’s expectation that they will fulfill a mission. The two stories we hear today represent two kinds of promises from God regarding God’s missional activity: in the case of David, God is speaking directly to the one who will undertake the mission. This is similar to God’s calling of, and promises to, Noah, Abraham, and Moses. In the case of Mary, God has a mission for parents to give birth to offspring who will themselves carry out a mission just as God did for Hannah the mother of Samuel and Elizabeth the mother of John the Baptist. The woman who was to give birth to Jesus is, without more, special.
In both the communication to King David through the prophet Nathan, and to Mary by the angel Gabriel, God was choosing someone to do something and making promises of good things. God was sending both David and Mary on a mission. Kingship was the mission God gave to King David. Speaking through Nathan, God gave King David some specific commitments. God will make David famous. The people whom he rules will be safe from the wicked, and David will get rest from enemies. He will father famous offspring whom God will favor. Here, God was referring to Solomon as he would ultimately be the one who would build the First Temple.
Motherhood, in all its aspects, was the mission to which God appointed Mary, who, according to the message to Her from the angel Gabriel, will follow in David’s line and rule over the people of Israel forever. The birth of Jesus was to represent the Messiah from the house of David which the Jews had long expected. Mary’s mission was to make that possible.
What King David and Our Lady had in common is that they were missional. Being missional is all about the humility of looking beyond oneself and seeing oneself as a servant. Both King David and Mary were called to look beyond themselves. King David was invited to look beyond himself to Solomon and his further descendants as God spoke of the relationship of David to the people of Israel and what God would do for them acting through David. Gabriel, as God’s messenger, had Mary looking beyond herself to Jesus and Jesus’ relationship to humanity. Both King David and Our Blessed Mother were called to be servants. In Psalm 89, God proclaims, “I have made a covenant with my chosen one; I have sworn to my servant David; I will make your dynasty stand forever…I have chosen David my servant; with holy oil I have anointed him. In today’s Gospel, Mary proclaims, “Behold I am the handmaid of the Lord. Be it unto my according to your word.” That is a powerful statement about being a servant who looks beyond herself. What an inspiration She is for the Church!
For the Church, being missional is not about us and our problems. It is about God’s mission for us. So often our prayers are about what we want God to do for us. Traditional Christians have asked God to show mercy so that we don’t go the place of eternal punishment if we die. Or we beseech God to make our lives better in the here and now. Both those styles of prayer have one thing in common: they focus not on God, but on something to be done for the person offering the prayer. We need to move beyond that to, “God, what do you want me to do for You? We can find that in our relationship to others around us. Each person, no matter how good or bad we think that person is, was created in God’s image. Some small piece of God exists in every person. On a personal level, being missional starts with each of us on the individual level by recognizing the dignity of every person regardless of our opinions of who or what each person is.
On the Church level, being missional is about the Five Marks of Mission.
The first mark of mission is to proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom, just as the prophet Isaiah and John the Baptist did in the previous Sundays in Advent. The Good News of the Kingdom is just like what Mary told us in the Magnificat, the Song of Mary, which we sang this week and last in place of the psalm after the first lesson. The Magnficat revealed Her character. Her soul proclaims God’s Kingdom. She recognized that God had done great things for her…and for all of us. A new era is starting, where proud, conceited people will be scattered, where the powerful will be brought low, and the hungry fed good things at the expense of the rich. We are called to proclaim that as well in our casual conversations with others, on social media, on websites, in letters to newspaper editors and public officials, in the books we write, the art we create, and the poems and songs we write.
The second mark of mission is we are also called to teach, baptize and nurture new believers. In this we have an example in Mary. Recall that at the Cana wedding feast, Mary told the servants, “Do as He tells you.” Mary was the first evangelist. What Jesus told us, in no uncertain terms, in the Great Commission at the end of Matthew, “Go into the world and preach the Gospel to all nations, baptizing in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” Recall also that Jesus made believers out of Zacheus the tax collector and Bartimeus the blind man. If someone in your life asks you about Jesus, carry the conversation forward; you never know where it might lead.
The third mark of mission is that we respond to human need with loving service. The Song of Mary reflected the values She would later teach Jesus as She raised Him as a child, values that Jesus constantly wove into His teaching as He constantly spoke up on behalf of the poor and oppressed. You will recall the gospel from Matthew 25 at the end of the last liturgical cycle, where Jesus implores us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, heal the sick, and house the homeless. That’s Mary in the Magnificat telling us to fill hungry people with good things. Do what Mary tells you. Send some food and clothing to your local homeless shelter.
The fourth mark of mission is that we should seek to transform the unjust structures of society and to preach peace. A society where there is one standard of justice for the poor and another for the wealthy is not a just society. When wealthy people get in trouble, they can afford to hire the best lawyers to get the best results from the system, while the poor are stuck with public defenders and legal aid; the result is they get the shaft. Disparity of wealth and income also leads to vastly different results in the healthcare system, where wealthy people can afford to hire and pay for the best doctors while the poor are consigned to community clinics with long waits and inferior care. The same story extends to education, housing, and most other areas of life. Giving of ourselves, our time, talent and treasure only goes so far if we can’t or won’t change the underlying unjust structure that makes all that necessary. Mary tells us to do that by throwing down the mighty from their seat, exalting the humble and meek, and sending the rich away empty. But we do that peacefully. Throughout the Bible and extrabiblical literature, Our Lady has been a person of peace, someone who went about Her business without getting angry or retaliating against anyone. We can do that, too. We should be defusing conflict rather than inciting it. Having been a litigator for over 19 years, I can tell you from first hand experience that conflict is stressful and I can also tell you it’s harmed my health. What if instead of suing people left and right, we first try mediation and settlement? And the recent violent behavior we’ve seen in response to the situations in Ferguson, Cleveland, New York, and Phoenix, though motivated by a reaction to injustice, has done more harm than good in accomplishing a just society because it turns off potential allies to the cause. What if we tried the way Our Lady lived, instead of all that?
The fifth mark of mission is that all we do is about the relationship between humanity and creation. In not caring for the earth God created for us and put at our disposal, we are looking only at our own immediate needs and not thinking of ourselves as servants to those who come after us, the exact opposite of what God was expecting of King David and Our Lady in the missions on which God sent them. So honor God’ creation in all its glory manifested in Mary by recycling your trash and taking mass transit when possible.
A missional church that first looks beyond itself and sees itself as a servant of the Gospel can and will be a successful Church. It is the kind of Church that the Catholic Church of America can be, should be, and will be. AMEN.