Sermon Ideas For Luke 1:39-45 Part 1
A few years ago, Pope Paul II took a strong stand against the ordination of women to the priesthood. By appealing in some part to the tradition of how Jesus picked his disciples, along with the history of Catholicism the Pope closed off debate as to whether or not the Church might have gotten it wrong.
I question the theological modeling that brought the Pope to this conclusion, even as I grieve for all those faithful Catholic women who feel the call to servanthood in the Church. If salvation is not found outside of the sacramental office of the Church, then what does it say to women in this tradition that they can not be bearers of grace? (Probably the same thing it says to women that their society must be forsaken to maintain priestly purity).
I wonder about what Mary would have thought about this. Regardless of the merits of this theological perspective one wonders if these words of the Magnificat would be allowed through a feminine voice in the Catholic Church today. It seems ironic that the grace of God can emerge into the world through a woman, but the work of God to bear that grace cannot be sustained by women.
It is the impulse of grace that moves through the Gospel lesson today. Always difficult to define, grace is at work bringing about God's new thing. Grace will bring about the annunciations, will allow Mary and Elizabeth to realize that salvation history is ready for a new chapter. However, one of the overlooked aspects of grace is its refusal to function as it should.
In fact, grace can come disguised to us in forms that are hardly attractive or welcome, especially if we already have our theological categories all figured out.
When this happens it is usually those who have a different eye for things that can be most discerning. Flannery O'Conner had the eye for it. But persons of no expressed faith can sometimes see it clearer than the rest of us. One such person is the French film maker Jean Luc Godard, who created an international sensation with the movie Hail Mary.
He sets the story of Mary in contemporary France, and Mary is the basketball playing daughter of a service station owner. Joseph is a taxi driver. Banned in Boston, the movie tells the story of the crisis of love that Gabriel's announcement to Mary throws Joseph and Mary into.
God's grace coming to touch Mary's life was not a joy, but a torment. She and Joseph are plunged into confusion because she fights God, and Joseph fights his jealousy and fear. Their story is set beside another love story of a professor and student. Both loves are followed with the latter consummating their love one night at her villa. Mary remains chaste which gives rise to all manner of torment and struggle. But in the end Mary and Joseph's love survives and gives birth to something graceful.
Godard knew something we have forgotten. No matter how much we try to define God by our theology, no matter how precise we are with our definitions, the divine will break through those constructions to reverse all our expectations. This appears to be one of the quirkier aspects of grace. All through the Gospels the reversals take place as God breaks down one door of prejudice and theology after another.
Mary, in the latter part of this passage points to the truth that grace will be the force that reverses earthly expectations as well. Liberation theologians often use this passage as one of the classical texts for their interpretation of grace, but it is more important than that. These words in the voice of Mary move the images of Jesus beyond those common to the Latin context.
In the images of the Latin Church Jesus and Mary are connected in birth and in death, but not in life. The Christ of the Spanish image does not have much humanity to him. he remains spiritualized as a helpless infant in the arms of his mother, or a corpse on his mother's lap. There is not much in between these two images.
For years the humanity of Christ has exerted little appeal in Latin American worshippers because they have known no Christ save the one they could patronize as infant and suffering victim. The Christ has functioned in emotional and cathartic ways for popular festivals, but the historical Jesus and risen Christ have not been able to exert much ethical influence.
In trying to recover an adequate christology for that context, the question that plays a great role is what is the earthly significance of faith in Jesus Christ? The question of discernment asks whether the image of Christ brought by the colonizers creates the conditions for persons to accept their oppression and share in Christ's suffering. If this is the case then the passage from Luke today puts both Mary and Christ in a different role.
Theology has practical, earthly consequences everywhere on the planet. In Latin America the death of God is experienced as the death of the other, be they Indian or peasant. Their spirituality cannot limit itself to the mysteries of the babe on Mary's lap, or the suffering son, but it has to follow the path of grace.
This grace is what we hope for this Advent season. We may not particularly welcome its arrival. It may move us to new images of Christ, new theological perspectives. It may disrupt our well-worn habits of the season. Maybe, we can only hope, it can enlarge the hearts and open the spirits of those who would narrowly define the theological models available to women. Mary, herself, calls us to it.
Jeffrey C. Pugh