The Blessed Virgin Mary
Introduction and Call to Worship On this Festival Day we rejoice with the Blessed Virgin Mary in her news of our Salvation, just as she rejoiced in the words of the Magnificat that she was chosen to be the Mother of the Lord, the promised Messiah. Today’s Readings First Reading Isaiah 61:10-11 The prophet’s essential message is that the Lord plans to bring about a glorious restoration for his people. He promises a new covenant. Second Reading Galatians 4:4-7 St Paul tells us that when the promised time comes the people will no longer be slaves but heirs. Gospel Luke 1:46-55 Mary declares her delight at what is to come: the birth of Jesus in the Magnificat. HOMILY “…for the Mighty One has done great things for me and holy is his name.” (Luke 1:49) The Mighty One has done great things – a timeless declaration uttered by the lips of our patron, St Mary. You may be familiar with the long running BBC Television show, where the three main characters often ponder upon various aspects of life which seem to be burning deep within their hearts. Well, during our last clergy staff meeting we found ourselves discussing the speed at which our society seems to be changing, the expectation of belonging to a physical or virtual community and how, as a living, tangible presence of God, the Church is being called to love society into holiness…all of which neatly leads us to recall with fondness the Five Anglican Marks of Mission. These five evangelistic guiding principles deserve to be treasured and honoured as they beautifully echo and capture the essence of the revolutionary love song contained in our Gospel this morning. Firstly, we are called to proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom, the Good News that God’s redeeming love is freely available and poured out upon all who, like St Mary, welcome his Son into their innermost being. There, he becomes the driving force that directs and shapes who and what we are. The way in which we share this Good News with others is as individual as the diverse body of men and women gathered here this morning. St Mary’s automatic reaction to hearing the Good News of God’s Kingdom was to burst into song; for others, over these last two thousand years, it has caused some to start religious communities, build schools and hospitals or, as Fr Damian announced last month, to develop a village youth club. Of course, as we know, the invitation to proclaim the Good News of God’s Kingdom is never a static, one-off event but an ongoing organic process which simply grows and gathers momentum each and every day. This sense of movement, growth and the bringing forth of new life that will ultimately benefit the whole of humanity, and which St Mary so passionately sings about, seems to lend itself to the second Anglican Mark of Mission: teaching, baptising and nurturing new believers. Sometimes church communities appear to be spending vast amounts of their time and energy into passing on the faith to the younger members of their family…but maybe we should think about what air hostesses say in their emergency instructions: ‘Make sure your own life jacket is firmly secured before you turn and fasten your child’s’. Yes, it is vital that we encourage those beginning their journey of faith in the Lord but it is equally important that we remember our own spiritual tanks need topping up as well. This is why, here at St Mary’s, we are constantly offering non-threatening, non-judgmental events such as our Autumn Faith Confirmed Course which nurtures and feeds our desire to discover what it means to have God’s Son grow deep within our hearts. This spills into the third of our Anglican Marks of Mission, the importance of responding to human need through acts of love and service. As God looked with favour on a mere insignificant young servant girl (who proclaimed wonder and pure amazement in her song of praise), should not we feel an overriding urge to be the tangible hand and feet of those whom society so often wrongly ignores? Once again, the guiding presence of the Holy Spirit will lead us down different paths with numerous ways in which, just like St Mary, we can magnify God’s glory from generation to generation in thoughts, words and actions. Sometimes the Bible is accused of being irrelevant, or out of touch with today’s world, but I would like to read to you again verses 51 and 52 of our Gospel with St Mary’s insightful proclamation of how God’s gracious transformative love will prevail against the evils of human pride, greed and corruption: ‘He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly.’ To drive home this revolutionary declaration, the fourth Anglican Mark of Mission commands us as Christians to stamp out the unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and to pursue peace and reconciliation. Granted, I imagine not many of us here would like to be seen as the fly in the ointment or the person who is always swimming against the tide. Yet, hasn’t this ever been the case? If we can think back to our Gospel reading a few weeks ago, Jesus reminded us that he came to bring the fire of the Holy Spirit to the earth, and generally, where the Spirit is at work, we should be prepared and expect our fair share of conflict and division to deal with. However, with God on our side, we must never be afraid of standing up for what is right, true and just. As the 1960’s American Archbishop Fulton Sheen rightly pointed out, ‘Moral principles do not depend on a majority vote. Wrong is wrong, even if everybody is wrong, and right is right even if no one is right.’ As we know, one of the major wrongs of our society is the way the planet, the home we live on, is selfishly abused; the way God’s gift to us of plentiful resources is frequently unfairly distributed, resulting in a sorrowful situation where the gap between the haves and the have-nots is constantly growing. This appears to have been a problem that deeply troubled Mary but we witness how she again places her complete confidence in God as she boldly announces, ‘He will fill the hungry with good things and will send the rich away empty.’ Once again, the Anglican community picks up and embraces Our Lady’s call for practical social action as the fifth and final Mark of Mission stresses the merits of working together in order to safeguard the integrity of creation, to change people’s attitudes so that hopefully humanity may start to sustain and truly treasure the beauty of the earth and life in all its fullness. Amen.