St Peter's Church, Manchester
Compassion — Acceptance — Welcome
Preached at St Peter's Church, Manchester on 13th December 2009
Zephaniah 3.14–20, Philippians 4.4–7, Luke 3.7–18
The readings which we are offered in the liturgy today are all about joy, rejoicing. This is known as Gaudete or Rejoicing Sunday.
The prophet Zephaniah, writing in the late seventh century before Christ in the time of King Josiah, writes about the joy that God has in rejoicing over the people, God’s people.
These are apt readings for looking at Mary as you are doing in this series of Advent homilies.
Mary is above all the Daughter of Sion, Sion which equals Jerusalem, she is pre-eminently a Daughter of Jerusalem.
A woman given birth within her Judaic heritage, a daughter of her people. A woman in the long line of strong, gentle outstanding Jewish women like Sarah, Ruth (the woman who left her people to be with her mother in law), Deborah (the warrior) Hannah, Rachel and many more whom you can think of. She is a strong woman, rooted in her tradition so deeply that she isthe daughter of Sion par excellence. She lived the faith and hope of her people to the full.
She willingly received the Word of God and became the mother of Jesus and she was courageous enough to follow him to the cross and to be present in his ignominious death. She was a woman who was always there, she was always present to God in her life though she did not understand, was left baffled often enough by what she saw of her son and mystified by the way God was working within him and within her own life.
She lived in the midst of mystery and within this context she trusted.
Right from the first moment of the annunciation she is the one who unconditionally accepts what God is asking of her, not knowing and accepting the angel’s message of “be not afraid”. Hard to be unafraid when everything that is happening makes no sense!
Today’s readings bring us to the depth of God’s joy. The prophet says
“Rejoice, Daughter of Sion,
Shout for joy;
Rejoice and exult with all your heart,
daughter of Jerusalem
Why? Because God is in your midst.
The ever living, ever loving God who is faithful to your people is here in your midst and Mary cooperates with God in the salvation by birthing god within our midst.
The joy is such that it is to be shouted about, exulted over extravagant terms for an extravagant God.
“God will rejoice over you with joy
God will renew you by his love…
dance with shouts of joy for you.”
What a wonderful image. Mary rejoicing in her God “My soul magnifies the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my saviour” but also God rejoicing in her.
Have you ever stopped and pondered as Mary is often pictured as doing. Have you pondered your God rejoicing over you? Looking at you and smiling with deep joy in the wonder of God’s creation within you?? Take time this Advent to do this. Our God is a God who wants our happiness, who wants us to rejoice as he rejoices over us. What a wonderful image!
In Brazil they have a wonderful picture of the laughing Christ and I imagine that is a bit the way God is with us. I love that advert on TV which is advertising baby food, I think it is Cow and Gate and it is telling us through the deep chuckles and laughs of the babies how healthy they are! I think God chuckles over us in that way and wants to dance and rejoice with us.
This rejoicing of Mary in God and God’s rejoicing in her is not an easy option. Mary is told right from the beginning by Simeon when she presents the child in the temple that “a sword will pierce your own heart”. But her trust and joy in her God is her constant strength.
In Luke Mary is described as the “spirit will overshadow you” this is the word in Hebrew shekinah which describes the covering of the holy of holies in the temple. Mary’s womb is like the holy of holies where her God dwells.
Paul also gives the message of joy saying “I want you to be happy, always happy in the Lord (and in case you missed it) I repeat what I want is your happiness. The Lord is near. There is no need to worry; but if there is anything you need, pray for it, asking God for it with prayer and thanksgiving, and that peace of God which is so much greater than we can understand, will guard your hearts and thoughts in Christ Jesus. What a promise and what a gift is given to us! What a gift was given to Mary when she prayed “ let it be done to me according to your will.”
Awesome to place yourself into the hands of the living God in faith and confidence.
John’s answer in the gospel to “What must we do then?” is extremely practical share, be honest, treat others fairly and justly.
One of the most beautiful images of this Advent time is taken from the Book of Wisdom: (18.14–15)
“For while gentle silence enveloped all things,
And night in its swift course was now half gone,
Your powerful word leaped from heaven, from the royal throne.”
The mystic, Meister Eckhart, preaching from this text says:
“When all things lay in the midst of silence, then leapt there down into me from on high, from the royal throne, a secret word.”
This word of God, Jesus conceived and born within Mary, a Jewish woman, is the Word also we are called to carry and give birth to within our lives here in our time.
To return to Mary, the Daughter of Jerusalem par excellence, called to rejoice in her God and her God rejoicing in her, let us consider Jerusalem. In Mary’s time occupied, repressed with groups of terrorists fighting for freedom, groups like the Zealots. Jerusalem as vulnerable today and as torn today as it was then.
God loves Jerusalem because she is vulnerable and because each and every stone of her yearns for peace.
Mary, the first disciple, shows us what it means to be a disciple, to be rooted within God and to allow God’s word to be rooted within us.
The Word she, as the Daughter of Sion offers to us today is a word of rejoicing.
Allow God to rejoice over you, may God’s joy fill you and all those near you this Advent and Christmastide.