The Rev. Sara Warfield
Scripture: The Magnificat, Luke 1:46-55
It’s the Advent Sunday of Joy. Our pink candle. A time set aside as we wait, as we prepare the way, to let ourselves feel the excitement, the joy, of the moment. That is exactly the feeling of the Magnificat, the Song of Mary. And it’s got me thinking this week about the relationship between joy and trust.
But let’s back up. Before Mary sings, the angel Gabriel gives her the song. He visits her to tell her that she “has found favor with God, and she will conceive in her womb and bear a son, and that she is to name him Jesus.” Now Mary is a teenager, already betrothed to Joseph but not yet married. Pregnant, unwed teenagers are still stigmatized in our own time, but then it meant to risk not only shame and rejection but persecution. We hear in Matthew that when Joseph finds out about Mary’s pregnancy, he’s planning to leave her. His bride-to-be pregnant, and not by him? It would be within his rights to abandon her. It took an angel interceding in a dream to convince him to stay.
I imagine these thoughts, these fears, flashing through her mind as Gabriel announces his supposed good news. Young Mary knows how people will look at her as her belly grows. She knows how people will whisper. She knows what Joseph would think. The risk of shame and rejection is real.
But Gabriel then says something that catches her. “And now,” the angel says, “your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.”
I imagine that Mary has seen how Elizabeth has been treated because of her inability to bear children. Elizabeth herself says in this chapter after she conceives, “This is what the Lord has done for me when he looked favorably on me and took away the disgrace I have endured among my people.” Her community has treated her as a failure. As a woman, it is her defining duty to produce offspring, and ideally male offspring. Her inability to do so marks her as someone who has lost favor with God, at least in the eyes of her neighbors. Even though she’s described as “living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord,” her community still treats her as a disgrace.
I imagine Mary has heard the whispers about Elizabeth. She has seen how people avoid her at the market. She has witnessed Elizabeth’s pain from that rejection.
But now Elizabeth is pregnant, Gabriel has told her. Nothing is impossible with God. So Mary decides to trust God. “Here am I, the servant of the Lord,” she says, offering her consent to the angel. And Jesus is conceived.
But, if Joseph’s reaction is any indication, I doubt Mary’s family and community are all that supportive of her condition. I bet the whispers start. The shunning. The smirks and muffled giggles. She may have found favor with God, but, just like Elizabeth, that doesn’t mean she finds favor with her neighbors.
I wonder if that’s why she goes “with haste,” we’re told in this chapter of Luke, to a Judean town in the hill country where Elizabeth lives. I think Mary knows that a person who has experienced ridicule and judgment will be kinder, more accepting. And Elizabeth is kinder. In fact, she greets Mary with such joy.
You know what it reminds me of? The Island of Misfit Toys. You know, from the classic 1964 Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer claymation special? The island is a community for all these sentient toys who have some strange quirk about them—a toy train with square wheels instead of round ones; a cowboy who rides an ostrich instead of a horse; a bear with feathers. Because they’re quirky, different from what is “normal,” they believe no one will want them. They feel rejected. They feel like they don’t belong anywhere…except with each other. And they are very joyful together, and they sing even as they wait for just the right forever home. Just like Mary does.
Now I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: There’s nothing inherently redemptive about suffering. But sometimes suffering surprises us. It softens us to others’ suffering. Or I hope it does. It creates relationship amongst people you’d never expect, support in a way someone has never been supported before.
It seems to me that our God is a God of misfit toys. Choosing an unwed teenage girl to be the mother of Jesus. Lifting up a childless and disgraced older woman. Being born into an oppressed Jewish community in a colonized land.
I’m sure there was no shortage of kings or emperors in the world at that time who could have given a comfortable upbringing to Jesus and provided him with all the political, social, and economic power he would need to spread the Good News throughout the world. But that’s not our God.
Mary sings about our God:
My soul proclaims your greatness, O God,
and my spirit rejoices in you, my Savior.
For you have looked with favor on your lowly servant…
You have shown strength with your arm:
you have scattered the proud in their conceit.
You have deposed the mighty from their thrones,
and lifted the lowly to high places.
You have filled the hungry with good things,
while you have sent the rich away empty.
Inclusive Bible Translation
Our God lifts up those who suffer and brings them into relationship: relationship with God and relationship with each other, bringing the Marys and Elizabeths of the world together and empowering them to do incredible things and to be joyful.
But as I said at the beginning of this sermon, joy is bound up with the trust that suffering does not have the last word. When Mary says yes to Gabriel, she knows the road will be hard, she knows that she will suffer, but she trusts that suffering will not have the last word.
I’ll be honest, and I hope this doesn’t offend anyone, but sometimes I describe St. Luke’s as an Island of Misfit Toys. We have Evangelical and Roman Catholic refugees, queer folks who have never felt safe in church before, people with trans loved ones who have fought to become who they are, folks in recovery of all sorts, people who work hard to manage mental illness or depression or anxiety or PTSD.
Each of us has quirks or differences that have made us feel alone, rejected. I felt called to serve St. Luke’s because I saw that this was a place where people didn’t people didn’t have to hide their quirks, their differences. In fact, I saw that you encourage each other to shine, just as you are. It made me feel like I could shine, not despite my queerness and quirks, which have caused me deep suffering in this world, but because I trusted that you would hold those parts of me safely, tenderly, and even lift them up as gifts.
I hope you feel like you can bring your sharp edges, your sad hearts, your deep fears, your geeky passions, your heretical questions here to St. Luke’s, because this is a place where we trust in one another, in this Body of Christ, in our God. And if you don’t, I hope you’ll tell me or, if not me, someone you feel safe with. Because that kind of trust brings joy, and I don’t want anyone to miss out on that.
So this Advent, as we wait for a little baby to be born not in a hospital room or a warm house but of all the quirky places in a manger on a bed of hay surrounded by barn animals, let us remember Mary who sang her praise of a God of Misfit Toys, trusting that suffering does not have the last word, but joy certainly will.