And now we make our way towards God’s work.
Now we hear our names called. Now we sing our song with Mary even in our deepest fears and darknesses.
In the encounter between Mary and Elizabeth we have a meeting between great women who call each other’s names in great love and mutual support – in a nothing town – not Rome, not Jerusalem, not Nazareth, not yet even Bethlehem – two women, bearing children – making life in their bodies, they greet each other. As usual, God know where the men are!!! Mary’s song sings into time and out of time. Their greetings echo with that of angels. Their statements of faith join those of the ancient mothers and fathers of the Hebrew scripture, the martyrs of the early church, and that of every human on the planet who has ever been maligned, lied about or unjustly judged. Her song upsets time, weaving together the lusty Song of Songs, the passionate songs of the Psalms, the song of the Prologue to John’s gospel and the songs sung by Martin Luther King, the anthems of free nations and the hymns at baptism and marriages alike.
Over and over again we hear our names “Name this child.” At baptism. And again at burial: “ O God of grace and glory, we remember before you this day our brother (sister) NAME. We thank you for giving him to us…”
Over and over we hear our names called. Over and over our names will be spoken. People will speak our names as they praise us. People will speak our names as they call us to work. As they lie about us. As they murmur about us. But we, like Mary sing anyway. Elizabeth should have locked her door against Mary – pregnant, twelve, husbandless, illiterate – not power-mom with an SUV, and Iphone and an MBA. You can imagine the tongue-wagging at the wells and in the kitchens of her village! We humans love to gossip – love to talk and adore a good, nasty rumor. We tell them like ripping open a feather pillow on a rooftop in the wind –words cast off to do their work and un-collectable. No wonder they left town.
In today’s gospel, we are in a house in the hill country of Judea. Two women greet each other. A song emerges, because this is a moment requiring something more than a statement, more than a speech. No. This pregnancy needs a song. So Mary sings a song of wonder, faith and courage.
Like the Mary of the Easter Garden, Mary hears her name spoken, and hearing her name spoken out loud changes everything. Remember the story? Back up a bit. Gabriel arrives to Mary “Greetings favored one!” but she does not understand until the angel backs up and says “Do not be afraid, Mary.” On the other side of the story, after the crucifixion in the resurrection, come Spring, Mary of Magdala will be greeted “Woman, why are you weeping?” “They have taken away my Lord and I do not know where they have laid him.” Jesus said to her “Mary.”
In the darkness of night, an angel calls Mary to say she will bear a son. In the darkness of a hillside house, and the possibility of being stoned to death for pregnancy before marriage, Mary will sing this song; and in the darkness of the resurrection morning, another Mary will join Elizabeth in announcing Jesus as Lord.
Women will sing their songs. Women will risk for God. Women will midwife. Women will stand at the cross and at the tomb. And women will be the first to announce a savior on both sides of Jesus’ life.
This parish church is about to move from the listening phase of the Dean’s Search into the discerning phase. Soon it will be a time of list-making. Lists of names – a list that will become shorter and shorter and shorter until one name appears. And you will call that name. What if you choose like God did?
Don’t you wonder how God chose this twelve-year old girl? Our scriptures say she was a virgin and the words are ambiguous – able to mean either a literal virgin or a girl so young as to be before her first period. Regardless, God chose a child to announce salvation.
You being you and me being me, our names are called. We are being asked to make some kind of commitment. We are not spectators at a concert. We are agitators in a movement.
Our discernment may be fast or slow – may be conscious or subconscious, may happen in sunlight or by an early morning candle in darkness, or may not even have a point of recognition. But Mary, in singing her song because she heard her name. And so must we. Not the names we wear as resume or wardrobe – our true name.
There is an old Hebrew story about a great Rabbi. He dreams he is in heaven and he asks the keeper of the gate “Is my name written in the Book of Life so that I may enter into the glory of the lord?” The keeper of the gate turns to the book of those who have died that day and begins to read. As he reads, the Rabbi hears all manner of names of all sorts of tongues and many he has never heard of before.
The Rabbi then says “Am I welcome into the glory of God?” The gate keeper says “Everyone is welcome, but to enter one must hear one’s true name spoken. I read your name, but you did not recognize it. That is why you wait here, outside the gate for a time. When you are able to hear someone speak your true name or, when by listening very closely you can even hear God speak it, then you will enter.” The Rabbi awoke from his dream and fell on his knees and begged God “Father, let me hear my name called once by my brothers.”
Williams, Rowan, A Ray of Darkness, Page 150
This will be a busy week. There will be lists. Lists of shopping. Lists of names for parties. Lists of things to do. Lists of gifts to buy. So many distractions from a poverty-stricken baby-savior.
Please, take a moment this week to stop and hear God call your name. When you see the homeless remember that a mother once called their name. Ask yourself how your soul magnifies the Lord? For it is being sung and spoken all around you by God and angels alike.
Make Mary your model. Let go of what you are afraid of. Let go of what people say about you. Let go of the hard things you say about yourself. Put down those bags of coal. Lighten your load. And hear the fresh, new, light sound of your name on God’s lips. And respond with your song. For you have one. We all do. Sing it.
Forgive me, but Mary was not a magnificent, sinless woman regally attired in blue chiffon with her foot on the planet and her halo mounted by pasty, celibate artists in an attempt to counter-balance centuries of scorn and insecure resentment for the feminine ability to make life.
Mary was a little girl, in a precarious position – a nobody – whose decision was to say her “yes,” then listen for her name and then, God help her – sing. And so must we. We must say our “yes” then listen for our name and then, we must, we must sing for all we’re worth!