Wednesday, January 3, 2018

The prophet Mary

Luke 1: 26-56
New Ark United Church of Christ, Newark, DE
December 24, 2017

       

Eve and Mary


          Just about every version of this story the headline above it reads “The birth of Jesus foretold” with variations like “An angel tells about the birth of Jesus” or “A virgin conceives”. It is only in J.B. Phillips’ 1958 translation of the New Testament that we read “A vision comes to a young woman in Nazareth”.
Manga Annunciation
In truth this is the call story of Mary to be one of God’s prophets, one of God’s truth tellers. Mary is our prophet: she is called to be the New Ark of the covenant of God’s Word, made flesh in Jesus. From the 9th century onward, in many of the classic works of art depicting the annunciation, Mary has a book on her lap or on a lectern. Mary knows her scripture, that is to say, she knows where she came from and not only her but God’s people.



         
Red Light Annunciation


         In her song, like the songs of Miriam and Hannah and Deborah before her, we hear themes of praise, justice, and that level ground that Isaiah spoke of. From the Song of Hannah in 1 Samuel:



Annunciation by Kathleen Scarboro
“The Lord makes poor 

and makes rich;
God brings low, 

and also exalts.
God raises up the poor 
from the dust;
and lifts the needy 
from the ash heap,
to make them sit 
with heads of state
and inherit a seat of honor.
For the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s,
and on them he has set the world.



       
Annunciation by Eija Liisa Ahtila
   Through the centuries we have domesticated this story and Mary along with it, even though she was one of the bravest and strongest prophets God ever called.






         Mary’s story is one of consent and agency—a woman making decisions about her body without shame.

When she says that God has brought down the powerful and lifted up the lowly, we can hear the #MeToo movement—those who have spoken out about sexual harassment and assault and the predatory behavior of those who have power. Unlike other prophets before her, Mary does not question whether she is up to the job or if she is worthy. She’s not naïve of how babies are made but asks how is it possible to bear a child while unmarried because she also knows the consequences—stoning and death—but neither does she allow this to frighten her.
Annunciation by Linda Sutton
Mary is both humble and confident—qualities we often think of as competing but not when they act in harmony with one another. Mary knows this is more than just about her and her life. How are we to perceive the new thing God is doing in the life of humankind if we don’t at least think about saying yes?






         
Annunciation by Peter Hawksby


         In many works of art depicting the annunciation, we can see how this story perplexes, confuses, disturbs not just Mary but also the artist and those who view their art. 
Angels have wings or are a column of light. The angel kneels, sometimes takes off footwear, like Moses on holy ground. The Holy Spirit is a dove or in some, a beam of light from above or even the biological seed itself. Mary is receptive, agitated, overwhelmed, mystified, uncertain, interrupted. And just as we have created Jesus as white, we have done even more so with Mary and we rob her of her power. For the most part, when Mary is depicted as non-white, she does not appear as passive or demure or fragile. She is empowered, challenging, self-possessed.
Annunciation by Talia Prilutsky


         
Carlo Crivelli, Annunciation with St. Emidius
  Ultimately, what Mary said “yes” to was: “yes, I will be vulnerable and open”; “yes, I will embody your justice-seeking, peace-making love”; “yes, I will risk my life for this love”. Yes to courage. Yes to hope. Yes to the interruption and the new direction. Yes to using the voice we have to do what we can. Yes to the poor and the rich getting what they need in order to be whole. Meister Eckhart, a 13th century mystic said, “We are all called to be mothers of God, for God is always waiting to be born.” Amen.


Annunciation by Rose M. Barron

Annunciation by John Collier

Annunciation by Fra Angelico

Annunciation, Jesus Mafa

Listening


Annunciation by Gottfried Helnwein

The Windsock Visitation by Mickey McGrath

Annunciation by Paul Woelfel

Visitation by Romare Bearden





And perhaps my favorite one....

Annunciation by Linda Richardson

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