In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Today is the third Sunday of Advent, also known as Gaudete Sunday. The word Gaudete means “rejoice!” This Sunday, we take a break from the penitential tone of Advent in anticipation of Christ’s birth. On this Sunday, we shift focus from John the Baptist’s message of“Repent for the Lord is near” to “Rejoice for the Lord is near!”
To signify this shift, many churches change from using the color blue or purple, to using the color rose. Many Episcopal, Anglican, Roman Catholic, and Lutheran churches have a rose- colored candle in their Advent wreath and use rose-colored vestments to signify that the birth of our long-awaited Savior is just around the corner, so let’s rejoice.
There is perhaps no better person who can show us how to rejoice in the coming of the infant-Christ than Mary, the Blessed Mother.
And no, this is not because at this point in the Advent story Mary is heavily pregnant and will rejoice in getting that baby out!
Mary is the best person from Holy Scriptures to show us how to rejoice in the coming of the infant-Christ, because she is the first to rejoice in the promise of the infant-Christ, and risks everything to make sure the infant-Christ comes to Bethlehem. Mary shows us how to rejoice, not just because she was the infant-Christ’s mother, but because she was the first to believe that Christ was the Messiah, and as a result, became the first disciple.
Now, let me be clear about which Mary that I am talking about. I am not talking about Mary meek and mild, passively waiting, and styled as a bit clueless. I am not talking about the Mary whose virginity was coopted by religious leaders to create a false binary for woman to opt into, being either virgin or harlot. These views of Mary would gasp at the idea that she and Joseph had biological children after Jesus.
No, the Mary that I am talking about was a teenage girl of her time and in her time who took extraordinary risks for God. The Mary that I am talking about was well aware that unwed and pregnant, she could be publicly stoned to death. The Mary who knew that if her betrothed, Joseph, should so desire, he could order her stoning.
The Mary that I am talking about was born to poor parents. She knew that as a female, the way to secure her financial future was to marry and become her husband’s property. This Mary lived as a faithful Jew, under occupation. This Mary knew firsthand what it was like to be “lowly,” with no real access to social, political, or religious power. And it is this Mary, this peasant Palestinian-Jew, who said “yes” to God, and her “yes” changed everything.
In Mary’s “yes,” she inaugurates the in-breaking of God’s kingdom on earth.
In Mary’s “yes,” the cosmic curse against woman is broken. Eve’s “no” is forever overturned and redeemed and that which was once cursed, childbirth, is sanctified.
In Mary “yes,” Mary becomes the mouthpiece for humanity’s longing for God’s presence in the world.
In Mary’s “yes,” a new relationship with God is established, humanity is entrusted with raising their Savior and their King.
In Mary’s “yes,” her womb holds what the heavens cannot contain. Her pregnant body becomes what Rowan Williams called a borderland of holiness, a place between promise and fulfillment. Like the wardrobe from C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, Mary’s body becomes a place between heaven and earth, the very place where time and eternity meet.
I wonder when Mary realized who she had become? I think it was most likely in the eyes of an older woman, Elizabeth, her cousin. Upon visiting Elizabeth, Mary realizes who she had become as the God-bearer, and rejoices in the famous works of the Magnificat, as she says:
My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior;
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed:
the Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his Name!
Mary, who knew first-hand what it meant to be lowly, as a female, a person under occupation, from a peasant class rejoices in the coming of the King. For Mary knows that when her king comes, He will bring His kingdom with him. And in His Kingdom there will be justice on earth, as it is in heaven. And so Mary rejoices and says:
He has shown the strength of his arm,
he has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
In her revolutionary manifesto, Mary rejoices in the coming of the King and how his arrival will change everything. This song of Mary is not the Mary that we think of Mary in many paintings or icons. And her song is not the sort of sweet and nostalgic song that we often associate with Advent.
In fact, over the last century, the Magnificat was considered so revolutionary that certain governments banned its recitation or that it be sung, in fear it would empower the people on the margins, fueling an uprising.
In Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s book, Ethics, he famously wrote, “The truthfulness that we owe to God must take on concrete form in the world.“
“The truthfulness that we owe to God must take on concrete form in the world.“
In the Magnificat, Mary shows us how to make our rejoicing in the coming of the King concrete. Mary does this not only in her pregnancy, but throughout her life.
Mary would follow Jesus throughout his life and ministry. She was not perfect in this. Remember, she and Joseph lost the child-Jesus once, only to find him in the temple. I am glad that I am not the only one who loses Jesus from time to time. Mary would be the one who would witness and perhaps even encourage Christ’s first miracle at the wedding of Cana. It was Mama Mary whose look most likely sprung Jesus into action. Remember, when the wine ran out at the wedding Mary asked Jesus to make more. Jesus responded, “Woman, my time has not yet come.” And if you could just imagine the look that Mama Mary gave her son … Moments later, we have Jesus’ first miracle at the Wedding of Cana.
It was Mary who witnessed her son be falsely accused and executed. Mary stood at the foot of the cross, and waited for the empty tomb.
The Blessed Virgin Mary shows us how to make our rejoicing concrete, as she followed Jesus from the cradle, to the cross, to the empty tomb.
This Advent, on Guadete Sunday, let us join Mary in rejoicing.
Let us rejoice with Mary, as we wait for the coming of Jesus as we sing out “Soon and very soon we are going to see the king”!
Let us rejoice with Mary, as we wait for the coming of Jesus as we make room in our hearts for Christ to come again.
Let us rejoice with Mary, and make our words truthful in our lives by bearing witness to God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.
If Advent is like the wardrobe from C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, then let us enter into the wardrobe. Let us place one hand firmly on the door that leads to life as it is, and the other hand the door that leads toward what life could be. Let us stand in the place between promise and fulfillment, as we lift our hands up towards heaven, and rejoice with Mary in the coming of our Savior and King.
This Advent, may we join Mary as we rejoice, for the Lord is near! And may our words become truthful through our thoughts, words, and deeds. Amen.