mitigating risk

Luke 1:48: for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;

I love Mary’s song. I have this print by artist Ben Wildflower on two t-shirts and a sticker that lives on the front of my laptop.

On Sunday, I preached about Mary, who is blessed, highly favored & chosen. Except, it turns out that all those superlatives applied to her *before* she agreed to bear & birth the Son of God.

Sometimes we think about Mary as blessed because of who Jesus turned out to be, illuminated by the glow of her child’s accomplishments. But Gabriel assures Mary that she is blessed, favored, accompanied by God, even before he delivers God’s request. In fact, those are the first words he says to this scared girl. Don’t fear: you are blessed. God loves you. Getting mysteriously pregnant and becoming the bearer of God into human flesh hasn’t even come up, yet, and Gabriel is reassuring Mary that she is good, beloved, valued, honored.

We might do well to think about that a little more. WHY is Mary blessed? It is not because of Jesus: according to Gabriel, she was blessed long, long before Jesus’ tiny screaming infant body ever broke onto the scene.

Even later on in Luke’s own gospel, we learn about Mary’s blessing. After she hears from the angel – after getting over her confusion and being super perplexed – Mary goes to visit her cousin, Elizabeth, who has just had her own angelic experience. And Elizabeth confirms Mary’s blessing, in this way: she says “blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken by the Lord.”

Elizabeth doesn’t say “blessed is she who will bear God’s own son.” She says “blessed is she who believed that God’s word would come to pass.” Believing – not bearing – is the root of this blessing.

Jesus even gets in on the conversation, once he’s grown enough to have a say – and he doesn’t do it once, but twice. First, while he’s teaching a huge crowd of people, Mary and Jesus’ brothers show up and someone passes him a note: hey, your family is here! But Jesus refuses to give his flesh & blood relatives any preference over the others there in the crowd: “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.”

And, again, when Jesus is teaching another crowd, someone pipes up in adoration and yells out, blessing his mother: “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts that nursed you.”

One of the things about Jesus that constantly amazes me is that even 2,000 years ago, he consistently refused what we’d call today “sexism” or “misogyny.” The woman yelling from the crowd is blessing another woman’s womb and breasts, diminishing her entire existence to a few body parts that make her able to grow a child. As if any human being is loved by God because of their mere physical appearance or ability.

Jesus is having none of it: “Nope,” he says. “Blessed rather are those who hear God’s word and obey it!”

Mary is blessed and beloved, not because she is the mother of God, but because she heard God’s call and agreed to accept the invitation.

I am convinced that each one of us is already blessed, already beloved, already highly favored, already chosen. We are not blessed because of any special ability or gift or because we get chosen for an especially holy task; we are blessed when we hear God’s word and obey it. We are blessed when we believe that God fulfills God’s promises and agree to become part of that happening.

I believe that God is speaking to us even now, through angels and dreams and friends and neighbors and headlines and social media feeds and those weird, unprompted nudges we get to do something or say a word or send a note. God is speaking. God is turning the world upside down, and we are invited to join in. “Greetings, favored ones! The Lord is with us!”

(with thanks to Mark Allen Powell’s commentary on this passage from Working Preacher.)

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