Today, the 15th of August, Christians around the world celebrate the woman chosen by God to bring his Son into the world – Mary. At St John’s we kept the feast last Sunday, and followed it with our customary celebration for the occasion with pre-lunch drinks in the vicarage garden. Here’s my sermon for the occasion.
Every year thousands of young people, desperate for fame and fortune, audition for TV shows such as The Voice UK or the X-Factor. They’re all apparently convinced of their magnificent voices and star quality.
Of course, not everyone has star quality. Those of you who who are familiar with X-Factor or Britain’s Got Talents will know that Simon Cowell can be somewhat forthright when dealing with some of the competitors. As he said to one X-Factor contestant: If you were the only one in the competition, you couldn’t win it. And to another: My advice would be if you want to make a career in the music business, don’t.
And my favourite, to a contestant whose day job was as a lifeguard: If your lifeguard duties were as good as your singing a lot of people would be drowning.
It seems that there is an endless supply of people desperate to be plucked from obscurity and rewarded with fame and fortune convinced of their own ability.
Today we come together to honour a young woman to whom the prospect of being plucked from obscurity and thrust into worldwide stardom simply never would have occurred. Such things are a product of our age, of course – there was nothing equivalent in 1st century Palestine. She was simply one young teenager among thousands of others. And what had she wanted to do all her life? Well, she would have had no expectation of anything other than getting married and bearing children. Though as far as we know she had spent her life in service of God – certainly Church tradition would have us believe that, and that belief would be supported by the words of Gabriel when he came to announce to her that she had been chosen, “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you!” God had decided that Mary had the x-factor and chose her to be the mother of his Son. And so she is plucked from obscurity!
And as for talent – well, as far as we know she wasn’t chosen for her singing voice – but she gave us a song that has been repeated day after day in worship by countless Christians for almost as long as the Church has worshipped. The Magnificat of course – which we heard in our gospel reading – and the young woman who sang it is, of course, Mary. Not the winner of The Voice UK, but a voice singing out to the whole world then and ever since.
Well, having managed to link Mary with the X Factor and The Voice UK the illustration stops there. I’m not going to make draw any parallels between Simon Cowell and God! Even though he might. Simon Cowell, that is – not God.
Today along with Christians around the world we give thanks for the role played by Mary in bringing about our salvation. For without Mary’s “yes” to God there would have been no incarnation. Mary may, or may not, have been the only one in the competition – we will never know – but she is the one God chose, she is the one who in today’s terms God recognised for her ‘star quality’!
And her response was to give us this song in our gospel reading today. One of the most important songs in the whole of Scripture. Its importance is such that it is repeated every day at the office of evening prayer, as it has been for centuries. This great canticle of praise was uttered by Mary at her meeting with Elizabeth in response to her cousin’s exclamation: Blessed art thou among women.
Mary’s response to her cousin’s greeting is a wonderful song of praise and glory to God. The first part concerns herself, and Mary shows full appreciation of what God has done in her life. She cries out with delight – all generations will call me blessed. How true that prophecy has been. The whole Church, even those who look with suspicion upon traditional catholic devotion to Mary, refer to her as the Blessed Virgin.
The rest of the canticle we call The Magnificat concerns itself with describing the mighty deeds the Lord has performed and the promises he made and kept. Unlike those young people of today on The Voice or X-Factor who want to draw the eyes – and ears – of everyone to themselves, Mary wants to draw the eyes of everyone not to herself but to God and to Jesus.
And this is what we are celebrating today. A promise kept by God, the promise of salvation. And the life of the woman who made God’s offer of salvation to all possible by accepting God’s will for her, and who in so doing brought Jesus our Saviour into the world.
God sent his only son into our world precisely to complete this task—to bring us salvation to save us from sin and death and to enable us to enter and live forever in his Kingdom of Glory.
And so he came – Jesus, the Saviour of the world. Jesus, who came into the world through the willingness of this amazing young woman. He came and preached repentance, proclaimed the Good News of the Kingdom and gave his life for our sake. He overcame sin and death and brought us salvation. And was only able to do so because Mary said ‘yes’ to God, because a young Jewish girl was willing to embrace God’s call. And did she really have any idea of what her ‘yes’ would mean? Look at the Magnificat – look at the way she praises God. She understands that she has been truly blessed by God, and she understands what God is doing in his world and sings it out for all the world to hear down the centuries since.
This is what we are celebrating today in this feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Because Mary co-operated in the plan of God for the salvation of the world, because in a unique way she was “full of grace”, because like none other she points us to her Son Jesus.
And so Mary is our model – an inspiration for us to follow. Because she accepted God’s will for her she won the prize. Not a prize of tens of thousands of pounds and a recording contract like those on our TV talent shows, but something far,far more valuable and enduring – salvation, and the gift of eternal life. And the knowledge that all generations would call her blessed. And all she had to do to win that prize was say, “yes.”
Because we too are called to discern God’s call to us, we too are called to say our own “yes” to God. We too are called to show Jesus to the world. And as on this day we remember that Mary, after a life given to the service of her God, was taken to heaven, so we are assured that when we have served our God here on earth we too will be taken to heaven to be with our God for ever. This is the salvation which Jesus came to give us and which we are able to enjoy through the obedience, through the “yes” to God, of a young teenage girl. And we too win the prize – for in God’s scheme of things everyone can be the winner. For, in the end, as we embrace the eternity for which we are destined when we say “yes” to Jesus, we will all be full of grace and blessed.