The 15th August is kept by many Christians as the feast day of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In the Church of England it is a major feast day and even though it fell on a Sunday this year we are given the option of keeping the feast rather than doing what some churches do and transferring it to the 16th. So at St John’s we kept Mary’s feast on Sunday. Here’s what I said.
Every year thousands of young people, desperate for fame and fortune, audition for TV shows such as The Voice UK or The X-Factor or Britain’s Got Talent. They’re all apparently convinced of their magnificent voices and star quality. This year, though, they’re out of luck. Britain’s Got Talent never happened. The Voice UK has still not produced a major new star. And Simon Cowell announced on the 28th July this year that the X Factor is no more. Where will aspiring singers find their route to stardom?
Of course, not everyone has star quality. As Simon Cowell 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. This comment I thought particularly mean: If you had lived two thousand years ago and sang like that, I think they would have stoned you.
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.
Today we come together to honour a young woman who did live two thousand years ago and who sang a song – but 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 expectations 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! Not to be thrust into stardom, perhaps – but to have her life changed, and to be honoured and revered by Christians ever since. “Blessed are you among women,” said her cousin Elisabeth, and Blessed she has been called ever since.
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 is Mary. Not the winner of The Voice UK or Britain’s Got Talent, 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 and Britain’s Got Talent 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. Having heard the news from the angel that she has been chosen by God, Mary goes off to see her cousin Elizabeth who greets her with the words, “Blessed are you among women. “
And Mary’s response to her cousin’s greeting is this wonderful song of praise and glory to God. This great song we call The Magnificat from its opening word in Latin. And 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. Why shouldn’t she be overjoyed? God has chosen her for, plucked her from obscurity, for the most important task any human being could be asked to do – to bring God into the world.
And the rest of the song 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 to God’s work in and God’s plan for the world.
Did Mary really have any idea of what her ‘yes’ would mean? Full understanding, perhaps not. But look at Mary’s song – 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 a model for us – an inspiration for us to follow. Jesus, of course, is our supreme model, but we can also be inspired by people like Mary and other great christians who have really shown in their lives what it means to be a follower of Jesus, what it means to be someone who has trusted fully in God. And Mary is a model for us because she accepted God’s will for her, and 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.”
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. Just say ‘yes!’