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SINGING THE MAGNA CARTA?! (Advent 4, 2020)

I recently came across a series of unintentionally humorous statements children had written in response to questions put to them in their Religious Education lessons in school. Here are a few of them: Noah’s wife was called Joan of Ark. The Fifth Commandment is ‘Humour thy father and mother’. Lot’s wife was a pillar of salt by day, and a ball of fire at night. Salome was a woman who danced naked in front of Harrods. Holy acrimony is another name for marriage. The Pope lives in a Vacuum. Paraffin is next in order after Seraphim. The patron saint of travellers is St. Francis of the Seasick. Iran is the Bible of Moslems. A Republican is a sinner mentioned in the Bible. The natives of Macedonia did not believe, so Paul got stoned. It is sometimes difficult to hear what is being said in church because the agnostics are so terrible. My favourite however, and very appropriate for this time of year, is the response one child gave to a question about the meaning of the Annunciation: When Mary heard she was to be the mother of Jesus, she went off and sang the Magna Carta.

This Sunday is the Fourth Sunday in Advent. Traditionally, on this particular Sunday, the Church thinks about the Mary the Mother of Jesus, and particularly Mary’s faith. Luke tells us that when Mary heard the angelic revelation that she was to bear the promised Messiah she burst into song. This song, known as the ‘Magnificat’ (from the Latin for ‘My soul magnifies the Lord’) – not the Magna Carta – begins: ‘My soul is ecstatic, overflowing with praises to God! My spirit bursts with joy over my life-giving God! For he set his tender gaze upon me, his lowly servant girl. And from here on, everyone will know that I have been favoured and blessed. The Mighty One has worked a mighty miracle for me holy is his name!’ [Luke 1:46-49 Passion Translation].

Mary, the mother of Jesus, is an important figure in the Story of Jesus, particularly the birth narratives of course. It is probably true to say that whilst Mary is given too prominent a place in Roman Catholic, Orthodox and Anglo-Catholic Churches, she is virtually ignored in the majority of Protestant, Evangelical, Reformed, Pentecostal and Charismatic Churches. This is a sadness because we have much to learn from Mary, not least from her willingness to say ‘Yes’ to God and to life, in response to God’s gracious dealings with her.

Our English name ‘Mary’ comes from the Greek ‘Maria’ which is itself based on the original Aramaic name ‘Mariam’ or ‘Miriam’. She is commonly referred to as the ‘Virgin Mary’ in accordance with the belief that she conceived Jesus miraculously through the Holy Spirit without having sexual relations with a man. The Gospel of Luke begins its account of Mary’s life with the Annunciation, when the angel Gabriel appears to her and announces her divine selection to be the mother of Jesus. According to other Gospel accounts, Mary was present at the Crucifixion of Jesus, and is also depicted as a member of the early Christian Community in Jerusalem.

Luke paints a picture for us of a young, devout Jewish girl (probably only about 15 years of age), betrothed to an older Jewish carpenter, who lived in the Palestinian town of Nazareth (Luke 1:26-30). Mary was just an ordinary Jewish girl. There was nothing that special about her other than the fact that she had ‘found favour with God’ (v.30). We are not told that she was more devout than any other woman, nor that she possessed greater faith. We are simply told that ‘God was with her’ (v.28) … and that he had a special, and unique, task for her. Mary had been chosen to give birth to the Christ-child, the Promised Messiah, the One who would not only redeem Israel but bring salvation to the whole world! The angel Gabriel appears to Mary and tells her: ‘You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Highest. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!’ (vs.30-33).

This whole episode is so amazing that it is beyond our ability to adequately grasp just what was happening here? No wonder that Mary was ‘confused and disturbed’ (v.29)? Here we have something quite beyond the experience of anyone of us. Think, for a moment, of the most amazing experience of your life so far? Well, this was way beyond that for Mary! What is perhaps even more amazing, however, is Mary’s response to this incredible news. She does not dismiss it as an hallucination. She does not refuse to accept God’s choice. She does not ‘run away’ from it. She simply says ‘Yes’ to God and to life! Mary responded, ‘I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true’ (v.38).

In some ways there is a link between the Magnificat and the Magna Carta. The Magna Carter is a charter of liberties to which the English barons forced King John to give his assent in June 1215 at Runnymede – a document constituting a fundamental guarantee of rights and privileges and freedoms that we in the UK still benefit from today. It was much the same with Mary, and it can be the same with us, because as Paul tells us ‘Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom’ (2 Corinthians 3:17). In saying ‘Yes’ to God, rather than losing our freedom, we actually gain it. Freedom to become the person that God always envisaged that we might become in Christ! Free to truly become a ‘somebody’ … not necessarily somebody famous … but a somebody through whom God makes a real difference in this broken, hurting, and needy world of ours today! So here is another song …

Step out of the shadows, step out of the grave,
Break into the wild and don’t be afraid.

Run into wide open spaces, grace is waiting for you,
Dance like the weight has been lifted, grace is waiting!

Where the Spirit of the Lord is
There is freedom, there is freedom.
Where the Spirit of the Lord is
There is freedom, there is freedom.

Come out of the dark just as you are,
Into the fullness of His love.
For the Spirit is here, let there be freedom,
Let there be freedom.

Bring all of your burdens, bring all of your scars,
Come back to communion, come back to the start.

Run into wide open spaces, grace is waiting for you,
Dance like the weight has been lifted, grace is waiting!

Where the Spirit of the Lord is,
There is freedom, there is freedom.

Where the Spirit of the Lord is
There is freedom, there is freedom!

~ Jesus Culture

Jim Binney

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