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Delivered By
Pr. David Fleener
Delivered On
December 23, 2018 at 10:45 AM
Central Passage
Luke 1:39-55
Advent 4C

Pr. David Fleener

Sermon: December 23, 2018 – Advent 4C

Luke 1:39-55


Mary the Warrior


            There’s an image we get of Mary that comes from countless Christmas pageants, countless selective retellings of the Gospels. It’s the sweet Mary. The demure Mary. The meek and mild Mary. The Mary who does what she’s told; who gives birth to Jesus and then clears the stage for him. This is the Mary who would never rock the boat; who would never offend anyone. This is the “porcelain mouse” Mary – pretty, small, and fragile.


            Except that portrait of Mary is so unbiblical, it’s hard to know where to begin.


            The Joe and Jesus group has heard me say this many, many times over the past eight years – so now I’ll say it to you. If you really want to understand the New Testament – Jesus’ life, ministry, and the context he was in – you must be thoroughly grounded in the Old. This goes double for Luke, which is chock-full of allusions to the heroes and heroines of Israel’s faith. Mary is no exception. Though Mary describes herself as God’s “lowly servant”, that is a far cry from the popular image of the “meek and mild” maiden. No, Mary has much more in common with Jael from the book of Judges than, say, Buttercup from The Princess Bride.


            If you don’t remember Jael, don’t feel bad. Hardly anyone does. Which is remarkable, because she, too, is called “blessed among women” in the Song of Deborah and Barak in Judges 5. No, Jael – though appearing to be meek, mild, and demure – strikes a terrifying blow against an enemy of Israel that ensures its security for forty years.


            Let’s recount the story. Deborah, a judge and prophetess, sends Barak, her right-hand man and a commander of Israel’s army, to do battle against Sisera, a top general of the Caananite King Jabin. Sisera, with superior military technology, had oppressed the Israelites for twenty years. Knowing this, Barak’s courage falters a bit and he tells Deborah that he needs her to come with him. She agrees, but tells him, “This path won’t lead to your glory, for the Lord will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman.” That woman happens to be Jael.


            After Sisera’s forces are routed, Sisera escapes to the camp of an ally, Heber the Kenite. Jael greets him, and hides him in a tent with a blanket. In response to his request for water, she gives him milk. She seems to go above and beyond the call of hospitality, providing for the needs of an ally.


            And then, after he falls asleep, she tiptoes up to him and drives a tent peg into his head! When Barak and the pursuing forces come to Heber’s camp, she shows Sisera dead in the tent. This turns the tide of the war, and eventually, the Israelites defeat King Jabin and enjoy peace for a time.


            “Well, Pastor,” you might say, “you’ve been eating too many malted milk balls again. Last time I checked, Mary didn’t kill anybody.” That’s true. Mary doesn’t kill anyone. Where Jael brings salvation to Israel through killing an oppressor, Mary brings salvation into the world through giving birth to a Savior. Nevertheless, Mary is tough as steel. Undoubtedly, she had to face the disapproval of her community and the doubts of her husband. She endured a separation from her son during his ministry, as she and Jesus’ brothers and sisters thought he was out of his mind at times. And she also endured the pain of her son’s death. Her song, recorded in Luke 1, is the song of a warrior’s heart, the song of a woman who is faithful to the God who saves. Mary is a warrior, albeit a non-violent one, against the forces of tyranny and oppression. She says some things that sound crazy to us in this world that worships power and money and status.


            Mary sings, “God has shown strength with his arm. He has scattered those with arrogant hearts and proud inclinations. He has pulled down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty-handed.”


            Such words show the dual nature of the Gospel. This is good news for many – for those who are at the lowest rungs of society, who endure humiliation and exploitation, those who cannot afford health care, those who suffer from addiction, those who are part of an ever-growing prison population, those who are constantly berated for being “lazy” and “entitled” even though many of our poorest citizens work two or three jobs just to keep afloat. Mary’s song about a great reversal is good news for them.


However, for those of us who are relatively well-off, these words are stinging, but necessary law. Now, I know this is middle America, which means that no one here at worship today is “rich”. The term “rich” is always reserved for the person who has more than you do. But these words remind us that though God shows mercy “to all who fear him”, God is on the side of those beaten down by this world. Of those used and abused by this world. Of those who are caricatured in the media (especially on those dreadful Facebook memes that seem to keep making the rounds). God is for the weak, not the strong. And as Jesus says later, “The well have no need of a physician, but the sick do.” Jesus came especially for the sick and weak of the world.


            So what does this mean for us, those of us who are relatively well-off? It means that Mary the warrior, speaking for God, calls us to stop trusting in our status, power, and wealth, as modest as they may be. To stop trusting in our privilege. Instead, Mary calls us to trust in the God who saves, in the God who is the only One in whom we can ultimately trust. Mary calls us to align ourselves with the weak of the world and to see how we, too, are weak. How we, too, are sick and in need of healing. All of us, despite any pretentions we may have, are ultimately dependent on the grace and mercy of God.


            And in this call, Mary the warrior does something very Jael-like. She, in essence, puts a tent-peg in the temple of our pride. Pride is often labeled the pre-eminent sin, and Mary is often depicted with her heel crushing the head of the serpent, Satan, the source of pride. Mary the warrior crushes the head of our pride with her song to drive us to the God who saves, the God to whom she will give birth. 


            Sing of Mary, the warrior, the one who was favored by God through no merit or deserving of her own, who sang of the great reversal that is to come through her son, Jesus. Sing of the woman who crushes our pride as she crushed the serpent, so that we could receive the grace of God through her son, Jesus. Sing of this young girl, chosen by God to give birth to the Christ, to show us that God is strongest when working through weakness. When we sing of her, we sing of her who points to the only source of our salvation, Jesus the Messiah.


© 2018, David M. Fleener. Permission granted to copy and adapt original material herein for non-commercial purposes with appropriate credit given.