We Are All Activists Now: Mary's Song and the Rebellion of Love

Emily M D Scott

           Madonna II, Elizabeth Catlett, 1999

           Madonna II, Elizabeth Catlett, 1999

I preached this sermon at St. Lydia's the week after our national election. The text from the Gospel of Luke and tells the story of the angel Gabriel visiting Mary to tell her she will give birth to Jesus, and the song that she sings soon afterward, called the Magnificat. 

We celebrate a seven week Advent season at St. Lydia's.

*

This morning in Silver Spring Maryland, 

Churchgoers at Our Savior Episcopal Church 

arrived to find the words “Trump Nation, Whites Only”

scrawled across the brick wall of their memorial garden, 

the place where this church of mostly immigrants

bury the ashes of those in their congregation who have died. 

 

How did we get here?

Perhaps that’s the question you’re asking yourself tonight, 

among many others. 

 

How did we get here?

 

*

 

I want to you bring up a picture of Mary in your mind. 

The most conventional one you can access. 

 

I’m guessing that the Mary you’re picturing is dressed in blue and white.

She might be riding on the back a donkey. 

Or she might be praying with eyes cast down and a halo behind her head. 


The Mary of popular imagination is the Mary of Hallmark Greeting cards and soft focus paintings. 

She is sweet, she is beatific. 

She is submissive.

And above all, she is a virgin. 

It’s so important that she is a virgin, in fact, that “The Virgin Mary” has become her actual name. 

 

This is the mother of God that we’ve been given:

a woman who is demure, virginal, feminine, and...white. 

 

But what do we know of Mary?

What happens when we start to peel away, layer by layer, 2,000 years of Western culture?

What do we find beneath?

 

So, let's start over.

Erase the traditional vision of Mary from your mind. 

Let’s start again from scratch. 

Let’s imagine Mary from what we know. 

 

*

 

The first thing we know is that Mary is Jewish. 

She is a young girl woman with brown skin and Middle Eastern features. 

What does is mean that she is Jewish?

Is means that she is a religious minority living in territory occupied by the Roman Empire. 

She is from a tribe of people who are effectively powerless, 

and they are ruled by an elite class who see them as lesser-than. 

 

We see in the text that Mary is from Nazareth. 

Not from Jerusalem, the big city, 

not even from Capernum, a fishing village. 

But from Nazareth — a tiny, backwater town it seemed like nothing good could come from. 

 

We might also notice that the word often translated “virgin” in the bible,

in fact only means, “young girl.”

A maid. A girl who is not yet married.

In the next 2,000 years, the church will get really obsessed 

with Mary’s vagina. 

They will claim that not only was she a virgin when Jesus was conceived, 

but that she remained a virgin the rest of her life. 

Because how could the son of GOD be born 

from something so ordinary

and unruly

and uncontrollable 

as a woman’s vagina. 

So in order to make this story make sense for the men who told it, 

they sanitized away Mary’s sexuality. 

They neutered her. 

 

Look closer at the text we notice 

that Mary tells the angel that she, as the Greek puts it, "will do God’s will."

But she does not say anything about submitting. 

She does not say anything about being meek or mild. 

And in fact, just a few verses later 

Mary is laying down some of the most revolutionary words in the Bible 

when she, in the presence of her cousin Elizabeth who is carrying God’s prophesy in her womb, 

sings,

 

“He has brought 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.”

 

These are words of revolution 

from this poor, despised, religious and ethnic minority woman 

living in a backwater town

under the rule of a powerful and unjust empire…

 

…and so we might not be surprised that the name Mary, 

or "Mariam" in Hebrew not only means “bitterness,”

but also: “rebellion.”

“Obstinacy.” 

 

So let us stop for a moment: 

And look at the power

and agency 

and ethnic identity

and sexuality

and personhood 

has been stolen

from Mary. 

This is what we mean when we talk about patriarchy

and white supremacy:


That 2,000 years of Western history 

would take a young woman with a real body 

and brown skin and dark eyes 

and revolution on her lips 

and turn into her into a blue eyed, white-skinned virgin. 

 

This is how we ended up in this place. 

By turning whiteness into an idol 

and virginity into an ideal.

By claiming that white skin makes you somehow better in God’s sight

and that God abhors the fleshy, menstruating bodies of women. 

 

This is the root of the spray painted swastikas 

and the chants of “build the wall.”

This is the root of the hate speech in the memorial garden of Our Savior Attonement. 

This is the root of the massacres in Emmanuel AME and Pulse nightclub:

the insidious notion that God does not choose the immigrant, 

the refugee, 

the woman, 

the Queer, 

the Muslim, 

the dark-skinned, 

the poor or the marginalized. 

The insidious notion that wealth, property, and power 

belongs only to those who are white and those who are men. 

 

2,000 years of patriarchal, white supremacist culture 

tries to tell us otherwise -- 

But we know that God chose Mary. 

 

*

 

Here is what I know today. 

Many of you are are in pain  

and some of you are afraid. 

I know that you are mourning or you are angry. 

We are entering a time in our nation’s history 

that will be at best unpredictable

and at worst broadly immoral. 

 

Some of you feel betrayed by a nation 

that seems as if they don’t want you here

or don’t care for your safety. 

Some of you are in the middle of painful rifts with your families. 

Some of you are worried for your physical safety 

or for the safely of those who you love. 

Some of you are worried for you marriages and your rights.

Some of you are traumatized that the man this nation has chosen as president

behaves and speaks as an abuser does. 

And for all the worries in this room tonight,

there are people more vulnerable than we are. 

 

This is going to be hard.

The best advice that I have for us, 

the people of God, right now, 

is to never let discriminatory or hate-based rhetoric, practices, or policies become normal

 

If God chose Mary to bear the christ child 

then every child who is born to a woman such as Mary 

should be treated as Christ. 

 

And that is exactly what our nation is preparing to not do.

 

I will not stand for the exclusion or persecution 

of anyone who stands on the margins, 

because my faith tells me that they are to be treated as Christ. 


I will not stand by and allow the moral fabric of this nation to be eroded. 

 

I will not be silent when we vote into office 

a man who endorses the use of torture 

and speaks of banning entire religious groups based on the faith they practice. 

 

When we do these things, we do them to Jesus. 

The least of these. 

To Mary.  

 

Some will say that we should take care not to be alarmist. 

I have to say, I'm not really too concerned about that. 

I would rather be alarmist about the protection of the children of God

than stand by as they come under attack. 

If Donald Trump stepped away from office today, 

we would still be left with the racist legacy of this nation 

and the hate-filled fallout 

of the endorsement he gave 

that somehow, it used to be great. 

 

*

 

Today, it is Advent. 

In a small Judean town in the hill country, 

Mary and Elizabeth greet each other and share what is happening to them: 

that together they are holding in their wombs 

a new future of God among us. 

 

This is going to be hard.

But I have to tell you something that's true:

God never promised that it wouldn’t be hard. 

 

It is a dark time.

But we know that God’s light shines in the darkness. 

Let us not forget the way that God does her work. 

Not with military strength. 

Not with political power. 

But with small and forgotten people

who stand ready on the margins. 

With Mary, who was born into poverty but is ready to sing her song. 

With Elizabeth, who is getting on in years but will not reject her call. 

With Zechariah, the priest who still doesn’t quite get it... 

...but he will. 

 

If you have not already heard your own annunciation this week,

I imagine that you will. 

For each of us will have a role to play in the coming days and months

in ushering Christ into a world that is yearning for him. 

 

I do not know just yet the exact shape and nature of our actions. 

But I know that the nature of our justice work so far at St. Lydia's

of building relationships across boundaries

will continue to be a cornerstone 

of whatever we do in response to this time. 

Changing hearts and minds, including our own 

will be a part of this process. 

 

This week one of our co-workers came in for shared lunch 

and told us of her fear for her mixed race family. 

"My friend called me this morning," she told us, 

"and said, 'we are all activists now.'"

 

We are all activists now.

We are all midwives. 

Awake, and ready, and prepared 

to do the messy and real, uncertain and confusing work 

of bringing God’s realm of justice down into this one. 

 

There are many questions to be answered, 

many things that are uncertain. 

I can't solve that or take it away. 

But one thing we know for sure is that God always stands with the oppressed. 

And so will we.