The Feast of St. Mary the Virgin
The Rev’d Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
August 15, 2021
I’ve been singing in choir since I was 15 years old – first in school, then in church, then in college, and then again in church – and it is hard for me not to hear certain passages in the Bible and be reminded of choral music. “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given, and the government shall be upon His shoulders.” As a priest, I probably shouldn’t admit this, but when I hear these words, I don’t think of the prophet Isaiah, my mind goes to the 12th movement of Handel’s Messiah.
In a similar way, when I hear the words we heard Mary sing in today’s gospel lesson, for just a moment, my mind thinks that the biblical author is quoting from Evening Prayer from the 1979 Book of Common Prayer. Of course, it’s the reverse – the prayer book is quoting the Bible. The text we heard is actually a hymn – perhaps the earliest Christian hymn – and has become known by the first word in the Latin translation: Magnificat.
Right before this passage, the birth of Jesus was foretold by an angel, and Mary enters the scene. Luke describes her as a virgin engaged to be married to a man named Joseph who was from the royal house of David. An angel informs her that she will bear in her womb a child, which is rather confusing to her. She asks, “How can this be, as I am a virgin?” The angel says that the Holy Spirit will come upon her and make her pregnant by the power of the Most High God, and that her child will be holy, and called the “Son of God.”
What is Mary’s response when faced with this crazy and confusing pronouncement? She says, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord, let it be with me according to your word.” When faced with the news of God becoming human and entering the world through her, Mary said “yes.” She said “yes.”
She then went to see her cousin, Elizabeth, in a neighboring town. Elizabeth was well past child rearing age – but, miraculously, she too was pregnant. Filled with the Holy Spirit, she says to Mary, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” And Mary responds to these words by singing the hymn we now know as the Magnificat, the Song of Mary.
This hymn is born out of a ridiculous context. God proclaims the coming of the long-awaited Messiah not to government officials, or religious leaders, or other important people, but rather to two marginalized, unimportant, pregnant women – one young, poor, and unwed, the other far beyond the age to conceive. The content of Mary’s song is equally as absurd. The powerful on their thrones, and the proud, and the rich – these folks aren’t the ones extolled and lifted up. Instead, it’s the lowly, the humble, and the poor. Mary’s song gives voice to the implications of the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ: an ushering in of the kingdom of God, a kingdom where the first shall be last and the last shall be first. An upside-down kingdom where status isn’t measured by wealth and pride and fancy titles but by humility, tenderness, forgiveness, and unconditional love. Mary’s song announces that God’s kingdom is coming, and with it, an inbreaking of new values and priorities.
Mary recognized just how great an honor God was bestowing on her – that she would bear the Son of God in her own body – and said, “Surely all generations will call me blessed.” This has been borne out throughout history. The Blessed Virgin Mary is recognized as the greatest saint of all which can be seen in so many ways, one of which is the fact that Christians all the world over that pray the Daily Office sing her song daily at Evening Prayer. We have statues and icons and images all throughout our beloved church which is under the patronage of the Blessed Mother. The Church throughout the world recognizes Mary’s exalted status not because she was powerful or proud or rich, but because of her humility and lowliness. In the upside-down kingdom of God, the lowly are exalted, and in this case, the lowliest of all humans has been exalted to the highest place in the communion of saints. In the upside-down kingdom of God, Mary is Queen of Heaven because her son, Jesus Christ, is the king of Israel, and in Israel, the mother of the king was recognized as the Queen Mother.
Thus, she is often depicted with a royal crown on her head, as she is in the beautiful image on the front of the high altar. Likewise, in the new emblem on the floor of the choir [which you can see on the front of your bulletin], a crown is at the top sitting upon the Marian monogram that superimposes an A and an M which stands for auspice Maria: “under the protection of Mary.”
In the kingdom that Mary’s son is ushering in, those we marginalize, God glorifies. Think of the millions of refugees of the world fleeing the violence of their homelands. Look at the myriad of unhoused people in Kansas City. Ponder those who are disabled. Consider those who are oppressed and rejected for no other reason than for being who God created them to be.
As members of this beloved parish under the patronage of the Blessed Virgin Mary, let us join in the song she leads. Let us join with her and her Son in praying and working for a world where there is no poverty, war, injustice or hate. Under the protection of Mary, let us join her in saying “yes” to her son Jesus. Let us extol the one who is higher than the cherubim and more glorious than the seraphim, for “…we never give more honor to Jesus than when we honor his Mother, and we honor her simply and solely to honor him all the more perfectly. We go to her only as a way leading to the goal we seek - Jesus, her Son." Amen.
 David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds., Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary, vol. 9 (Louisville (Ky.): Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 95.
 Bishop Skip Adams, “Feast Day Reflection: St. Mary the Virgin,” The Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina, August 15, 2017, http://www.episcopalchurchsc.org/messages-from-bishop-adams/feast-day-reflection-st-mary-the-virgin.
 Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort, True Devotion to Mary: With Preparation for Total Consecration (Charlotte, NC: Saint Benedict Press, 2010).
The sermons preached at High Mass at St. Mary's Episcopal Church, Kansas City, are posted here!