Sunday 19 December 2010

Sermon on the Magnificat

First of all, my tightrope-walking flock, I would like to apologise for using the word "Magnificat". A Latin word, and that is not a language we would generally wish to hear spoken in a church of the Reformed and Baptist traditions. Indeed, in the little patch of garden I have been allocated I have carefully translated all Latin plant names into New Testament Greek to ensure I fall not into the temptation of being baptised in the Tiber.

But that is the word by which this particular text is generally known, and I will face the use of the language this once. But of course our text today is of particular awkwardness, and I will attempt now to face it.

Firstly we have the dilemma of how we receive this text at all. For after all these are the words that were uttered, let us face it, by a woman. And we have long rejected the teaching of women in our congregations.  So how do we hear these words?  I think there are two mitigating features here. The first is that, of course, the text was inspired by the Holy Spirit. Although that now leads us into further dilemma - for if that is the case, how would we regard the teaching of a woman in our midst that claims to be inspired by the Spirit? But I think that we can be re-assured by the knowledge that the actual words we read here were written by a man - that is, the good surgeon Luke. And he will have remedied any minor theological defects or terminological inexactitudes from what was originally uttered, and converted it into inspired and mellifluous Greek.

Then we have the next issue - that all generations will call Mary "blessed". Which of course is true. She was blessed by God. Blessed to carry God's son. But just because she was called Mary, blessed and had not known a man, I see no reason to describe her as "The Blessed Virgin Mary". Simply to have been the provider of human nature to Our Lord, the one who brought him into the world, and the one who brought him up, does not in any way imply that she had any special importance. I think the best thing we can do here, as I know you have done for so long in the Independent Funambulist Baptists' Church, is move along quickly and not delve too deeply into these questions.

But now let us move onto the words that follow. The ones that are liable to cause even more concern to those of faint heart and shallow faith.

"He hath showed strength with his arm; he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He hath put down the mighty from their seats,and exalted them of low degree."

And to some - such as the "Archdruid" of the Community next door, who will hear apocalyptic in any reading of any part of Holy Scripture - or even Thomas Hardy novels, so dedicated is she to the overthrow of all things godly - this is a prophecy of the future. She sees the day when all unfair tyranny and unjust economic structures - apart from her own, I hasten to add - will be overthrown.

But how blind could one be? For behold, these words of the Blessed Surgeon, tidied up from Mary's original song, are in the past tense. The throwing down and raising up have already happened. The new order has - to a large extent - come in. The comfortable economic position in which we currently live is the blessing God has bestowed upon us for our holy, capitalist, free-enterprise spirits. But not so - you will notice - the Catholic Irish, who ran away to the foreign gods of Economic Monetary Union - flagged, you will notice, with an emblem of 12 stars. And truly they are now punished, unable even to buy a pint of Guinness to cry into.

So rejoice, brethren, and be exalted. For truly we the humble have been lifted up, and the oppressors and ungodly have been cast down. And so will it be until the End.

Now let us forget this awkward little reading as we climb upon our tightropes once more, to sing "Nearer my God to thee".

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