Demonstrating Power through Weakness
Talk Given at Our Advent Mini Retreat, 2006
Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said,
“Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.”
And Mary said:
“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed:
the Almighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his Name.
He has mercy on those who fear him
in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm,
he has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has come to the help of his servant Israel
for he has remembered his promise of mercy,
the promise he made to our fathers,
to Abraham and his children for ever.”
Mary remained with her about three months
and then returned to her home.
Lk 1, 39-56
When God pours his grace out upon His people, it overflows. We’re dumbstruck by the complete audacity of God’s action and it takes a long, long time for us to get our heads around what has happened.
“His mercy is from age to age to those who fear him.”
God’s mercy is from age to age, and from age to age those of us who fear God strive to appreciate the blessings we’ve received. Chief among our blessings is that magnificent and outrageous phenomenon theologians refer to as “the mystery of the Incarnation”. The living God, the eternal God, the infinite God became something we could have never imagined He could be. Ever-living, yet mortal; eternal, yet a single part of the temporal world we live in; infinite, yet bound and defined by the same manner of limits that define any of us. What a mystery! God as Man. God with Man. God for Man, and for Woman. God for us. Emmanuel.
Luke fixes Mary’s Magnificat with an episode we now refer to as “the Visitation” and the Church fixes the Visitation on the date of May 31st, which is ten weeks after the Annunciation. Now, it’s hardly a matter of unshakeable dogma to say that we know precisely what Jesus was doing, in terms of human development, when Mary uttered this spectacular testimony of faith; but our faith ought to lead us to try and focus our vision on what was going on between Mary and Jesus at this particular time. It seems to me that the idea of a young woman bearing a ten week old fetus gives us as clear a glimpse into this moment as we’re going to have.
“He has shown might with his arm, dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart.”
He has shown might with his arm? Who has, and how? Our God is now as weak and as vulnerable as it is possible to be and still be human. If Mary is apprehending the magnificent power of God, she’s apprehending it through faith. Through faith, and through an insight about almighty God’s awesome power that Isaiah hinted at in an earlier century.
“A bruised reed he shall not break, and a smoldering wick he shall not quench.” (Is 42: 3)
God is doing the impossible – demonstrating power through weakness, dispersing the arrogant – not by pushing them around or by ‘giving them what’s coming to them’, but by emptying Himself. That’s what Incarnation is about – or, perhaps, that’s some tiny whiff of what Incarnation is about.
Let’s look at this Magnificat – God “looks upon his handmaid’s lowliness”, He “remembers his mercy”, He “fills the hungry with good things” he “lifts up the lowly”. Where else have we heard about such things? Why, in the beatitudes, of course! But wait – Jesus revealed the beatitudes during the Sermon on the Mount, when he was a full grown man at the height of his power, and when there was an entire multitude who would have sworn that he was the wisest rabbi in Palestine. Where did Mary get her wisdom?
Mary got her wisdom the same way we can get ours – by being a Christ bearer. She was the first, but we must follow her. Just as she allowed Jesus to enter inside her, we must do the same – and we must allow him to remake us from the inside out.
There were many in the multitude who witnessed Jesus’ preaching for whom the words of salvation went in one ear and out the other. We must do better than they did. Christianity isn’t transmitted by stirring sermons – at least not through stirring sermons alone. Salvation is rendered for those who make a place for Jesus and then receive him. Fortunately, we are constantly being presented with opportunities to do just that.
Our mission is to let Jesus transform us from the inside out. Our mission is to cooperate with his “powerful weakness” and to disperse our own arrogance of mind and of heart. Then we can utter our own Magnificat, not simply because we’ve troubled ourselves to remember Mary’s words – but because we’ve followed Mary’s example and become Christ bearers in our own right. Then we can truly say:
“My soul proclaims the greatness of the LORD. My spirit rejoices in God my savior.”