Psalm 100; Luke 1:46-55
The Reverend Tom Herbek
December 24, 2017
Before Mary gets to the point of uttering this beautiful song of praise, known as the “Magnificat” from the Latin for magnifying, Mary has an initial reaction of being perplexed when Gabriel tells her the news. Writer Paula Gooder describes Mary’s initial response, in her book, The Meaning Is in the Writing:
Gabriel’s greeting is someone reminiscent of the ancient Chinese proverb “May you live in interesting times,” that can be seen as either a curse or a blessing. In the same way, Gabriel’s greeting can either be seen as good or bad. To be in receipt of God’s favor, especially beloved and granted his presence, can only mean that Mary’s life is about to be turned upside down. She is surely right and sensible to be disturbed by this greeting.
It is only after a while that Mary gets to the point of magnifying God. Before that, she needs time to understand and accept the multiple possibilities of this news for her future. Her cousin Elizabeth’s acceptance of her certainly must have helped Mary. Congregational Church minister and writer Lillian Daniel says that joy and perplexity are both part of faith:
IN THE DAYS BEFORE CHRISTMAS we hear in church about Mary’s extraordinary dialogue with
an angel, which ends with these thoughts from a young unmarried woman who was six months pregnant: “She was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.” I am sure she was perplexed.
As one who spends much of my life-in. such a state, I take comfort. I see this passage as a great anthem, a symphony, in honor of those of us who move forward not in clarity, not in certainty, not in single-mindedness, but with perplexity.
We’re the ones at the back of the orchestra, hoping but doubting we’re in the right place, playing with gusto nonetheless.
But we live in a society that favors decisiveness over perplexity. You are supposed to know what you want and act on it. There’s no room for uncertainty. It’s considered wishywashy.
To which I would like to offer this gentle correction: If the mother of God got to be perplexed, you can be, too.
In fact, let’s take perplexity out of the old broom closet, dust it off, shine it up, and put it out on the mantelpiece in the middle of the ecclesiological living room, because a little perplexity can be a wonderful thing in the life of faith. It’s the people who ask the questions who get the answers.
Jesus, born in perplexity, can use my uncertainty and perplexity in service to the creativity and mystery of the divine.
When “Spiritual But Not Religious” Is Not Enough
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