Micah 5: 2-5a; Luke 1: 47-55; Hebrews 10: 5-10; Luke 1: 39-45

Hail Mary, full of grace. Our Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

The Hail Mary or the Ave Maria has been uttered by billions of faithful Christians for hundreds of years. We often associate it with Roman Catholic tradition and praying the rosary but of course its words are much more widespread than that, certainly within the Anglican Church and the Eastern Church. They have been whispered, shouted, even tearfully offered in almost any situation possible in the hopes that Mary, the mother of Jesus might intercede, might once again be a connecting point between heaven and earth, between God and humanity, bearing the grace and light of God in our midst once more.

The prayer incorporates two passages from Luke’s Gospel, when the angel Gabriel greets this young peasant girl: “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee,” and then Elizabeth’s comment to Mary: “Blessed art thou amongst women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.” Two voices, an angel and a prophet, who recognized in Mary one who would change the world and God’s coherence with humanity, one who would help us see and know God anew.

So a little bit of history of this life-changing prayer… the Hail Mary was created and developed in the 14th and 15th centuries, as individuals molded, shaped and reformed the angel’s and the prophet’s words of greeting in the Bible. Initially, the words of petition reflected the personal and private devotion of those who said the prayer, but it evolved to be a prayer for help at the time of death.

The Church Council of Trent (1545-1563) embraced the “Hail Mary” as we know it, applauding it as the organic effort of the Church to complete what the Scripture initiated. The sense was that this prayer was a natural progression from the role of Mary as the mother of Jesus, the mother of God, to her being one who could continue to intercede on our behalf with God. That she might continue to be invited in as a reconciler between God and humanity, in this present life and the life to come.

Mary’s participation in the Incarnation gives her a unique place in relation to the Blessed Trinity. God’s Son is her son, and the union between Mary and God the Creator exceeds the intimacy of God with any other creature. Because the Incarnation is the work of the Holy Spirit, Mary enjoys a union with the Trinity unknown to any other person.

Hail Mary, full of grace. Our Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

We Anglicans can sometimes hesitate to honour Mary in the same way as our brothers and sisters of the Roman Catholic tradition. There is, perhaps, a feeling that much of the tradition related to Mary has been extrapolated from the Scriptures and is not completely biblically accurate. There is an argument for that. We can also feel that we should not emphasize the saints of the church to the point that we fail to see the presence of God. Again there is an argument for that. But I don’t think we should be too hasty to brush aside this woman, Mary, who became the God-bearer, the one who was the connecting point of God to humanity, the one who, despite her fear, said “Here am I, the servant of the Lord.”

I was fascinated that this month’s National Geographic had on the front cover a picture of the mother of Jesus and beside that it said “Mary, the Most Powerful Woman in the World.” That really gave me pause. The most powerful woman in the world. Wow. What does that really mean in a world where power is flaunted, stretched, bullied and bought left right and centre. In a world where some crazy words of Donald Trump seem to be picked up and circulated as he aims to be leader of one of the most powerful countries of today. In a world where power is lauded over others of lower rank or lower income or lower intellect or lower birthplace. In a world where power is often connected to possessions and economy instead of what we actually do treasure. How is she, Mary, the most powerful woman in the world?

This is a small portion of what was written in the National Geographic article: “Praying for the Virgin Mary’s intercession and being devoted to her are a global phenomenon. The notion of Mary as intercessor with Jesus begins with the miracle of the wine at Cana, when, according to the Gospel of John, she tells him, ‘They have no wine,’ thus prompting his first miracle. It was in A.D. 431, at the Third Ecumenical Council, in Ephesus, that she was officially named Theotokos, Bearer of God. Since then no other woman has been as exalted as Mary. As a universal symbol of maternal love, as well as of suffering and sacrifice, Mary is often the touchstone of our longing for meaning, a more accessible link to the supernatural than formal church teachings. Her mantle offers both security and protection.” I found this so fascinating to discover these words in National Geographic. Because Mary, the mother of Jesus was not simply the one who gave birth to Jesus; she was a linking point to God. She was a sign of
God wanting to connect to us, as seen in the life of Jesus but also in her own way as she offered us a glimpse into how the world might appear as the Kingdom of God. For she was no meek and mild shrinking violet. She was really a prophet, a saint, a mystic, a sign that God’s love was known in Christ but also is expected to be seen in us as well. She was a rebel, a philosopher, a politician, an inviter of the Holy Spirit. Hear again some of the words that she spoke, the words we now refer to as the Magnificat. They are troubling and troubled words:

“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, for God has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me,… God has shown strength with God’s arm; and has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. God has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; God has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.”

Her vision of God’s hope for this troubled world were not insubstantial words of fluff and ill-conceived notions. These are words of radical change. They are words of reconfiguring the world. They are words inviting us to walk with her a poor, peasant girl who was bringing God into the world and was inviting us to do the same in how we respond to God’s grace.

The Hail Mary is referred to in football games as the long shot, the last ditch effort, the only other possibility. It refers to a long pass with no time left on the clock and a hope that someone on the correct team will catch it. That is the Hail Mary of football games. But the Hail Mary of the Church is a little different. It refers to a prayer that is not simply the last ditch effort when all else fails but one that helps us walk each day. It is a prayer directed to Mary but if you think about it, it picks up on the words of the angel Gabriel and the words of Elizabeth, so that we now are the ones who have taken on the role of Gabriel and Elizabeth, so that we now are angels and prophets in our midst, so that we are messengers of God and inviters of God’s way, so that we are the ones open to God working amongst us and God leading us forward, so that we are the ones who recognize God loves us fully and completely as we see in Mary; that grace is found and known, that blessings are discovered, that indeed Mary reveals to us God’s deepest desire to be known more deeply within our hearts and souls when we say…

Hail Mary, full of grace. Our Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

Mary’s response to those ancient words of Hail or Greetings from the angel and the words of recognition by Elizabeth the prophet were these: Here am I the Servant of the Lord, that yes she would be that connecting point between God and humanity, that still point, that thin place, that one who is able to reveal the holy amongst the chaos of the day. May we too, who are on our Advent pilgrimage, see that this is our calling as well. To also be servants of the Lord, bearers of God, awake to angels, prophets, and our own soul, which craves that deeper connection with God, who called Mary and calls us into existence and life anew.