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4th December 2022

Our Lives Matter

Passage: Luke 1;46-55


Someone remarked to me recently that he felt he was in the class of people now most in danger of discrimination. He is an able-bodied, white, middle class, heterosexual male. Every other kind of person is protected now, he said. I am the only one you can discriminate against and get away with it.
It was a light-hearted comment, a reflection on the fact that, in recent years it has not only been a case of Black Lives Matter but women matter, homosexual and transgender people matter, the disabled matter, the poor matter, refugees matter- our society has woken up to the fact that every human being is deserving of respect and of equal rights.

Surprisingly then, Luke, the Gospel writer, was saying much the same thing two thousand years ago: that every life matters in the eyes of God. In Luke’s society, this was radical in the extreme. He was living in the Roman Empire, where no-one except roman citizens mattered. If you were a roman citizen, you had rights and privileges; every other life was easily expendable. Luke was also living amongst highly devout Jews who believed that only Jewish lives had value in the sight of God, and only the best Jewish lives at that. If you were Roman, foreign, disabled, suffering from mental illness, sinful in any way, you simply did not count. And of course, whatever else you were, Jew or Roman; if you were female, your life only mattered in so far as you produced (preferably male) children.

Yet, in the face of all this, Luke, more than any other Gospel writer, set out to highlight the value Jesus placed on lives which others dismissed as worthless. Jesus was the friend of sinners, lepers, the disturbed, the disabled, foreigners, Romans as well as Jews; women as well as men. And Jesus, Luke taught, lived as God himself among us.

This may give us a clearer idea of what Luke was saying in the song of Mary we call the Magnificat. Because you cannot help wondering where this song came from. Was Luke sitting in the corner of the room scribbling down the words Mary was saying? Probably not. And if you know your Old Testament, much of this song will sound familiar: you have heard something like it before. Was Luke using material from his scriptures? Probably yes. So, do we take the whole thing as Luke’s own composition and nothing to do with Mary at all? No, we do not. Luke was writing a Gospel, not a history book. A Gospel is a proclamation of good news and Luke shares seriously good news: that all lives matter to God.

Hearing this proclamation from the mouth of Mary, teaches us a lot of what Luke thought of Mary. Mary is expecting a child, believing that this child will be the Son of God, the real presence of God in a human life. And Luke, more than any other Gospel writer, understood what this child was going to demand of her.
In anticipation of her child, Mary is singing a song of protest against the injustice of her society. Think of another young woman protesting against discrimination under an oppressive regime-Malala Yousafzai. She got shot in the head. Mary was running an equally high risk. But if she was to be the mother of the child who would grow up to challenge oppression and injustice, then she had to be as passionately committed to the kingdom of God as he would be. For, like any mother, Mary would suffer as her son suffered; she would walk the floor at night, trembling for his safety; she would have moments of wanting to tear him away from his dangerous mission and keep him safe at home. And, like any mother, no matter what it cost her, she would be there for him, even at the terrible end.

As Luke saw it, for Mary this song of protest was not just words. It was a commitment of her own life to the work of God. It was not just talking but giving and giving everything.

Luke, by the time he wrote his Gospel, knew just how much it had cost Mary to be the mother of Jesus. And he knew from his own experience how much it was costing any follower of Jesus Christ to commit not only to the spiritual but also to the moral, social and economic revolution which would inevitably come about as a result of believing that all lives matter to the God encountered in Jesus.

And what we need to understand is that the mantra, “my life matters” has a double meaning. To a poor, Jewish girl it meant first, that God values her; that she is blessed by God to walk with her head held high. And that is wonderful. It is what our society is trying to achieve for all people whose race, colour, condition, situation has taught them that they are worthless.

But “my life matters” also means that Mary’s life has a purpose. What she is and what she does will make a difference in the world. Her life matters to God because through her, in some way, the kingdom of God might flourish, or it might fail.

When my parents were children in the nineteen thirties, poor people were still taught that they had little worth in the over- all scheme of things. (to the end of his life my father used to refer to himself as nothing but a hobble-de-hoy, which annoyed me intensely) The coming of good education, health care, social care for all brought opportunities for those who would have remained poor all their lives to achieve high and enjoy a more comfortable lifestyle. Many did, and good for them. But along with this change came a focus on personal rather than social ambition. My life matters, so I shall get what I want. But the current climate crisis amongst other things is bringing home to us that our lives matter not just in terms of what we gain for ourselves but how our individual lives: what we buy, eat, drive; how we behave towards our neighbours, how we live out our faith will gradually impact the whole world.
Nobody liked it when Mrs Thatcher said that ‘there is no such thing as society,” but she was speaking the truth of what our culture had become. Only MY life matters. And that is not the truth of the Christian Gospel, is it?

In the earlier story of the angel Gabriel visiting Mary, Luke has the angel tell Mary that she is “full of grace.” And “grace” in the Bible is very much a quality of God; a combination of God’s love, God’s wisdom, God’s power, God’s setting straight human lives. St John describes Jesus as “full of grace and truth” and says that of his fullness we have all received grace upon grace.

So, before we face up to the very obvious challenge confronting every single one of us in the truth of the Gospel that “all lives matter,” we need to accept and to trust the promise that we are full of grace, God’s grace.
For, when confronted with a challenge that might well involve radical changes in our lifestyle, change of direction in church life, adoption of a counter-cultural system of community, my first instinct is to panic and feel totally inadequate. It was incredible for someone like St Francis to give away all his money, put on a rough brown robe and devote his whole life to serving the poor and diseased and we acclaim him as a saint but for most of us this does not look feasible. And the needs of the world are so great, and we are so small. And the injustices of the world are so powerful, and we are so weak. But just wait a moment and listen to the first words of the angel to Mary: you are full of grace. God’s grace. Take that on board before you do anything else. Your life matters because you may be filled with God’s grace and that grace will transform the world.

And God’s grace is experienced in more ways than we ever realise. Yes, that grace has been poured into the world through people like St Francis and Mother Teresa. It is poured in by activists and aid workers, by politicians and peace-makers, by charities and prominent Christians. The kingdom of God needs these people. But when I look back on the people who have channelled God’s grace to me when I most needed it, some have been housebound, some seriously ill, some going through intense grief of their own, some suffering from serious self-doubt. Yet the grace of God has been given to them to share with me: through things they have said, prayers they have offered, kindness they have shown, commitment to their faith and church they have given, their reaching out to others in small but effective ways- grace upon grace upon grace. And, as that grace has been shared with me, so I have received and, I hope, gone on to share with others. Our lives matter: they matter to God and because they matter to God, he pours out his grace on each one of us, hour by hour, day by day. And by believing in that grace, trusting in that grace, living by that grace, that grace we shall be that grace to the people in our lives and to the world.

Mary’s life was hard, full of fear and pain, leaving a great many questions unanswered. Yet in the words of her song, she could say that “He that is mighty has done great things in me and holy is His name.” May it be so for each one of us this Advent and beyond. Amen.