We may remember that Jesus said,
the Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed. Small, tiny, and yet, expansive. Growing and making space for many others…
There’s a document from the Middle Ages called Trinity Carol Roll. It’s a 15th century manuscript that contains thirteen English carols. One of these is called, “There is No Rose of Such Virtue,” and this text has been set by many, perhaps most famously by Benjamin Britten in his piece Ceremony of Carols. In that ancient document, and in many, various choral settings over 600 years, there is a particular line about Mary, which I ﬁnd to be quite beautiful:
“For in this rose
contained was heaven and earth in little space.
Res miranda – That means a wondrous occurrence.
For in this rose, Mary,
contained was heaven and earth in little space —
a whole universe of possibility and belonging,
a whole universe of transformation.
The Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed. Small, tiny, yet expansive,
“for when it has grown, it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree,
so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”
The Kingdom of God is like this mustard seed,
aways expansive, making space for others —
Mary, the Mother of Jesus, Mary, the Mother of Christian community, was not the type of person who was highly regarded in her day and age. She was young. She was a woman. She was unmarried. She was poor. She did not have high status. In fact, she may have been seen as small and insigniﬁcant.
And yet, a great calling comes to her.
Gabriel comes as a Messenger from God and immediately says, “Greetings, Favored One.” In the eyes of God, this very young, unmarried, poor woman is highly favored. She is favored in herself, and she is favored toward a calling that is res miranda, a wondrous occurrence.
Of course, she wasn’t expecting any of this, and the Messenger says, “Do not be afraid, Mary,” again reminding her, “for you have found favor with God. And now you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great. He will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the House of David forever, and of his kingdom, there will be no end.”
She’s confused. Perhaps she feels wonder. She has many questions, But in the end, Mary says, “Here am I, the servant of God. Let it be with me according to your word.” Yes. Mary says Yes. And so, in all of this — the confusion, the wonder, the questions, and the great Yes — Mary quickly gathers herself to meet in kinship with Elizabeth, one of her relatives.
Elizabeth is a Messenger too, reminding Mary of this great favor —
favor in herself and favor in this calling —
reminding her of possibility, expansive belonging, and great transformation.
And in the presence of Elizabeth’s joy, Mary breaks into song.
We call this song the Magniﬁcat. It’s a song that marvels at the recognition of favor, particularly among the marginalized, those made to be small by others. And this is a song of liberation, understanding that God has chosen the people and is acting now in great justice, building the kinship community in deliverance and peace.
Today, we have this song translated before us into English. But in Greek, its original written text, there are nuances we cannot easily see. Many of the verbs — the words of action in this song — are in the perfect tense. This is a unique way to talk about the past.
It is to say,
This action has already happened
and has continual signiﬁcance
in the future,
and right now, in this present moment.
This is a way to bring time together, past, present, and future, to talk about what is at its center.
And so hear these words of Mary again this morning, recognizing how God has acted with continual signiﬁcance — how God will act, and how God is acting now — through this birth of Jesus, through humanity, through the most marginalized. In this song, may you hear something you need for this day:
“My soul magniﬁes the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
For God has looked with favor on the lowliness of God’s servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call be blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is God’s name.
God’s mercy is for those who fear God,
from generation to generation.
God has shown strength with his arm;
God has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
God has brought down the powerful form their thrones, and lifted up the lowly;
God has ﬁlled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
God has helped her servant Israel,
in remembrance of her mercy,
according to the promise made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”
This is who God has been with continual signiﬁcance, for who God will be and how is acting right now.
Can we allow ourselves to dream of this?
The Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed. Small, tiny, and yet, expansive. Growing and making space for many others…
“For in this rose
contained was heaven and earth in little space.
It is a wondrous occurrence.
And what if… we allowed ourselves to believe just a little more… if we allowed ourselves to trust just a little more that this wondrous occurrence is still occurring, still active, still being created in our world now, among the marginalized now, among us and the whole kinship community of God now….
Mary uniquely gave birth to Jesus, the one who would go forward to speak, enact, and create the Kingdom of God, this realm of new possibility, rooted in who God has been all along. And this is not ultimately a Kingdom in the same kind of framework we often think about Kingdoms. This is the opposite of imperial power.
It is about God at work in humanity, in community, so some have begun to translate this phrase as the Kindom of God.
The Kindom of God… What if we allowed ourselves to believe just a little more… if we allowed ourselves to trust just a little more… that this wondrous occurrence is still occurring? Perhaps even in us…
Ancient theologians called Mary theotokos, a title of tremendous honor. They called Mary “the Mother of God” seeing in her that she was a God Bearer, one bringing forth God into the world.
And so Jesus was blessed in and through her, and the Kinship Community was blessed in and through her,
for she was favored as the one she was,
marginalized and made to be small,
and yet expansive for Jesus and for all of us.
God is still partnering in the world with those who marginalized.
God is still partnering with the Kinship Community of God, all of humanity,
calling us to these forms of liberation,
calling us to these forms of transformation.
Mary is an archetype for all of us.
She expands what belonging means, She expands a vision for liberation, and she lives into that transformation with her very life.
We are invited to do the same.
We too are God Bearers, with all that we are and all that we have —
who we are, the gifts we have, the image of God we carry,
the connections we have among each other, and this vision that is placed before us,
expecting that God will show up among the marginalized and those who being made small.
Of course, no human being is small. No human community is small. Every human life and every human community is expansive with worth and possibility.
And so today, we pray for all those who are marginalized,
daring to expand what belonging means.
We pray and advocate for
immigrants who are scapegoated,
those who struggle to know where their next meal will come from,
people who are longing to have their bodies cared for and yet do not have access or are ostracized,
those who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer,
those who are struggling in their personal lives,
in their families with grief,
or departure, or estrangement,
Might we allow ourselves to believe just a little more…. and trust just a little more …that God is active and will be active, even there, and that God is calling us to liberation, transformation, and deep connectional care in all of these places…
We are God Bearers, each one of us and all of us,
with heaven and earth contained in little space, sacred possibility.
The Kindom of God is like a mustard seed. Small, tiny, and yet, expansive. Growing and making space for many others…