There’s a story of two small Baptist churches at an isolated Midwest crossroads. Both across the street from one another.
This is the story. Somewhere along the line in the mid-fifties one of the pillars of the one of the churches died – and left, what was for that poor congregation, a significant bequest. Within what was judged to be an appropriate time after they had put him in the ground, the Board of Deacons set about discussing what they should do with this handsome sum.
It was obvious to everyone that needed repairs on the roof had first claim. And right after that came a new furnace. And maybe even A/C.
But there was a great desire to make the place more attractive. Face it, nobody is going to see the roof or even the furnace. Paint was in order. Inside and out. And since they were painting, shouldn’t they also replace that threadbare carpet down the center aisle. Mary Jane going down the aisle on her father’s arm almost tripped. Can you imagine a new bride on her honeymoon in a leg cast?
What color? The interior decorating committee began to realize that this was a most thorny issue. Some wanted a burgundy red and others opted for blue. Red is nice it matches the color of the hymnals. It’s bright and cheerful, especially on a drab, snowy day. The blue faction argued that it should be blue because Mary wore blue. Well, we’re a Baptist church, what does Mary have to do with anything?
Round and round they went. And went. To exhaustion.
And today, there are two very handsome churches, one across the street from the other. One with red carpet. The other with blue.
Amongst my tribe, Mary is also problematic. When the subject arises, the Anglo-Catholic faction clutches their roseries just a bit tighter to their breasts, as they gaze over to the statue of Mary in powder blue pastels behind the altar. The Protestant crowd begins to hum “A Mighty Fortress” and wistfully recalls Luther’s “Ninety-five Theses” nailed to the church door. A polemic against all the Roman accretions to church tradition and dogma. They think that Cromwell got it right when he striped the churches of statues and all the froufrou on the altars. Gone are the candles. Gone is the cross. Gone are fine vestments. This, after he deposed King Charles and chopped off his head. This austere Protestantism was an anti-Roman screed if ever there was one. Mary’s nice but we’re not gong to pray to her. Reformation is the not-so-secret word of the day. And by the way, it’s NOT an altar. It’s a TABLE. The High Church vs. Low Church argument, now, has mostly subsided, eclipsed by far more weighty concerns. Now, maybe it’s either one or the other, depending on one’s theology. Says he who is snake-belly low.
So, what is the truth about Mary? And how do we understand her place in current thinking? The actuality of Mary is lost in the mists of time. At best, we can say she was a young, impoverished, peasant girl.
Several years ago, I heard Mike Kinman place Mary in her rightful place.
“The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, 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, for he will save his people.”
Here is this terrified, impoverished peasant girl, pregnant, with no husband. In that society, her grim situation is virtually a death sentence. She will be shunned and cast out. And, to boot, she had absolutely no choice in the matter. No agency.
Like many young girls today, being pregnant, out on your own with minimal education is almost a death sentence. How many will end up in dead-end jobs, or, worse yet, walking the streets, addicted, homeless and battling bouts of depression?
Not a much brighter future now than two thousand years ago. But our Mary is no shrinking violet.
“God, if this is your plan, then let’s play it out all the way.” Mary takes two steps back and says to the angel, “Hold my beer and watch this!”
With a fierce love bursting from her heart, Mary launches into one of the most radical songs in all human history, the “Magnificat.” Hold my beer and watch this, indeed. This action is going to turn the world upside down. I might be a poor peasant girl in rags. I may not make the cover of Vogue magazine, but through me, God is going to start shaking the pillars. Some serious shaking:
“The high and mighty will be thrown off their thrones. The humble and meek lifted up and the self-satisfied hot shots sent empty away. The hungry will be fed and the rich will exit stage right empty handed.”
With the last notes of Mary’s song dying in the distance, the angel Gabriel slinks away muttering, “Nasty woman.”
Here is the real miracle. Out of those society regards as of no account; Out of Mary’s burning love, God pulls off one of the greatest social justice movements of all time. And today, God still does. God still remembers that mercy and justice are at the heart of anything that matters.
So, just who is this Mary? Through the centuries many images abound.
The picture that wells up in my mind is of a strong woman of agency. Not quite Zena, Warrior, but also no wallflower. My Mary looks more like “Rosie the Riveter.” A face set in determination. Muscular. No nonsense.
I’ve had teachers like that. Teachers who were going to pull us through the knothole of long division, no matter what they had to do. And they weren’t about to take any crap from us wiseguys in the back row dinking around. And learn long division we would, by God. And, by Mrs. Tomkinson.
I’m sure we muttered under our breath, “Nasty Woman.” Or something similar. Nasty Woman — my sixth-grade teacher was. Mrs. Tomkinson had deadly aim with a chalkboard eraser. Those of us who talked during worktime, knew the power and accuracy of her arm. I speak from experience.
Those who follow in the prophetic tradition of Mary’s Fierce Love continue to raise up a mighty ruckus on behalf of the left out, the locked out the discarded. In this same tradition of NASTY WOMEN down through the ages. They raise up a ruckus to fight for their students and pull them through long division. Mrs. Tomkinson loved us enough to not let us make a career out of being screw-ups.
A long line of God’s cherished “Nasty Women” has sprung forth from the instant Mary refuses to be that self-effacing, passive, demure peasant girl of the patriarchy’s conjuring. Here is a strong woman of agency. If Mary was given the power of divine revelation, she, by God, was going to use it. Mary, in the instant of revelation, understood the full potential of what God was doing in that moment. “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…He has shown the strength of his arm, he has scattered the proud in their conceit.”
The prophetic lineage flowing through Mary has stretched down the ages to women to great effect. Wonderful, strongly compassionate women. Nasty Women.
All those determined, women on a mission who have come to congress in these past few years come to mind. Let me tell you, these women are not dressed in simpering, pastel blue. No! Suffragist White. Just like those who filled the streets demanding the vote over one hundred years ago. Like the women of the Seneca Falls Convention of 1848. Look it up. It’s in your history book.
Men, to their discredit would demean and marginalize them. “Let us explain the facts to you.” “She was warned. It was explained to her. But she persisted.” “They’re just the SQUAD.” If we can put a silly label on them, we can dismiss, demean, ridicule – and ignore their voices. Pay no attention. “Nasty Women.”
WE NEED THESE WOMEN. They are the salvation of this Republic! They are going to tell us things we don’t want to hear. Inconvenient truths. TRUTH.
These women are exposing the rot at the foundations of this republic. They’re forcing us to face facts. And to do justice for “the least of these.” We absolutely CAN NOT have a democracy when forty percent of our citizens live in poverty and near-poverty. Listen to James Madison! Listen to Mother Jones. This is fierce, tough, love.
Powerful men are learning firsthand the strength of moral force behind these women. Like Mrs. Tomkinson, their aim is true and delivered with great power. Ask Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon. Ask Mitch McConnell. Ask Joe McCarthy after Margaret Chase Smith bit into him with her “Statement of Conscience” speech.
A number, like Rashid Tlaib, represent the poorest districts in our nation. These are the neighborhoods of dilapidated housing stocks, mind-crushing poverty, crap schools and over-policing. These are the breeding grounds of the school to prison pipeline. “You tell us how many kids in the fourth grade are not reading and we’ll know how many prisons to budget for.” Women of Fierce Love get it.
Several of these neglected districts are now represented by Nasty Women who are raising a ruckus over this immoral and shameful neglect. “Hold my beer and watch this.” Indeed!
Congresswoman Tlaib has taken on the obscene profits and rank plundering bby Amazon. One might raise objections to bringing up such “inconvenient truth.” One might say it was going to incite “class warfare.” Ms. Tllaib would reply that we already have class warfare. And her district lost. We’ve all lost.
With a Fierce Love every bit as determined as Mary’s who sung Magnificat, Representative Talib joins the fight.
“World leaders have accused Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, the world’s richest man, of “acting with impunity” by pocketing profits while “dodging and dismissing [his] debts to workers, societies, and the planet” in a recent scathing open letter.
“Rep. Rashida Tlaib is among the signatories to that letter and one of Bezos’ chief critics.
“This pandemic has exposed just how broken and wrong it was to allow a man with this amount of wealth to get away with not paying his fair share.”
“Amazon paid no U.S. federal income taxes in 2017 and 2018 despite posting income of $3.03 billion and $10.07 billion for each of those years respectively. In 2019, Amazon paid roughly 1.2% or $162 million on eleven and a half billion in income. Tell me, how much did Jeff Bezos walk away with? His secretary at the front desk paid at a higher rate on her paltry income. Way to go, big-time spender!
Bezos and his billionaire class fight tooth and nail to keep it all. The latest one and a half trillion in tax cuts benefited mostly those at the top five percent. Not so much, that distraught mother or father facing an eviction notice. Not so much, that owner of a corner deli, heartsick about laying off his last worker. Not so much, that teacher wondering how to scrape together a few dollars to buy her own supplies because her school ran out months ago. Probably, years ago.
Reporter Sibile Marcellus is the blessed Nasty Woman who spilled the beans on Bezos. Cut from the same cloth as Mary and Mrs. Tomkinson.
These strong, determined women of The Squad fighting for the survival of their people – they are Mary of the Magnificat. They’re coming after these guys in their gated mansions who give the rest of us male chauvinist piggies a bad name.
The mighty will indeed be cast from their seats. Many of these newly elected women, Republican and Democratic alike, wrested seats from dinosaurs who have done nothing for years. Most never actually showed at townhall meetings. They relied on cash, cash and more cash along with name recognition to sail through. Year after year. Well, no more.
There’s a new Nasty Woman in town and she looks a lot like the people of her district: black, brown, working class white, and feisty. Blessed Nasty Woman. And she’s fighting for ALL our own good.
You dink around, and that eraser’s already airborne. You stuff your wallet with unpaid taxes, you cheat your workers and expose them to disease, make wagers on how many will get COVID-19 and die — watch out. Nasty Woman’s hot on your trail, lawsuit in hand.
Today we celebrate Mary, no more a tool of a patriarchal church that would limit and subdue women. No pastels. Powerful voices, right out of the prophetic tradition of Amos, Isaiah, Miriam, Rebecca, Hagar, Jeremiah, Jael – running through the pages of prophetic activist voices directly to Jesus.
Light that fourth Advent Candle for LOVE — Mary and her Fierce Love for the “least of these.” Let us join her song: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord.” Our gracious and revolutionary God would magnify all of us to raise a ruckus, a holy ruckus.
 Sibile Marcellus, “Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos cashing in on pandemic at workers’ expense is ‘immoral,’ says Rep. Tlaib,” Yahoo Finance News, December 17, 2020.
December 20, 2020, Fourth Sunday of Advent
The Rev. Dr. John C. Forney
2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16; Canticle 15, BCP, p. 91; Romans 16:25-27;