“Mary is a Punk Rocker”
December 8, 2019
Last week Lindsey Braun launched our Advent mixtape sermon series by reflecting on the ways in which the opening chapters of Luke’s Gospel seem to resemble a Broadway musical. And she sang some snippets of show tunes to make her point.
I think it is safe to say that, compared to Lindsey I am a little…lowbrow. Broadway is not my primary frame of reference. No, when I think about our text for today—when I imagine Mary singing her song—this is what I see: a teenage girl with a bright green mohawk. Maybe more than one facial piercing. A Misfits T-shirt held together with safety pins. Doc Marten boots, scuffed.
Beloved, what I’m trying to tell you is this: Mary is a punk rocker.
It is true that no reputable Biblical scholar will support this assertion. But I know it when I see it. From the years 1986 to 1995 (approximately), my friends and I were the closest thing you could find to punk rockers in the little town of Williamsburg Pennsylvania.
We weren’t deviants—not really—but we did not fit in. We preferred skateboards to footballs; comic books to binge drinking. We felt a certain amount of alienation. I spent a lot of my adolescence on the outside looking in.
But we had each other, and we had our music. The music meant a lot.
It is no exaggeration to say that punk rock music saved my life.
Maybe Mary’s song can do it again.
We pick up this morning precisely where we left off last week: Mary visiting her cousin Elizabeth. But these are no ordinary cousins and this is no ordinary visit. For one thing, Elizabeth is pregnant in her old age. And, for another thing, Mary is pregnant as well.
Back there, back then, in a patriarchal and sometimes violent culture, her situation is not fodder for some after-school special. Teenage pregnancy is a capital crime. This thing that has happened to Mary…this is dangerous.
But last week we heard how Elizabeth does something extraordinary. She sees her cousin—this girl in so much trouble—and Elizabeth…blesses her. Incredibly, Elizabeth says that this thing that has happened to Mary is a sign of God’s favor. Elizabeth holds up a mirror in which Mary can see herself, and her situation, as blessed.
And I believe it is that context—one woman befriending another, validating her experience, pronouncing God’s blessing—I believe the context of Elizabeth blessing Mary creates the opportunity for Mary to sing her song.
Because that is the way this works. That is what friends are for. The right friends and the right song just might save your life.
Growing up, my friends and my music were intimately connected. In some respects, they were one and the same.
There was no internet of course. Not a lot of radio stations, even. When Williamsburg finally got cable—I think I was in middle school—the basic package included two country music channels, two Christian channels…and no MTV.
How do you survive as a pre-internet, small town skater punk? You find your people. And you find ways to tell each other it is going to be OK.
We did a lot of that through music. We had these mixtapes—literal cassette tapes—that we passed around, sharing them surreptitiously, like Bibles behind the Iron Curtain. These tapes had songs from bands like Black Flag and the Ramones and Bad Religion and the Dead Milkmen and Stiff Little Fingers. The sound quality was poor, the transitions abrupt. Through overuse and constant rewinding, the tapes would deteriorate and eventually snap.
But the music—and the rituals of sharing the music—it was all so seductive. I wonder if my own children will ever know the thrill of smuggling something subversive past teachers and coaches and well-meaning parents.
Do you know why we shared those songs? Because they spoke of something bigger, something beyond the borders of the little world we knew. Because they validated all of our teenage suspicions about the sacred shibboleths uttered by our elders. Because they gave us a glimpse of a wider world when we most needed to see it.
At a tender time in my life, punk rock music told me that I was not alone.
Mary’s song isn’t for everybody. It is for the eccentrics, the misfits, the losers, the people who do not fit in. If you have ever felt like this world is not quite right—if you have ever suspected that you are some kind of square peg—Mary’s song is for you. Mary wants you to know that you are not alone.
You may have missed this message in Mary’s song. I want you to know that is not your fault. The church has done its level best to make Mary over, to make her into someone she is not, to make her polite and meek and mild. And we have taken her song—this rowdy, rebellious, deeply dangerous song—we have taken her song and turned it into some syrupy hymn. We have hosed it down with holy water, filtered it through stained glass, reworked it into something pretty and frilly and harmless.
So this morning, I want you to try to put all of that aside. This isn’t some church song. It is a statement of defiance, an anthem of protest. Mary’s song is a punk rock song.
Like all great punk rockers, Mary has a whole lot of guts. She stands with both feet planted in her own life and dares to do theology out of her own experience. Who is she? A poor peasant girl who has landed in a whole lot of trouble. But she is, also, the one who has been blessed by God and the one through whom God’s salvation will come.
What does that tell you about God? What does that tell you about the way that God works and the company God keeps? I know what it tells Mary. It tells her that God is not neutral, God is not indifferent, God does not stand at some safe distance from our suffering and our pain.
God gets involved. God comes near. And when God comes near, God comes to take the side of the outcast and the underdog, the impoverished and oppressed, the junkies and whinos and bums.
That is who God likes. That is how God works. And that is how God will make the world well.
So if you feel like a bit of misfit this morning, you are one of Mary’s people. And: you are one of mine. We can wait for God together. We can look forward to God’s promise together. We can share Mary’s song and all the songs that tell us we are not alone.
Once upon a time, punk rock saved my life. By the grace of God, it can do it again.