My favorite piece of music is the Quest, more popularly known as the Impossible Dream from the musical, Man of La Mancha. Don Quixote sings it to Dulcinea while locked in a Spanish prison during the Inquisition. The words are moving and powerful, especially when sung in the context of a man whose life was about chasing windmills and seeing others, not as they are, but as to who they can be. In terms of his love interest Dulcinea, he made her squirm as the poor scullery maid/prostitute became the Lady or Princess she never thought she could be, in the same way the barber’s basin became the knight’s helmet.
Even today, almost forty years after I first heard this song from my father’s Broadway album, I am still moved by it. Who doesn’t remember these words?
To dream the impossible dream
To fight the impossible fight
To bear with unbearable sorrow
To run where the brave dare not go
To right the unrightable wrong
To love pure and chaste from afar
To try when your arms are to weary
To reach the unreachable star
This is my quest to follow that star
No matter how hopeless
No matter how far
For fight for the right without question or pause
To be willing to march into hell for a heavenly cause
And I know if I’ll only be true to this glorious quest
That my heart will lie peaceful and calm when I am laid to my rest.
This should be the song of the Saints. For the people who our church has chosen to hold up for all the world to admire. Men and women who in their day and time were willing to be fools for God to ultimately advance the Kingdom on Earth.
This morning, the Fourth Sunday of Advent we celebrate one such saint, Mary, the mother of God. So often celebrated in the modern church simply as the Theotokos, the God bearer, we often fail to realize the depth of Mary’s sacrifice to God..
Mary had to be a dreamer in order to say yes to God. As a first century Jew living in Palestine, life was fairly dismal. Rome occupied her native land and made making a living almost impossible. As a woman, well, she was simply little more than property, a commodity to be traded by her father as a wife to the highest bidder.
One has to wonder how she could possibly believe in a loving God. And yet, with the innocence of a pre-teen, she held firmly to the stories of her faith. Despite the darkness and the injustice which surrounded her, Mary somehow continued to hold to the dream that she would live to see, not just freedom from Roman rule, but divine justice as well. What she never imagined was that she would be an integral part of God’s plan.
That plan, however, came with great risk for Mary. Centuries of tradition have white washed and sanitized her story almost to the point of making it meaningless. As we know from the Gospels, the penalty for adultery was death, often by stoning. Mary was unmarried. Despite being engaged to Joseph, her pregnancy would be perceived as scandalous. Saying yes to God, not only meant trusting in the dream of salvation, but also being willing to literally, as the song says, “to march into hell for a heavenly cause” as she risked Joseph breaking off their engagement, the dishonoring of her family, and the possibility of being stoned as well.
No wonder why the first words from the Angel Gabriel were, “do not be afraid” and not, “Hail Mary full of grace.” So often we assume Gabriel’s initial words were in reference to Mary being confronted by the great and overwhelming celestial being. In reality, however, I believe Gabriel’s words were more in reference to what was about to be asked of her. And the tension that is often forgotten in the midst of the Annunciation is not what God has planned, but will Mary accept. Will Mary trust in God enough to take the risks her pregnancy would entail? Would Mary trust that if she took this risk with God, would God ultimately provide for her and protect her in the end?
This is what separates the Saints from everyone else. Their stories of accomplishments and miracles have little to do with their sainthood. Instead, it is their ability to commit to God’s dream for this world by placing their lives literally in the hands of God. . .no matter what the consequences may be.
This week there has been discussion in the news and through out the media as Mother Theresa moves one step closer to being canonized. What most of the world celebrates are her accomplishment in fostering a world wide religious order, the Sisters of Charity and her unwavering commitment to the extreme poor of the world.
What the world fails to remember is how it all started. . .how a small Albanian Nun spent years petitioning bishops and popes to leave the comfort of her order whose chrism was to educate wealthy catholic girls in India in order to care for the untouchable class of Indian society. Very few of us talk about the fact that in her forties, with no money and only the habit she was wearing, she walked out of the safety of her convent and into the dangerous streets of Calcutta because she believed/trusted/ even dreamed that God had something greater for her to do. Like Mary, she too was willing to sacrificed it all and literally walk into hell of Calcutta for a heavenly cause trusting in the promise of God.
As we gather on this Fourth Sunday of Advent, just five days before we celebrate the birth of Jesus, I am not sure our celebration of Mary is designed to offer the comfort we often seek. Instead, I believe this day is more about being challenged. Challenged to ask, do we trust in the promise of the Incarnation and the dream of the Reign of God? And what are we willing to risk to make the dream of God our reality?
In my former parish, everyone knew when Fr. Craig invited you for lunch, I was about to ask you to do something important. The same holds true with God, when an angel appears at your door step, you know, despite what the angel tells you, it is time to be afraid, for God is about to ask you to do something risky on God’s behalf.
And the question is, will you say yes just like Mary did? Will you believe. . .
That the world will be better for this
That one person, scorned and covered with scars
Still strove with his last ounce of courage
To reach the unreachable?