Passing the Baton – Sermon on the Feast of the Birth of the Virgin Mary

Stained glass depicting the Virgin Mary holding baby Jesus

This week we celebrate the birth of our patron saint, Mary, the mother of Jesus.

Jesus, whose birth we celebrate at Christmas – in just 14 weeks time … it’s almost time to get the tinsel out …

It seems fitting that on the same day as we are celebrating Mary’s birth and beginning to look forward to the new life in Christ that is at the heart of our Gospel, that on this day we are also celebrating the baptism of Harry – celebrating the beginning of his new life as a full member of the Christian church.

Births necessarily mark new beginnings but births also entail parents and therefore something of the past, a carrying forward of what has gone before, an inheritance.  Parents pass on their genes to their children, their heirs.

They also pass on knowledge and wisdom – it may surprise you to know that my father taught me plumbing

Often what we as parents say is ignored but it is rarely forgotten and may sit like a seed waiting to germinate many years later

Twenty years after I helped my father change a radiator I re-plumbed a shower room using skills that had lain dormant for all that time…  and after three attempts to make the seal the compression joint stopped leaking.

This passing on of knowledge is essential to human success –it is like passing the baton in a relay team – a disaster if it is dropped

What makes for a successful baton exchange?

Those holding the baton, the current generation need to keep running and reach forward – looking to the future to help others understand what is being passed on

Similarly, the next generation needs to match their pace to the previous runner and reach back into the past – to understand what things meant then and how they may be relevant to the current time.

It works best if the new runner does not need to look back but trusts that the baton is there – an act of faith!

Having taken the baton – the runner will often change grip – make it secure – make it their own and then of course – they run!

And we hope that having seized the Christian faith today, Harry will take a firm grip, make it his own and run, and run, and run.

So what are we passing on?  What is the baton of the Christian faith that we are passing to Harry?

Well I think we can look to Mary for inspiration – she was a part of that relay team – taking the baton from her ancestors in faith and family (Abraham and his seed) and passing on her own interpretation – an interpretation that we heard about in our Gospel reading, her great song of joy – the Magnificat.  The words she spoke as she explained to her relative Elizabeth what she believed was happening to her.

Mary saw the whole of the life of Christ – she was there at the beginning in Nazareth – she was there at the end at Calvary – she had much of which to make sense.

So what does she say?

My soul doth magnify the Lord and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour…

  • Our encounter with God does not happen only at the level of physical interaction with the world but at a visceral, fundamental level – at the level of our person, our life, our being

 for he hath regarded the lowliness of his handmaiden

  • Mary teaches us that each of us is an individual – special – loved in the eyes of God. Even the lowest slave or peasant girl is special.

For behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed

  • We will remember Mary and pass on her story – from generation to generation – as we are doing today

For he that is mighty hath magnified me and holy is his name

Because we are all important we all have access to God – a direct relationship with the creative power in the universe – the God of life and love.

For his mercy is on them that fear him throughout all generations

  • Whatever we have done we are loved and forgiven – we can always start again

He hath shewed strength with his arm: he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.  

He hath put down the mighty from their seat and hath exalted the humble and meek. 

In words which presage the ministry of Christ, she teaches that we should align ourselves with the poor and needy in society

He hath filled the hungry with good things and the rich he hath sent empty away

  • And of course she handed on to us the gift of her son, Jesus Christ, in memory of whose life and sacrifice we meet with one another and with God in our holy communion, our Eucharistic feast –to which Harry has been invited today
  • We will share in one bread – one bread for one people – one family eating at one table
  • We will share in one cup – the symbol of life and loving sacrifice, a common mission
  • We will share in one spirit as we follow in the footsteps of the patriarchs and the prophets, the disciples and apostles, as we follow Mary and all of Israel

as he promised to our forefathers, to Abraham and his seed forever

  • Sharing in one faith, one baptism, one Lord
  • Glorying in God in whom all things meet – three in one – eternal father, son and Holy Spirit,
    as it was in the beginning is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen
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