I have been thinking a lot about Mary lately, and I suppose it is inevitable. I mean, it *IS* Advent, and this is practically the only season that Protestants pay attention to the Mother of God. The rest of the year, not so much.
Anyways, I was reading and praying over the Magnificat, and, like many years, I was struck by the memory of just how fierce Mary is. I mean, listen to her:
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
50 And his mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
52 he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
and exalted those of humble estate;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
55 as he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”
I don’t want to tell you how embarrassing it is to have to be reminded just how awesome Mary is. But perhaps that is what this season is for: remembering the things that we lose track of along the way.
So I decided to sit down today and reconcile the Mary we have created in our popular imagination and the Mary we meet in the Gospel. And I am going to start by just stating the obvious: we Protestants very well may be embarrassed by Mary. I don’t know if we don’t like the messiness of Incarnation (we certainly never depict REALISTIC birth scenes in the church), or if we are just running as far away from Catholicism as we can, but I rarely hear a Presbyterian thinking or talking about how important Mary is. More often we are making jokes about how *we* don’t pray to Mary, or fighting over which little girl is *good* enough to play her in the Christmas Pageant. the way I see it, for most of us Protestants Mary is little more than a womb, a surrogate for God’s offspring, necessary only for the dirty business of making a baby.
Let’s think about that for a minute: by ignoring Mary, we turn her into an object. And certainly, the church has minimized the role and contributions of women for centuries. But the Gospel won’t have nothing of it. Instead, when we first meet Mary in Luke, she is called “the most blessed of women,” not because of what she will do, but because of what she already is. “You have found favor with God,” says the Angel Gabriel. I take that to mean that God recognizes something special in Mary beyond her femaleness. And because she is favored, and faithful, and filled with the knowledge and hope of God, she is therefore called to bear the Son of God.
Now, I think this is where we get mixed up on our Mary. Many of us look at how willingly she submits to God’s call and we say to ourselves, “Oh Mary! So meek and mild! So sweet and Holy! she how willing she was to do God’s will? I hope one day my daughter is like that!” Well, lets think about exactly what Mary is “willing” to do:
-she is willing to risk her respectable marriage
-she is willing to risk her social standing by getting pregnant out of wedlock
-she is willing to bear responsibility for mothering THE MESSIAH
I don’t know about you, but I hope God never asks my daughter to get knocked up. And I certainly never pray for the day when my daughter will become an outcast from society on account of her faith. But that is exactly what Mary is willing to do. Not because she is a troublemaker, but because she is a prophet.
That is right, Mary is a prophet of God. Scholars have long recognized that the Angel Gabriel’s arrival and conversation with Mary closely resembles the call narratives of the Hebrew Prophets. So closely that it almost certainly wasn’t an accident. Which means that Mary, at least for the community of Luke, was regarded as a prophet. And what was it that she was called to proclaim? That God was coming to restore justice and righteousness, and that her very body would bear the evidence of it.
After the birth of Jesus, Mary fades from public view in the Gospels. She takes a back seat to the ministry of her adult son, but I can imagine that she was always there, close behind him. She is there as he heals the sick. She is there when he preaches to the crowds. And she is there to carry his beaten, broken body home.
But she shows up in other ways. For while she may not show up as an actor in the Gospels, she shows up in the character of Jesus. And how could she not? For God may be his Father, but Mary is Jesus’ mother. She is the one who will raise him to hope for the Kingdom of God. She is the one who will teach him right from wrong, who will give him the language to speak truth to power. Every time Jesus stands up for the marginalized and the outcast, we hear echoes of her own Magnificat. Every time he gives himself willingly over to the will of God, how can we not remember that Mary did so first?
But I think it is important for us to realize that she never goes away. Mary, called to proclaim the good news of God, never hides from the message God has given her, even when it will wound her and those closest to her. She is a model, for me, at least, of what faithful discipleship looks like. For she points to her Son, and she stands beside him even when it is difficult. She testifies to the joy of birth and to the grief of the cross. She witnesses to all of these things, and she doesn’t care whether we see her or not, because she isn’t there for us. She is there because God bid her come.
So this Advent, I am giving thanks for Mary. Because Mary has the kind of guts that I wish I had. She is fully invested in the work of God in the world, and she is not afraid. May we all have such faith.