>As I go through advent, every year I am amazed again by the faith of Mary. Her confession “may it be unto me as you have said” (Luke 1:38) is breath-taking in its simplicity and profound in it’s content. The place of faith that she must have been coming from astounds me – and challenges me.
I am especially taken back when I put her within the narrative context of scripture. I don’t know if you have ever thought about, but women don’t fair so well in the Bible on the whole. I’m not even talking about the parts where they are told to ‘remain silent’ or the ‘submit to your husband’ stuff. I mean the actual characters in the narrative (both in the Hebrew and Christian testaments).
There are a lot of nameless women in the Hebrew Scripture (that’s what we used to call the Old Testament) and it generally does not go too well for them.
There are lots of examples of nameless women: Lots’s wife, Lot’s daughters, Potiphar’s wife, Jephthah’s daughter (Judges 11:34), or the concubine of Judges 19, not to mention the “witch” of Endor (in 1 Samuel 28) . If you took just these examples you would get the picture that women are (in no particular order): powerless, short-sighted, faithless, seductive, deceptive, duplicitous, mischievous, and spiritually dangerous.
Even the women that are named are usually not in positions of power – though they do fare a little better. Tamar, Ruth, Esther, Bathsheba, and Rahab are named and each plays an important part in God’s plan.
- Tamar is prostituted by her Father-in-law then almost burned for it (this is Genesis 38 – not to be confused with the later Tamar that is raped by her brother and then despised for it in 2 Samuel 13).
- Ruth is poor and gleaning crops with her mother-in-law from the edges of fields – a type of welfare system set up by God in scripture.
- Esther wins a primitive (some would say perverse) form of a beauty contest with the grand prize of entering a harem.
- Bathsheba gets spied on while she is bathing (all the men were suppose to be out of the city), she is brought into adultery, she becomes pregnant, and her husband (Uriah) is assassinated by the man who committed adultery with her (King David).
- Rahab is an actual prostitute.
Tamar, Ruth, and Rahab all make it into Jesus’ genealogy that appears in the prologue to the Gospel of Matthew! Unfortunately Bathsheba, for all her troubles, is referenced only as Uriah’s wife (not David’s mistress or by her real name). But that is how it goes for women in the Bible sometimes…
This is what is so amazing to me about Mary. By all accounts she would not have been rich (to say the least), she was young and her situation was scandalous. Poor, young, and disgraced is quite a predicament for a girl. Then she comes out with these amazing declarations of faith!
You have to keep in mind that this happened during a time in history when women’s testimony were not even valid in court! Which just puts a whole wild spin on the fact that God chose for the women at the tomb to be the witnesses – and to testify to the male disciples (who did not believe right away) about the resurrected Christ!
With that in mind, Mary was asked to be more than a witness! She was to be the container of the uncontainable; the womb of the uncreated. YIKES.
That is why it hits me so hard when I hear her ‘Magnificat’ declaration in Luke 1:46 – 55:
“My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me— holy is his name. His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, just as he promised our ancestors.”
I hear this and I am stopped in my tracks. What kind of world did Mary think that God wanted to make? What did Mary expect God to do with this kid she was to carry?
Is this what the Hebrew prophet was looking forward to in Isaiah 40 ?
Comfort, comfort my people,
says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and proclaim to her
that her hard service has been completed,
that her sin has been paid for,
that she has received from the LORD’s hand
double for all her sins.
A voice of one calling:
“In the wilderness prepare
the way for the LORD[a];
make straight in the desert
a highway for our God.[b]
Every valley shall be raised up,
every mountain and hill made low;
the rough ground shall become level,
the rugged places a plain.
And the glory of the LORD will be revealed,
and all people will see it together.
For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”
Is this what Jesus meant when he said “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” in John 10:10 ?
Is this what the Letter writer was saying with passages like 1 John 3:8 ” The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work”?
I am also struck by two things that weigh me down:
- If some poet or prophet or preacher was to put this out now, it would most likely be disregarded as a John Lennon style “Imagine” daydream, or dismissed as socialist utopian propaganda or even disparaged as a Liberal agenda. When you think about the relationship that Jesus had with the priests of his day and the relationship that those priests had with the poor, the immigrant and the outsider – and compare that to the relationship that Jesus had with that same crowd… you can clearly see the he was Mary’s boy!!
- I listen to the Religious Media that is so powerfully broadcast on Christian radio and preached on TV by preachers at big churches with big followings and I am haunted by the suspicion that what calls itself Christianity in capitalistic and consumeristic North America is not quite what Mary’s song pointed toward. I am dismayed so often by the conservative Christianity I encounter. It is almost as if Jesus never came. Even in a ‘Christian Nation’, Priest, politics, and power … well , let’s just say it this way: I would love to hear the kind of things that Mary said coming through the radio and from the pulpit.
This is why Mary mesmerizes me. She ‘got’ something – she knew something – she saw something that allowed her to say something that radically changes the way we look at Jesus and continues to impact the vision of people who are suppose to speak for Jesus.
Mary challenges us. She inspires us. Her vision projects a world that has yet to materialize fully. Her words frame our expectation.
I think about her words. I pray that I may see what she called for. I thank God for her and the standard that she sets. I call her ‘blessed’.
Merry Christmas everyone – today is truly the day of the Lord’s visitation.
The Lord is among us!
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December 7, 2010 at 1:58 pm
>Great words today Bo. Joe read Mary's song this Sunday when he "preached" at NLF – he had some great thoughts on this same prayer. She was truly Blessed – funny growing up in Catholic school we always called her the Blessed Mother but I never really thought deeply at that time about what that meant. Some powerful words! Love you guys! Merry Christmas – hope to see you – may be coming to CA in March to see Kathleen (and take you and Christie to dinner!) XXOO MJ
December 7, 2010 at 4:02 pm
>Mary saw God. Mary knew God in a way that no other human would ever experience Him. Imagine if God asked you to bear his child? Her perspective was unlike any other and so I'm not surprised by the way she understood His plan for humanity. His plan for humility…. He gave her the most amazing gift of humility…. to bear Gods son and yet it was not an honorable thing by the way the world saw her pregnancy….. She lived in that tension of grace and glory and knew the truth of Him…. I envy her being chosen…. And I also pray for God to give me his spirit of incarnation, I know Christ the baby does not need to be born again but Christ the healer/redeemer is born every moment we are able to love in His name……Thanks for the conversation
December 9, 2010 at 3:01 pm
>Thank you both for posting. MJ, it is interesting to think about how popular it is to celebrate Mary but how much MORE significance it might take on if we looked at her in her context!!Sarah, I like the imagery of Christ being born in every moment – I think that is the power of the prayer "may it be unto my as you have said"