Born of a Young Woman; Mary’s Child

Posted: December 15, 2020 in Uncategorized

Luke 1:26-38

Born of a Young Woman; Mary’s Child

Today is the fourth and final Sunday in the church season we call Advent, and one has to admit to it being a season that needs all the encouragement and attention it can get, Under the mantle of commercialization lie many counter claims for our attention. I can remember in my childhood the questions of what does Christmas mean? Was it true? Did it really happen? And in a rest home recently I heard the lament of a person asking why the Christmas tree they say was covered in sneakers instead of the normal Christmas decorations. One could say that the why question is still with us or it could be that Christmas as a human story has run its course.

Underneath all this search for meaning, authenticity and search for a human story that speaks to our time, we have our 3 year lectionary which through-out the whole of this season, calls us to the spirit of the storyteller we call Mark, We have been in this advent time talking about the need to ‘stay alert’ in particular to the present-ness of the sacred or God, in the ordinary.

Through-out the whole of this season, and in the spirit of the storyteller we call Mark, we have continually tried to see that the ‘good news’ of Advent is about becoming more aware of, more sensitive to, the moments of grace in us and in our ordinary daily events. And the reason this has been important is that if we fail to see and value the ordinary as filled with opportunity, promise, hope, through the mundane, day t day activity and thought we will miss what actually is the grace that sustains the human species. One could say that this grace has the characteristics of Serendipity; unknown yet fiiled with possibility Creating; participation in the living breath of the planet we call home in the universe.

And so once again the hands of those who shaped our Advent lectionary, can be seen in yet another clue: the conscious creative conceptual entry point is through a maternal feminine story. Through a young woman whom we call Mary.

Bishop Jack Spong in his Weekly Letter some time back, says of Mary: “As the Christmas season arrives, the icon of the Virgin Mary enters the consciousness of the Christian world in a significant way.  She is universally recognized with her eyes lowered, the infant Jesus in her arms, and located in a stable… (This) Madonna and child have provided the content for many artists over the centuries” (Spong 15/12/2005).

Those who have been nurtured in Roman Catholicism and remember the Madonna statues in Catholic churches, will perhaps recognize this more readily. One could say that the protestant aversion to iconography and symbolism has sidelined the Mother archetype for many. Or maybe pushed it away into the supernatural realm of thinking. There is another famous statue may that perhaps has resisted that deification and that is Mary in the great Pieta, holding the broken body of her son. An image more akin to the reality of human existence, the fragile nature of human life, the precariousness of life on a moving shaking, evolving planet depicted in the human condition and the human concept of the need to procreate and the planet’s ability to house us all.

Generally speaking, those of us who are traditional Protestants seem to have a bit of a hang up about Mary. Or if not about Mary, then about what is often seen as the exaggerations of the Church of Rome, about Mary. The need for a divine son to have a divine mother so that the relationship between God and man can make sense. What if a supernatural son is not required and Mary, a young woman within her culture birthing a human child is the most religious and divine story one can find?

It can be said that Mary is important for both Protestant and Catholic and we shouldn’t just bring her out at the end of Advent and pack her up again with the Christmas tinsel and wrapping paper on the 26th!  From all we do and do not know (which sometimes is not much), a young girl, maybe as young as 12 or 13 or 14 years of age, – maybe the daughter of a peasant farmer who would have arranged the marriage – is betrothed (probably married) to a much older man, probably a widower, and suddenly finds herself pregnant. And that would have been one heck of a shock!

From all we do and do not know, Mary lived in occupied territory and during a world-wide demonstration of Roman imperial might, under the oppressive authority of the ‘divine saviour’ Augustus. This is a long way from the nativity-scene peasant-hood we find many wanting to erect in shopping centres and church foyers, at this time of the year. Maybe this is why the tree has sneakers on it?

Mar will have known what the Palestinians know today. Segregation. A minority place, and what it was to be a woman.

Maybe, instead of getting caught up in the modern fundamentalist debate and about the so-called historical factualness of a ‘virgin birth’, for instance, we might abandon it as a debate that ends up demeaning rather than honouring Mary. Supporting submission and surrender as the place of women and the romanitised paragon of compliance that has the potential of abuse.

Whatever we may choose to believe or not believe about a supernatural virgin birth or virgin conception, the world is not the phantom’ world of the traditional 19th century carols, even, and hers’s the rub, even if Luke believed it –

Like the deification of Jesus it should never be used as a disqualification of Mary’s humanity or womanhood, or for that matter, Jesus’ humanity or manhood.

So using the imagination of a storyteller, as did Mark before him when he spoke of John the ‘dipper’, Luke tells this story to give more status and honour to this ordinary woman, which in turn, gives even more honour and status and significance to Jesus.

Jesus… a child born of ‘middle-eastern appearance’, and from the moment of his conception a life is at risk because of cultural and religious issues. This is where the Jesus story hits home in all cultures and in all times. The world we create needs an awareness of our human ability to shape our world. A Christmas story that doesn’t need sneakers on its trees because it transcends those trees as part of the culture that needs questioning.

So at the end of this season called Advent, we ask again the question we implied on the first Sunday of this season: where is the ‘good news’? What is the Gospel for us today?

The numbers of people abandoning the church would suggest that the good news is not to be found in the spectacular, the dramatic, the supernatural but rather where it has always been: in us. In ‘ordinary’ us. In those like us.  And not like us. In the ordinary ways ordinary people can be someone through whom something serendipitous, creative, sustaining, and transformational, enters anxiety and stress and renews it.

This is the provocative challenge and the promise of Advent. A call to engage meaningfully in life. To Love wastefully. And to Be all that we can be. (John S Spong)

And that is an Advent word.  That is a word of courage, trust, peace and hope! Because Advent is rooted in our everyday experiences. With an incognito God I like to call a serendipitous creating, that sustains, renews and loves.

May we then, continue to be blessed, and be a blessing to others. And fall in love with life, again. Amen.

Notes:

Borg, M. J. & J. D. Crossan. The First Christmas. What the Gospels Really Teach about Jesus’ Birth. New York. HarperOne, 2007.

Crossan, J. D. God and Empire. Jesus against Rome, Then and Now. New York. HarperSanFrancisco, 2007.

Ludemann, G. Virgin Birth? The Real Story of Mary and her Son Jesus. Harrisburg. Trinity Press International, 1998.

Miller, R. J. Born Divine. The Births of Jesus and Other Sons of God. Santa Rosa. Polebridge Press, 2003.

Hunt, R. A. E. Cards, Carols, and Claus: Christmas in Popular Culture and Progressive Christianity. Preston. Mosaic Press 2013; Morning Star Publishing, 2014

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