Dec 19 2012

Sacredise: What Happened To Mary

Original post at http://sacredise.com/blog/?p=1230

A Lectionary Reflection on Luke 1:39-55 for Advent 4C

Mary & Baby Bronze StatueThis Sunday, the last in Advent before the Christmas celebration, brings Mary into the spotlight. There is always a lot written about her at this time of year, and rightly so. But, in this reflection I want to explore what happens in my heart as I read her story, rather than get too caught up in the scholarship around her predicament. There a few details that must be asserted before I can share my impressions, though.

There is no question that Mary’s pregnancy was a humiliating experience for her.In those days, to become pregnant by a man who was not your betrothed was adultery. The betrothal was tantamount to a marriage commitment. If Joseph had rejected her, it could have been a death sentence for her by stoning. For a young girl just looking forward to starting our her life, pregnancy was, pretty much the worst thing that could have happened to her. To accept such pregnancy, and live with the consequences was a lot for her to be asked. But, accept it she did. And she obviously meditated deeply on its meaning – or at least the Gospel writer portrays her as having done so – because her song, her Magnificat, shows that this was about far more than just the birth of a child.

As I read the account in Luke I am amazed and touched by three details in the story.

  1. As much as it is human and natural to seek to isolate ourselves when we are faced with suffering or humiliation, Mary does not do this. Instead, she seeks out a relative – Elizabeth – an older woman who is going through a similar experience of "unnatural" birth. Somehow Mary recognises her need for a support network and goes in search of one. It’s a reminder to me that tough times call for deeper connection, not greater disconnection.
  2. Mary also realises that she is completely out of control. She cannot change her circumstances. She cannot determine Joseph’s response. She has no influence over the outcome of this pregnancy, which could mean her death. Yet, while I suspect that there was a lot of fear and grief, Mary somehow seems to retain her faith and a deep patience as she awaits the final outcome. It’s tempting to me, when tough times hit, to go into a panic of activity, doing anything and everything to try and fix things as soon as possible. Sometimes I get lucky and I am able to resolve things quickly, but often in my life the panic has made things worse, and it’s only been once I’ve slowed down and reflected on the situation that a solution has come to me (and I say it this way on purpose – it’s not usually a solution I "find" but one that "finds me").
  3. In spite of her personal circumstances, Mary remains connected to the hopes and dreams of her people. Her celebration song – which, in the form it appears in the Gospel, I recognise to be the product of a years of theological reflection on the part of the Christian community – is not just about her own experience of motherhood, but reflects on God’s liberating work of justice and salvation in the world. In some way, it seems, Mary was aware that what she was carrying was not just a baby, but the birth of a completely new order for the world – what we know as God’s Reign. In spite of her own uncertain future, and the humiliation of her circumstances, Mary remains aware of, and concerned about, the plight of her people. She shares their dream of liberation, and aligns herself with it. It’s an amazingly selfless attitude, considering her situation.

If Mary shows me anything through all of this, it’s that Advent and Christmas are not primarily about a baby. They are about God’s subversive, empire challenging Reign. And they are about the unavoidable call for us to participate in God’s liberating, saving work. And, if a teenage girl could do it to this extent, I have to ask myself: What’s my excuse?

About the author

John van de Laar

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