Who was Mary? I’ll admit I love Mary.
My years during high school living at St. Anne’s Episcopal Convent (yes, there are Episcopal nuns) we learned some about Mary and, of course her mother Anne. We really don’t know much of anything about her do we. In our Gospel reading we are told that she was a virgin from Nazareth and engaged to be married. Mary and Joseph who were espoused (engaged) were both descended from the house of David; same lineage; both from the house of David. The Jewish people made sure to preserve genealogies. A couple would be what we call engaged, for a year before actually being together.
Both were poor, living in Nazareth, a city of Galilee which was in a remote part of the country near where the Gentiles (or heathens) lived.
So, Mary is an unwed teenage mother. Even at age thirteen or fourteen, which was probably how old she was when visited by the Angel Gabriel and told she would give birth to son who would change the world forever, Mary is an impressive figure. Mary had every reason to reject this angel’s message. In that time, having a child before one was married, Mary could be stoned to death for adultery. At the very least, she could be rejected by Joseph, her parents, and her village. She could spend the rest of her days in deep poverty, struggling to keep herself and her child fed outside the safety of a marriage and community. She would have been shunned.
But Mary didn’t doubt that God might send an angel to her with a miraculous message. Instead, Mary received the almost unthinkable news with faith and with…awe. At first, she simply stood perplexed at what the angel told her would happen.
The angel Gabriel must have startled Mary. We don’t know what Mary was doing at the time. Hearing “Greetings Favored One” would have been strange for Mary to hear as she probably considered herself much to low in status to hear such a greeting. She’s told she has found favor with God. Now, God could have chosen anyone for this task and God chose Mary. This was a surprise to Mary. Why was Mary chosen? God is constantly surprising people, right? God shows up in the strangest places and to a vast assortment of people. We know God shows up on mountaintops, in burning bushes, in the stillness. God shows up for people who might least expect it. Mary took the news with questioning dignity. How on earth was this to happen? She’s perplexed; she was astonished. And we hear the all familiar Do Not Fear. The angel goes on to explain about Jesus…He’ll be GREAT, he’ll have a throne that belonged to his ancestor David and there will be no end to his kingdom. Well, ok, perhaps, but How can this happen? Mary wonders what will happen to her. Is God really doing something with her? She’s told the power of the Most High will overshadow her. This reminds us of the time when Elijah and Moses disappeared in a cloud that overshadowed them, right?
Do we understand, comprehend that God favors each and every one of us? We usually spend a lot of time in this season busy, buying gifts, decorating, partying, too busy to notice that God wants to be born in us this season. Mary approaches life with a heart of faith, love and hope.
A little known but important story in our Christian history is that the early church fought about Mary and what she should be called. In the fourth century, to resolve this conflict, the leaders of the young church met at a worldwide council, in Ephesus which is in present day Turkey.
One group was comprised of many Syrian Christians -- which are the same folks who are currently fleeing for their lives as they try to escape the evils and terrors of ISIS. These people came to the gathering insisting that the church call Mary “Chrĭsto•mäter,” which, in Greek means “Mother of Christ”. And it’s true, Mary was the mothering figure who not only physically gave birth to Jesus, but also raised him.
Mary led an amazing and unique life; so Chrĭsto•mäter,, these Syrian Christians said, ought to be her title of honor forever.
But the other camp, led by the heroic Egyptian church leader known as Cyril of Alexandria, felt that the title of Chrĭsto•mäter, was not sufficient. According to the oral history passed down of that meeting in Ephesus, Cyril is known to have pounded his fist on the table in response to the Syrians’ proposal, screaming out “Miriam, Theo•toe•kos!” which means “Mary, God-bearer!
Here’s what Cyril’s outburst teaches us, I think: in her faithfulness, Mary was blessed by the Holy Spirit to bear God to us. Being the mother of Jesus is important… no one, Cyril included, denied her Chrĭsto•mäter, role, and she is truly a blessed and unique person for it. But being the God-bearer to a world sitting in darkness and sin – that’s the real example and inspiration -- of this teenage girl.
We can all be bearers of God. That’s why Mary is important to us all.
“Here I am,” Mary said to the angel Gabriel, “the servant of the Lord. Let it be with me according to your word.” Perhaps never were more faithful words spoken. Can we offer ourselves as Mary did and let Christ form in us? Will we also let Emmanuel live in our hearts? Do we have the faith to be God-bearers? Those are the challenges we face as Christmas fast approaches. Very fast as this is it for Advent! Those are challenges we can all embrace as a community; as individuals. What more can we do both collectively and as people who find ourselves in a myriad of circumstances and situations to bring God into our world? When God takes on flesh people gather together and march on Washington or in Springfield or Boston to protest the systemic racism, to protest treatment of immigrants, dreamers, the poor, the homeless and disenfranchised.
If you see injustice, speak out. If you see someone in need, reach out and lend a hand -- the rest will fall in place.
Our prayer this 4th week in Advent: Like Mary, may we, in song, in word, and in deed, bear the good word to a world in need.