Legend suggests Mary was not the first person to be asked to be the God-bearer, but rather she was the first person to say ‘yes’.
We are reminded in this story, God is always love; and in love, God does not and never would go beyond what someone is willing and able to give in response to God’s loving invitation. God does not use violence, manipulation, terror, fear, deceit, pride or avarice to make anyone do anything they do not want to do, as God invites each of us to share in what God desires deeply for us.
Let us reflect on this, as it is an extraordinary way of being for God; and let us think about our own response to God’s personal invitation and how we might answer a similar request today. Then let us think about the extraordinary nature of the ‘yes’ Mary gave to God’s request which takes my breath away.
Mary was perhaps about 13 or 14 years old. She was a young girl. I imagine she would have attended Synagogue. She would be familiar with the stories of God’s saving actions in the history of her nation.
No doubt Mary would also have heard the news of her cousin Elizabeth. She who had been barren was now with child and keeping herself in seclusion. Zechariah’s speechlessness following his encounter with the angel of the Lord in the Jerusalem temple would be the subject of speculation in the family.
Mary’s clear, quiet, thoughtful, world shattering decision reminds us how clearly young people see the world. Mary’s willingness to accept God’s presence and God’s request is humbling for all of us. As a young girl, wise or foolish beyond her years (depending on your point of view), she would know the scandal she would cause, perhaps recognising dimly the coming griefs spoken by Simeon. She also trusted God would resolve Joseph’s concerns, himself a truly humble and generous man whose decision also shatters our peace and equilibrium with his acceptance of God’s plans and its implications for both Mary and Joseph.
In contrast to such trust and love, we have stories of women who find themselves pregnant with or without their permission, being killed, being thrown out of the family home, made destitute, taking to the streets as they have no income, rejected, humiliated, shamed and disgraced by their families, although from the outside they mirror Mary’s circumstances. Babies have been removed from their mother’s care and given away without their permission, children have been sent away and fostered elsewhere and the generational grief and woundedness becoming a silent scream for millions of women and children through the centuries as these rules were imposed on women without consent.
Mary and Joseph provide us with a different story of love without violence, offering hope and an example of trusting God that is transformational. Yet this aspect of Mary’s story with Joseph, is a story ignored in our social, cultural and religious traditions and practices, in our patriarchal churches, and in our welfare systems.
In this context, I listen to the Song of Mary as she visits her cousin Elizabeth for three months during her pregnancy:
My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my saviour, for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant… for the Mighty One has done great things for me,….he has shown strength with his arm, he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly, he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty… (1 Luke 46-55)
Hannah’s prayer (I Samuel 2:1-10) is almost word for word repeated by Mary in the Magnificat and with Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and Bathsheba we hear some of the voices of the women changing human history at God’s invitation. The Magnificat is the longest piece of text spoken by a woman in the New Testament.
In some countries such as India, Guatamala or Argentina, this text is banned from being spoken in liturgy or in public as being too revolutionary. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor and theologian executed by the Nazis, called the Magnificat “the most passionate, the wildest, one might even say the most revolutionary hymn ever sung.”
This story of Advent is the story of women who change the course of human history as they choose God’s way for the world, and show the way towards Gospel justice, love, hope and peace.
In the rest of Luke’s Gospel and as Acts make clear, Jesus, at enormous cost to himself picks up the words of the prophets and from all these women of God in his family and as told in the scriptures. He redefines the reality of his power as being against the powers and principalities of the world even though it is what we as human beings normally align ourselves with.
In contrast, Jesus’ most high status was seen in humility; his royal power was exercised through weakness and vulnerability. God had no place to rest God’s head, there was no welcome home; and he consorted with vagrants, tax collectors, women, those who were poor and outcast, the ill and disabled.
Finally, in the scandal of the cross and for those who lived afterwards in its shadow, God’s victory was hidden, the victory over human sin and pride was won unseen and at the time, looked very much like defeat.
Mary’s child, God’s son overturned all the assumptions of the Messiah previously imagined. Jesus tested and redefined all the beliefs in and of God.
So my question to you now is one I am repeating from Meister Eckhart who wrote approximately 600 years ago: ‘What good is it to me if this eternal birth of the divine son takes place unceasingly but does not take place in me?’ What good is it to me if Mary is full of grace, if I am not also full of grace?
For all of us, for both men and women: what does it mean to give birth to God’s Son in the world because we are all meant to be mothers of God? How does that feel as your God given work in God’s kingdom in which you are a beloved child?
The truth of the Gospel is we human beings are containers of the holy. God wants nothing less than for us to become pregnant with divine possibilities and then to give birth to the holy and precious in our time.
The Gospel tells us this message has been extended to all of us, not just Mary. Every single one of us has received the invitation to help give birth to the kingdom of God.
Mary is one of the most famous individuals ever to answer the call to bear God’s will and witness into history. With her voice repeating the dreams of women from history through to today in her Magnificat, we recognise the first sign of the new covenant; the exaltation of the lowly, the prophetic imperative of justice being fulfilled and the promise of liberation confirmed.
The birthing process has begun. How are we responding? Mary, the first disciple, said ‘yes’. She gave voice to Christ’s vision as the Son of God. She followed Christ. Now it is our turn. Do you and I have the courage to do the same?
The Lord be with you.