As we near the end of our Advent Season, our time of preparation, this 4th Sunday of advent –we end with Mary, to whom the angel Gabriel came... "Greetings favored one. The Lord is with you." - she was at first perplexed by the visit – but it is Mary's yes to God, that allows God's reality to break into the world that Christmas long ago. Such faithfulness from a young lady, such devotion in one unexpected.
As Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it, “God is not ashamed of human lowliness. He enters right into it. He chooses a human being to be his instrument and works his wonders where they are least expected.”She calls herself, servant, handmaiden in an older translation. To many Christians around the world, she is the Theotokos, the God-bearer. In my childhood, I remember her statue prominently in my Grandmother’s house, and always with a votive candle before it.
For Barbara Brown Taylor, author, teacher and Episcopal priest, she keeps a small brass box on her dresser in front of two icons, one of Jesus and one of Mary. When people ask her to pray for them, she writes their name on a slip of paper and puts the paper in the box. Taylor writes in her book An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith that she has great confidence in entrusting her prayers to the Mother of Jesus:Mary's entire life was filled with moments God constantly calling her to be the reflection of his compassion, to be a source of persevering faith, to mirror in her motherhood of his Christ his loving providence for all his children. God asks that same "reliability" of all of us in the everyday living of our own Baptisms. Mary's experience is like our own.
"Mary is more like me than her son is, after all. Both of her parents were human. She was born and she died in the usual ways. What was unusual about her was her reliability. No matter what life pitched at her, Mary did not duck. She endured a difficult pregnancy to bear a singular child, whom she loved reliably through all the years of his controversial life. When her son was cut down, she was there. When it came time to prepare his body, she was there. When he was not in his tomb, she was there. As much as I hate to presume on her reliability, I know she will remember the people whose name I have placed in the brass box, even when I forget."
Discerning God's will demands time and thoughtfulness. In God’s call to us, we have a great deal to process, to sort out, to make sense of. May we seek to possess Mary's "reliable" faith and trust so that we, too, may make God's presence known in our time and place, to be open to the presence of Gabriel "announcing" to us that the Lord is with us, that we have nothing to fear, that we have been called by God to "give birth" to his Son in our own time and place.
Her life becomes a beacon for us, a way to embrace the Spirit that God gives to each of us, and to bear it for the world. As Malcom Guite, priest and poet put it, “she is the prime God-Bearer, bearing for us in time the One who was begotten in eternity, and every Christian after her seeks to become in some small way a God-bearer, one whose ‘yes’ to God means that Christ is made alive and fruitful in the world through our flesh and our daily lives, is born and given to another.”
So as we ponder Mary’s “yes” and consider how we too say yes to God in our lives, hear Malcom’s poem on Mary:
You bore for me the One who came to blessMay we journey with Mary, say yes to God and be enfolded this Christmas in Love’s last mystery that Mary may bring us to the One, she bore for all. Amen.
And bear for all and make the broken whole.
You heard His call and in your open ‘yes’
You spoke aloud for every living soul.
Oh gracious Lady, child of your own child,
Whose mother-love still calls the child in me,
Call me again, for I am lost, and wild
Waves surround me now. On this dark sea
Shine as a star and call me to the shore.
Open the door that all my sins would close
And hold me in your garden. Let me share
The prayer that folds the petals of the Rose.
Enfold me too in Love’s last mystery
And bring me to the One you bore for me.