Mary didn’t mean much to me as a child. Of course, there was the coveted role of Mary in the annual Christmas Pageant. Even that was a big disappointment in seventh or eighth grade when it was my turn; there was no live baby Jesus that year. Someone grabbed a doll out of the church nursery and wrapped it in a receiving blanket without noticing that one eye no longer closed and it had turned a cloudy white with age and disuse. It wasn’t exactly the moment of devotion I had been hoping for. I spent my time trying not to make faces of disgust when I was supposed to be “pondering.”
Outside of Christmas, no one ever said much about Mary and I didn’t think much of her, either. Then I took a youth ministries course during my ThM (Master of Theology), and Kenda Dean introduced me to a Mary in a paradigm-shifting sort of way. I think it was the first day of class when Kenda handed out diaper pins and told us we were all pregnant with the Holy Spirit, and it was our job to bring Christ in the world and step out of the way. In other words, to be like Mary, to bring Jesus into the world and get out of the way so that our story is Christ’s story.
Later in the semester Kenda talked more about Mary. She pointed out the obvious – Mary was a teenage, unwed mother who changed the world forever. The importance of this perspective to youth ministry cannot be understated. (You can read more about Kenda’s youth ministry approach in this book and elsewhere) It has also remained at the core of my ministry with other marginalized and overlooked folks. Someone the world dismisses as unimportant can bring Christ into the world in an extraordinary way. It happens all the time. We never know whom God has chosen in any given moment. Should we not be treating all people as theotokos, bearers of God?
More than 20 years later, I still have the diaper pin and I often think about Mary and her role in changing the world. She did something so brave and altruistic that world has literally never been the same. She was no body special. She was a girl betrothed to a carpenter. Her parents had, no doubt, arranged the best marriage they could. This engagement didn’t elevate Mary. It’s unlikely that she was different from anyone else in an observable way. Yet, through her, the impossible happened and God took on human form.
If Mary could do such a thing, there’s hope for the rest of us. Because Mary did what she did, we know that God finds favor with all of us. We know that we are God’s beloved people. This is the essence of church, is it not? If we trust this and live out this concept that God has found favor with us, then it is on us, as church, to do as Mary did, to be theotokos. We are to bring Christ into the world, and step out of the way so that our story becomes Christ’s story.
This is why we make the journey to Bethlehem every year. We travel through the wild places full of chaos and joy to kneel before a babe in a manger. We kneel to remind ourselves that we are not God, that our ways or not God’s ways. If we have made the journey, we are aware of the Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love that is embodied in the Christ-child. As church, we are called to embody these same qualities, we are to bring Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love into the world and step back to let Christ’s story continue.
It’s easier said than done, of course. Let’s not forget this call as we return to the wild places. Let’s not get distracted by those with power and the illusions they create to maintain oppression. Let’s remember Mary beyond the Christmas story. May we all make her a model for Christian living – Bring Christ into the world and step out of the way. May the story we live in the coming year be a continuation of Christ’s story.
RCL – Year B – Fourth Sunday of Advent – December 24, 2017
2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16
Luke 1:46-55 or Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26
Photos CC-BY-NC image by Rachael Keefe
The bottom photo is of a print that hangs in my office. If anyone knows who created this beautiful image, please let me know. The print is unsigned and was hanging on the wall when I arrived.