As we come to this fourth Sunday of Advent, we've been hearing that there is one coming who is greater than any other that has come before. Unworthy is John the Baptizer to untie the thong of this one's sandals. He will come on clouds descending. He will be called "Wonderful counselor! Prince of Peace!" Certainly, this one will come swooping into our lives like a mighty super hero ready to take on all our enemies.
Or maybe, he is coming, in the ordinary way through the birth canal of one very brave young girl who found herself singled out for a most extraordinary purpose. Without Mary, Jesus would not have had the human flesh, the human birth experience, the human childhood into adulthood that led to his ministry. I have sometimes wondered if there were others before her who simply refused to take part in the plan God had for the incarnation. I mean, the option was there for her to say, "I'm outta here," instead of "Here am I." In the Gospel reading from Luke assigned for this Sunday, we pick up the story after Gabriel has informed her of what's to come. She has gone to her cousin, Elizabeth, who--amazingly--is also pregnant with John the Baptizer. Elizabeth, a much older woman thought to be barren, is going to give birth to the last of the prophets of what we, in Christianity, call the "Old Covenant." The young Mary, always described as being a teenager, is about to give birth to the bearer of the Good News of the "New Covenant." Together, these women make up a dynamic duo that would make any doula proud to be at these births!
Luke, as a Gospel writer, makes a point of highlighting the women in the amazing story of Christ. So, it's no mistake that he is the one who includes the prayer, the Magnificat, in the story of Mary and Elizabeth. Her prayer of exaltation of a God who lifts up the lowly is very reminiscent of the prayer Hannah offers when her long-held desire to conceive comes true, and she gives birth to the prophet Samuel. Luke wants those with ears to hear to listen to this story, and ponder in their hearts how Mary readily responds to God, and sticks with God at a time that had to be confusing, and frightening for her.
At Morning Prayer this past week, I chose to forego use of the Magnificat, in favor of this canticle ascribed to Julian of Norwich.
A Song of True Motherhood
God chose to be our mother in all things *
and so made the foundation of his work,
most humbly and most pure, in the Virgin’s womb.
God, the perfect wisdom of all, * arrayed himself in this humble place.
Christ came in our poor flesh * to share a mother’s care.
Our mothers bear us for pain and for death; *
our true mother, Jesus, bears us for joy and endless life.
Christ carried us within him in love and travail, * until the full time of his passion.
And when all was completed and he had carried us so for joy, * still all this could not satisfy the power of his wonderful love.
All that we owe is redeemed in truly loving God, * for the love of Christ works in us;
Christ is the one whom we love.
This description, to me, is not only of Christ the male figure, but recognizing that it is through his life on earth in human flesh that he had all the attributes of his mother. This is part of what made him such an unusual presence in his First Century world. And like what all powerful women have experienced, it is this strength and presence of his feminine nature of caring and compassionate love for all that put him on the outs with so many in his day. And because of that, because he's known the pain of what it is to be a person like me, a misfit for more Love, his experience comes alive for me, and I can sense that mothering love that "bears us for joy and endless life."
This is the Mary contribution to this puzzle. Without it, Jesus wouldn't have been nearly as interesting, compelling and as human a figure, and wouldn't be the compassionate liberator that I believe him to be.
"All that we owe is redeemed in truly loving God, for the love of Christ works in us." True that.