The Bridge between Human and Divine
This past Sunday Christians entered the fourth week of what we call Advent. The word Advent means “coming.” The four-week season of Advent is a time of inner preparation, preparing for the birth of Christ, which is celebrated on the 25th of December, although we do not really know what day of the year Christ was born. The point of this season is to invite us to let Christ be born within our hearts, minds, and lives today.
The fourth week of Advent is always my favorite week because the focus is on Mary, the Mother of Christ. Mary, in fact, is the symbolic figure for all of us throughout the entire Advent season. Mary was a young girl, probably no older than fourteen, who had the amazing courage to say “Yes.” “Yes” to the invitation of an angel, which literally just means “messenger,” named Gabriel.
You can read the account of this in the Gospel of Luke, the first Chapter, verses 26-38. (You can also hear my fifteen minute sermon on this by going to http://www.firstlutheraneg.org, and clicking on the Vimeo clip. You may also want to listen to the amazing trio sing “Breath of Heaven,” by Amy Grant, a modern day version of Mary’s Song, on the same clip). This young woman, Mary, had the courage to say “Yes” to God, not knowing where it would lead her, by trusting the One who was leading her.
How about you? Do you have the courage of this young teenager? Can you say “Yes” to God as unequivocally?
Every year during Advent I immerse myself in books about Mary, taking my own Advent journey hand in hand with this courageous young woman. This year I immersed myself in a book by a local Rhode Islander, Judith Dupre, called Full of Grace: Encountering Mary in Faith, Art, and Life.
Dupre is well-known for her books about Churches, Skyscrapers, Monuments, Bridges, in other words books about architecture and art. In her travels around the world, and her ventures into many cathedrals, she became enthralled with the many cathedrals and the abundance of art devoted to Mary. She calls Mary the Bridge between the human and the divine. If it were not for Mary’s courage to say “Yes, I will let Christ be born in me,” we would not have God made flesh in Christ. Who provided the flesh, the human part, for “God made flesh?” Mary.
The other thing I love about the fourth weekend of Advent is that the “Psalm,” which means “Song,” assigned for the day also features Mary. It is called “The Magnificat,” which is from the first word in the Latin version of the song, “My soul magnifies the Lord…” You can read this also in the first chapter of the Gospel of Luke, verses 46-55. In a great deal of art, Mary is depicted as kind of meek, passive, and demure. Even her brave response to Gabriel is interpreted passively, “Here I am, the servant of the Lord. Let it be with me according to your Word.” But then Mary breaks out into her Magnificat Song, which is far from passive, meek, and demure: “For the Mighty One has done great things for me…the Mighty One has shown strength…the Mighty One has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts…the Mighty One has cast down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly…the Mighty One has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.” Does this sound meek, passive and demure?
Mary proclaims that through her will be born the One who will turn the world upside down, the One who will cast the egotistical values of this world down, raise up those who are oppressed, feed the hungry, and honor the ones the world has placed on the lowest rungs of society. Who does this sound like? Like Jesus, Mary’s son. In Jewish homes it was always the mother who was responsible for the religious education of the children. Where do you think Jesus got his ideas from? From his mother! But even Mary did not just make up these ideas, this Magnificat Song. No, she was quoting, and adapting, a song that had been sung by a prophetess roughly a thousand years before her, Hannah’s Song. Hannah was the mother of the prophet Samuel, who anointed King David, son of Jesse, of Bethlehem, from whom Jesus was descended! Just as today, when we take an old song, give it a new twist, and make it our own song, so Mary adapted Hannah’s Song. “Breath of Heaven” is a good example of a modern version of Mary’s Song, which was at that time a modern version of Hannah’s Song.
Dupre also calls Mary a Bridge because she is honored in Islam as well as Christianity, so perhaps can serve as a bridge between these two faith traditions today, when so many things serve to divide us.
In a world of Ferguson and Staten Island; in a world of staggering income inequality; in a world of Israeli’s versus Palestinians; in a world of this faith versus that faith; in a world of extremists of all faiths spouting hatred and violence and attributing it to God, Mary, and her son Jesus Christ give us a new way. A way depicted in the courage of a young girl who says “Yes,” even in the midst of such a world. “Yes” I will let the Christ be born in my life. Yes, I will let my life be about raising up the ones society puts down, and feeding those society leaves empty. Yes I will bring Light to those who live in darkness. Yes I will live peace in the midst of violence. Yes, I will live love in the midst of hatred. Yes, I will live in a way that turns this world upside down.Yes, I will be a Bridge.
Can you like Mary have the courage to say “Yes?”
This day may you see the Holy in all you encounter,
and may you reflect the Holy to all you encounter.
May YOU be a bridge!
Linda Forsberg, Copyright December 24, 2014
Photo Credits: The Newport Bridge, taken by Juliana Forsberg-Lary; Sophia as Mary in this year’s Christmas pageant; Amanda as Gabriel and Sophia as Mary; Sophia/Mary taken by Kerry Poirier; gorgeous Renata and Victor en utero; Linda and Sylvie; Seven Mile Bridge, Florida Keys, thanks to Joe Rochira for this photo