Christmas Eve is just a few days away. My Vicar and I, once again, will share the Christmas Eve message. Last year we looked at the Christmas story from the male and female perspective, but switched it up: he focused on Mary, and I on Joseph. This year, we will flip it. I will focus on Mary’s side of the story; he will focus on Joseph’s side of the story. Both of them had the courage to say “Yes” to God. Do you?
For many years now Mary has been my focus during the season of Advent. For many years I would read a little Advent book about Mary, called The Reed of God, by Carole Houselander. This year my spiritual director introduced me to two new books about Mary. One of these books is called Woman Wrapped in Silence, by John Lynch. It is a lyrical poem, in which Lynch invites you to enter more deeply into each of the many biblical texts which features Mary, the mother of Jesus. This book is one I have been pondering throughout this season of Advent. It is my Christmas present to all of my spiritual companions this year. She also recommended a book by the feminist theologian Elizabeth Johnson, Truly Our Sister: A Theology of Mary in the Communion of Saints. This book is not light reading; it is a rigorous theological study of the way Mary has been looked at through the centuries, which has been through a patriarchal lens. In other words, for thousands of years, the image of Mary we have had has been given to us by men, church fathers and male theologians, as opposed to women, who would much more truly understand what it was like to be a poor, young unwed pregnant woman in a culture where women had no status or power.
For thousands of years, Mary has been depicted in art and literature as meek and mild, passive and demure, the submissive “handmaid” of the Lord. Last Sunday, Mary’s Magnificat was the Gospel lesson for the day. Only a few years ago did it strike me that Mary’s Magnificat was in no way the statement of someone who was meek and mild.
Rather, Mary’s Magnificat is a powerful and brave proclamation of a courageous young woman whose song challenges the power structures of her day, and turns them upside down: “He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their heart. 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.” (Luke 1: 51-53). It was no passive or submissive girl who said “Yes” to God, “Yes, I will bear your child,” when for her to do so as an unwed young woman meant that she could be stoned to death as an adulteress. Rather this is the proclamation of a woman whose brave faith inspires my own, whose example challenges you and me to say “Yes” as fully as she did. In the fourth century the Church Council at Nicea declared Mary “Theoltokos,” “God-bearer.” Mary was declared as the one who was brave enough to bear God into this world. Do you have the courage to say “Yes?” To bear God into this dark and troubled world we live in today? I pray that you and I say “Yes!”
I must admit that Joseph also strikes me profoundly, especially during this season of Advent. Every year at this time the women’s group at our church, in addition to studying Mary’s side of the story in the Gospel of Luke, studies Joseph’s side of the story as well, from the Gospel of Matthew (see Matthew 1: 18-25). Of course Joseph was suspicious. Our children’s pageant last Sunday portrayed his obvious doubt that this child was conceived by God. Joseph’s options were limited: he could have Mary stoned to death for adultery; he could publicly shame and humiliate her; or he could do the more compassionate thing and divorce her quietly. Then in a dream God assured Joseph, and invited him to see that there was another option, an option he had not even imagined: he could marry Mary, and claim her child to be his own. For a man to name a child, meant that he claimed that child to be his own. We read, “When Joseph awoke from sleep he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him; he took Mary as his wife, but had no marital relations with her until she had born a son; and he named him Jesus (“Savior”).” (Matthew 1: 24-25). Joseph also had the amazing courage to say “Yes.” To say “Yes, God, I will open myself to an option I had never imagined. I will claim the Christ child as my own. I will protect him, guard him, and nurture him, for the sake of this world.”
Brave Mary. Courageous Joseph. Each daring to say “Yes” to God, opening themselves to God’s unexpected, beyond-human-imagining option.
This Christmas, can you say “Yes?” Yes, God, I will open myself fully to your option for my life?
I pray that you and I will have the courage to say “Yes!”
This Christmas may you see God-made-flesh in all you encounter,
and may your life reflect this God-made-flesh to all you encounter.
Linda Forsberg, Copyright December 22, 2015
Photos: My great nephew Connor underrating the tree:) Mary and Joseph (Deja and Max) from last Sunday’s pageant; A great Advent book; God-made-flesh: our newest grandson, Ezra; stone at Salve Regina University