Advent 4B | Luke 1:26-38
Who is Mary?
This time of year, everybody’s talking about her. Countless pieces are written, diagnosing her history and declaring her purpose. Many are bent on defending her virginity and others exposing her age. And much like the priests and Levites last week, we’re all trying to figure out how to box her in.
When we ask “Who is Mary?”, we’re looking for something deeper. The bigger question(s). Many of us are really shouting:
- Tell me more about the Godbearer!
- Shall we lift up the BVM (Blessed Virgin Mary)?
- Help me to make this story I don’t believe actually happened into something valuable to my faith!
In asking about the person of Mary, we are most often fulfilling a need to deconstruct the myth of Mary. The myth which serves us well, but feels so off; it’s disingenuous. Like we’re asking the person of Mary to contain 2,500 years of monotheistic insistence that God is one mighty man in the sky who still needs a young woman to get the job done.
What we’re asking Mary to do is to be both superhuman but without the depth of a fully-formed character. The protagonist who cannot benefit from character development who, after the third chapter, is relegated to a plot device.
Can we allow Mary to be both less than superhuman and more than a plot device? Is it possible to withstand the potency of a fully human Mary and what that actually does to God?
Co-Creating With God
One of my absolute favorite verses in scripture was written a thousand years before Luke. It comes at the end of our creation stories, at the beginning of Genesis. A story both familiar and foreign to us.
We hear in Genesis 2 how God has created a beautiful garden and the first human to be a companion. But God knows the loneliness of being the only one, so God gives the first human a human companion. When God comes skipping through the garden to play with these two friends, they aren’t there.
They’re hiding in shame.
They admit they’ve messed up. So then God punishes the companions.
But these aren’t beatings or time outs. God’s punishments don’t really punish. They become co-creators of life. The one becomes a tiller of soil, bringing life to the fields. And the other gives birth, bringing life to the world.
The cap to this story proves the beauty of this gift, this original blessing. In Genesis 4, the first woman gives birth to her first son and proclaims:
I have begotten a human, like God!
Childbirth is co-creative.
From the earliest moments in our faith tradition, childbirth has been understood co-creatively with God. Even as women have been denied and diminished by the church, the co-creative spirit has endured in the faith.
And this co-creative spirit informs our relationship with Mary.
More Than a Mother
Women are more than mothers. Or more directly, they are more than their reproductive parts. The same goes for Mary.
Much of the demything of Mary has been around our tradition’s obsession with virginity and completely ahistorical engagement with a man. Our obsession with Mary’s ladyparts divorce us from our interest in Mary herself.
We’re obsessed with making it clear that God, not Joseph, knocked up Mary. And we still see it as expressing what a man does to a woman.
Even all the lengths by which we preserve this myth, specifically, the perpetual virginity of Mary and the translational clues to the true age of Mary, function to serve a narrative of abstraction; to define Mary as a character. It all serves to place her into the plot of the story, rather than to flesh out her character.
What Matters About Mary
What rises to the top then, are the two aspects of Mary which serve the story of God and respect her own voice and influence in the gospel:
- Her low station
- Her acceptance of the call
These were not needed for the plot, but give truth to the very purpose of God’s work with humanity. And with her in particular.
Because these are the things she speaks about in the story. These are the things she calls blessing.
And these also serve to express why God picked her among millions and why she saw that as a blessing. Like Eve long before, she saw this preference, not as a punishment, but as an act of love for her.
In this way, God gives this powerless young woman the one most important job in thousands of years of human history: to not only give birth to the Messiah, but to care for him, raise him, and teach him his mission in the world: to love and bring Good News to the poor.
Because she already could see this was needed.
The Big Question
The Good News has come to us, hopefully, as truly good news. And this isn’t always our experience of church. Talking about Mary often prevents us from confronting the challenge given to us by Mary.
That God calls our souls to proclaim the greatness of the Lord.
As Bp. Andrew Doyle writes:
May we have the courage to look our people in the eye and see their hearts and speak to them and to say: “Yes, you are chosen like Mary, and God’s Holy Spirit is upon you, and you are of value to God, for in you and through you God has chosen to make his Grace, favor, and love known in this world. Yes, you are the one. You have been chosen.”
Can we see beyond the myths to the truth? And beyond the truth to the truth of the myths? Because God calls us all to a new kind of love.