Disclaimer: I am not a theologian. I am not a candidate for a bachelor's degree in Biblical and Theological Studies. I am not, despite my high hopes, an intellectual prodigy in the realm of living faithfully. But this year, on this blog, and perhaps for years to come on this blog, I would like to offer you a few thoughts for each week of Advent, the time of preparation and waiting before the celebration of Christ's birth.
This Sunday marks the Sunday that I have been anticipating throughout my time reflecting on Advent on this blog. I am nervous to write about someone who to me has been more experiential than doctrinal. I have few sophisticated thoughts about her and even fewer coherent thoughts. Mary, far from being a theological concept, or question, or problem - Mary is a person to me, a mother, the mother of God. I have wondered about her and encountered her; I have tried to think about her until I am exhausted; but then I try to love her. And lo, a relationship has been established. A connection, a sense of seeing each other - and so, this blog post is an attempt to talk about the woman I know in Mary, rather than theology about her.
This Sunday we turn our attention to Mary, the mother of God. In the Orthodox Church she is the Theotokos, the Birth-giver of God. In the Roman Catholic Church Mary is Our Sovereign Lady, the Sacré Coeur and Chartres Cathedral in France. While many of us turn our attention to Mary only on the fourth Sunday in Advent, she is perpetually present in our experience of the Christmas story, perpetually present as we live through the church year and the life of Christ. She watches with us his growing up and his ministry, and she weeps with us at the cross, and at the tomb. Mary, who ponders all these things and treasures them in her heart, is present in the story.
Mary is pregnant with God.
How can this sentence be true? How can Mary sit on that uncomfortable donkey, in the middle of the journey to Bethlehem, heaving with pregnancy, with a baby inside, and know that she bears the Christ-child? Mary is pregnant with God.
And if that is not strange enough in our story, Mary chose this. I don't know what to think, most of the time, about the dilemma of God's sovereignty and human choice. Sometimes I think everything is my choice, and sometimes I think nothing is my choice. But where the dilemma comes home to me is Mary's story. She says Yes. She says, "Behold, I am the servant of the Lord. Let it be unto me according to Thy word." If I can be more astonished at anything besides the image of Mary, pregnant with God, it is this: that Mary, herself merely human, could say Thy will be done knowing it would mean utter transformation. Knowing that her insides would be completely rearranged. Knowing that there would be no real return from the journey, no re entrance into normal life. Mary looked into the face of the glorious, terrifying angel, and said, Behold, I am the servant of the Lord. Let be unto me according to Thy word.
This Sunday, we light the fourth candle, and I have to ask: have I said yes to being pregnant with God? Have I agreed, like Mary, to bear the Christ-child into the world? I fear that the answer is only sometimes yes. Sometimes I say yes to God, sometimes I say yes to Advent, to Christmas, to the arrival of Christ in my heart.
But often I say no, or "maybe later," or "It's not very convenient right now..." I do not answer with Mary's words nearly as often as I want to. So this Advent Sunday, I look for Mary. I look for her in the Gospel stories and in the prayers and in my own heart. And today, she helps me answer God. She helps me say, in her words, "Behold, I am the servant of the Lord. Let it be to me according to Thy word."
May we all pray with Mary today, sing with her:
“ My soul magnifies the Lord,
And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.
For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant;
For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed.
For He who is mighty has done great things for me,
And holy is His name.
And His mercy is on those who fear Him
From generation to generation.
He has shown strength with His arm;
He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He has put down the mighty from their thrones,
And exalted the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
And the rich He has sent away empty.
He has helped His servant Israel,
In remembrance of His mercy,
As He spoke to our fathers,
To Abraham and to his seed forever.” (Luke 1.46-55)
Fourth Sunday of Advent
We beseech thee, Almighty God, to purify our consciences by
thy daily visitation, that when thy Son Jesus Christ cometh he
may find in us a mansion prepared for himself; through the
same Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with
thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for
(From the Book of Common Prayer in the Anglican Tradition, 1979 edition)