I called my mother today. Although she stopped long enough to talk with me, she was busy, she said, dismantling her fall decorations in order to make room for Christmas ones.
Her routine is not simple, nor is it complete without hours of grueling work, climbing up and down the stairs to unload boxes of decorations. Numerous strands of garland must be unwrapped, lights checked and replaced, if needed before getting strung in the right places. Angels and nativity scenes emerge. Stockings adorn the stone fireplace waiting until that special night to be filled.
Preparations for Christmas, it turns out, take time and effort. The Christian calendar marks this time as Advent, the season in which we prepare for the coming Messiah. People often use Advent calendars or wreaths to note each day or week, and the color purple signifies the hope we have in the One who comes into this world.
As I prepare for Christmas this year, I’m thinking of Mary, a young girl whose life took a very unexpected turn.
Luke’s gospel invites us to sharpen our focus on Mary.
When she traveled to meet Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, Mary broke into song. Without priestly intervention or a male religious authority, Mary understood the spirit of God’s good news. Echoing Hannah’s song recorded in 1 Samuel 2, Mary must have been shaped not only by the gracious righteousness of God, but also by the women who went before her. Surely Mary knew by heart the ancient stories of Abraham and Moses, was familiar with leaders such as David and Solomon. Yet, when Mary spoke of her faith in God, revealing her understanding of God, she used the words of Hannah, another woman who played an integral part in God’s grand narrative by mothering Samuel.
Mary’s song, often called Mary’s Magnificat in Luke 1, conveys the perspective underpinning Jesus’ actions in the gospels. It is a theology of reversals, where the strong are made weak, and the weak become strong, where the powerful are brought low and the hungry are filled. We can imagine Mary knew the lows all too well. She had been on the receiving end of social systems that disregarded groups of people: women, the poor, the sick, the hungry.
Her positive response to Gabriel surely was motivated by what she understood about God. From Hannah she knew God’s dream for humanity included freedom and liberation for all people, not just for a select few. She understood faith in God meant trusting that God would be faithful, working with God to make life more abundant for all. Mary, the lowly young woman, was the perfect person to give birth to God’s desire for humanity; in her risky decision, she showed the courage necessary to choose the better way. Mary had no idea what was in store for her as Jesus’ mother, and yet she was willing to take a chance on life with God. Her determination to cooperate without knowing the exact contours of the journey provide us today with an excellent example of what is required of us. Whatever the road entails, we can be sure it will be bumpy, because following Jesus means going into the potholes and crevices of social injustice in order to make the rough places smooth.
See more about Mary and other women in the Bible in our book, If Eve Only Knew. (It makes a perfect stocking stuffer and is available through Chalice Press or Amazon!)