When you think of Mary the
Mother of Jesus, what is the first word that comes to your mind? I’ll bet that many of you the word was “virgin.” Seldom do we say just Mary. More likely we say, the Virgin Mary or the
Blessed Virgin or just the BVM for short. For some Christians, the perpetual virginity of Mary is an essential article of faith, proving that Christ is truly the Son of God. For others, it sounds absurd and archaic, or even a patriarchal plot to keep women subservient.
When you think of Mary the Mother of Jesus, what is the first word that comes to your mind? I’ll bet that many of you the word was “virgin.” Seldom do we say just Mary. More likely we say, the Virgin Mary or the Blessed Virgin or just the BVM for short. For some Christians, the perpetual virginity of Mary is an essential article of faith, proving that Christ is truly the Son of God. For others, it sounds absurd and archaic, or even a patriarchal plot to keep women subservient.
As the Episcopal preacher Barbara Brown Taylor puts it, all this talk about the Virgin Birth limits our understanding of Mary role and importance. Taylor says,
“Mary is the perpetual virgin. How absurd. The Holy Spirit enters Mary, apparently through her ear, Jesus is born without any screams of agony, utters not a cry, wails not a tear. Mary’s anatomy is not altered in the slightest by giving birth, she stays a size 3. And her marriage to Joseph remains chaste. These assertions do not bring much honor to the labor of mothers and wives, nor does it make Christianity any easier for the 20th century seeker to believe. We confuse science with truth. By focusing on the biological miracle, we ignore the bigger miracle. The Spirit of the living God came and lived among us, shared the struggles of human life and showed us God’s great love for all people and the way to true and eternal life. That’s the miracle. It’s the miracle of God’s incarnation into the real world, not Mary’s exit from reality.”
I’d like to propose a different role for Mary, for the storyline in Luke’s Gospel castes her in the classic tradition as a prophet. Patterns are key to understanding the Bible and the pattern we have here is the same as the calling of a prophet. First, there is the Word of the Lord the calls her at an unexpected time and place. She is startled, just as Moses was at the burning bush. She is then told her vocation of giving birth to the messiah. She asks a question, which every prophet always asks one question to understand their role. “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” She receives an
answer, and finally adopts God’s vision as her own, saying, “Here I am, the servant of the Lord. Let it be with me according to your word.” This is basic pattern is the same as God’s calls to Abraham, Moses, Samuel, Isaiah and many other great prophets. Then following this passage, chapter one of Luke shares with us the Magnificat, a prophetic utterance of Mary.
My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in
God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his
Surely, from now on all generations will call me
for the Mighty
One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their
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.
He has helped his servant Israel,in remembrance of his
according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to
Abraham and to his descendants forever.’
This is a masterful piece of
prophecy, in fact it has been set to more music than any other portion of
scripture. Mary can truly be called a
prophet and has more to offer God and the world than her womb. There is good reason Handel, Bach and Vivaldi
all took a shot at setting this to music. It is simply breathtaking. If I
was preaching this week, I would be tempted to not say a word and just play
Handel, Vivaldi and Bach back-to-back and let everyone meditate on how this
wonderful passage shapes their vision of faith.
Thinking of Mary as a prophet
in her own right helps us rethink her importance. What does Mary call us to do? The image of docilely following God and having
babies doesn’t quite cut it. Mary was a
prophetic Mother. She raised a child to
change the world. The incarnation has
more to it than being impregnated and having a baby come out of the birth
canal. Mary lived the incarnation her
whole life. I would imagine that much of
Jesus’ radical concern for the poor was shaped by his mother. I know my mother shaped my social
consciousness. She had me out at the Vietnam peace
marches by the time I was 5 years old and was always involved in local
politics. We have discussed and debated
peace and justice issues for almost 35 years. Likewise, compassion for the poor was in the breast milk Jesus
I wonder if we can hear God’s
call for ourselves through God’s call to Mary. “We are all meant to be mothers of God,” wrote Meister Eckhart, a
medieval mystic and theologian. “What
good is it to me if this eternal birth of the divine Son takes place
unceasingly but does not take place within myself? And, what good is it to me if Mary is full of
grace and if I am not also full of grace? What good is it to me for the Creator to give birth to his Son if I do
not also give birth to him in my time and my culture? This, then is the fullness of time: When the Son of God is begotten in us. (Meditation with Meister Eckhart, Matthew
Fox, pp.74, 81.)
What is your Magnificat? Can you hear these words and of Mary and
become a mother of God in your own right?
Greetings favored one! The Lord is with you. Be not afraid, for you have found favor with
God. And now…let God fill in the blank!