On Mother Mary
December 17, 2023
Luke 1: 26-38
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.
Today’s sermon is titled, On Mother Mary.
I am veering us away from the lectionary this week, because the lectionary keeps us focused on John the Baptizer for the second week in a row and there are just too many interesting characters in this narrative to consider as we approach Christmas. So today we take time to consider Mary, mother of Jesus.
We see Mary depicted most often in artwork as the young mother, the madonna with child. We also see Mary in the marble sculpture by Michaelangelo known as The Pieta, (see below) where a life-size Mary is grieving as she holds the body of her grown son, draped across her lap after he was lowered from the cross. Between these two depictions, one as a young mother, so hopeful and protective, and the other as a mother bereft following the violent and premature death of her firstborn son, we can imagine the magnitude of the many sacrifices that Mary set in motion as she answered the angel Gabrielle, saying, “Let it be with me, according to your word.”
While on a summer camping trip about ten years ago, my family and I were in Berlin, a town in northern New Hampshire, at a St. Vincent’s DuPaul’s thrift store when I found a madonna and child that captured my attention and my imagination; I purchased it straight away for three dollars and fifty cents.
What draws me to the particular piece is the tenderness of Mary’s gesture, the absence of color and, mostly, how I feel when I look at her. I see her every morning and I am reminded, over and over again, what love and devotion to God can look like. I am reminded that when much is offered, much is received. Mary was asked to give her life over to nurturing another life that life would change the world.
There has been a great emphasis on Mary being a virgin and an even greater emphasis on the nature of conception, being immaculate, perfect, and free from sin, not as a result of human biology but the result of divine intervention. This can be a stumbling block for our faith. I found a beautifully articulated piece to hold onto this week, a piece that may prevent our stumbling. In one of his daily devotions, Father Richard Rohr quotes Benedictine author Kathleen Norris. Norris proposes “Mary’s ‘virginity’ has less to do with biology than with her stance towards God and life itself.”
What do we really know of Mary’s “stance towards God and life itself”? There are two sources of information. The first is what scholars have gathered about Mary’s upbringing. Mary is the niece of the Priest Zechariah and his wife, Elizabeth, parents of John the Baptist. Zechariah is of the tribe Abijah and he lives in the “hill country of Judea” and distinctly apart from other members of the priestly class that, in this time period of the second temple, are very much concentrated in Jerusalem. Zechariah had a very different kind of ministry among what my New Testament professor, Rev. Dr. Mark Lawson, described as a community characterized by abject poverty. Mary grew up serving this same community, helping in the household of her aunt and uncle; she was steeped in a life of service and devotion. Knowing Mary’s background informs us as we look to the second and most revealing insight into Mary’s heart and mind, her response to the angel’s announcement. The scriptures say that Mary replies, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”
We need to spend some time here, here at this precise point where Mary, in essence, empties herself of her own will and, in doing so, creates sacred space for divine action. This point where one’s identity drops away, leaving space for goodness, for God-ness, to find expression…this point has a name. The Trappist monk Thomas Merton named this “point vierge [the virgin point].” He describes this point as being accessible to us all, at the very center of our beings. Merton writes, “It is a point untouched [by sin and] by illusion, a point of pure truth . . . which belongs entirely to God. . . .”
This point vierge, this virgin point, this is the point where who we have been breaks free of every limitation and possibilities are suddenly endless. This point vierge, this virgin point, is the point where we may realize as truth what the scriptures say, that “Nothing is impossible with God.”
I love Mary for her courage. I love her for her vulnerability, her humility, and her willingness to empty herself so she could be filled with the Holy Spirit. I can not imagine a more perfect way for God to, literally, break in to the world of humankind than through an act of a woman offering her life and her all, to create a body that would be the temple for the infinite spirit of God.
According to the scriptures, Mary readied herself when the angel appeared to her. She answered, “Let it be to me according to your word.” In the words of Father Richard Rohr, Mary proceeds—as we must do in life—making her commitment without knowing much about what it will entail or where it will lead. How could the young mother Mary have known what the older mother Mary would have to endure? In the same way, we can not know what the future will hold for each of us, but we can face the future with the assurance that we are not alone; we have one another in this loving community of faith, bound by a common love that we call God.
In closing, I pray for the courage of Mother Mary when I find myself in times of trouble. I pray for the willingness to set aside my own sense of knowing and listen to the divine words of wisdom, words that carry enough assurance that I, too, may answer, “Let it be.” I pray that, though we are parted as a nation, that there is still a chance that we may see. I am grateful for reminders of Mary, wherever they are found, assuring us that it is moments of tenderness, moments of heartbreak, seasons of joy and seasons of sadness that shape us the most. In all the seasons of our lives, if we allow, God is our companion. So be it. Amen.
https://cac.org/receiving-the-gift-2020-12-08/ Richard Rohr’s daily meditations
Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander
Infinite Love we call God, I pray your guidance within us through the challenges of our lives. We have been told that nothing can separate us from your everlasting love; help us to be open and trusting enough to experience that as truth, and as grace. May we remember Mary in this season and may we gain inspiration from her example of emptying herself that she may be filled with the Holy Spirit of God. May we, too, be willing to make room within our hearts and minds for the light of Christ to be born anew within us. This I pray in Jesus’s name. Amen.
I leave you with these words from James Paul McCartney, 1969:
When I find myself in times of trouble, Mother Mary comes to me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be
And in my hour of darkness she is standing right in front of me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be
And when the broken hearted people living in the world agree
There will be an answer, let it be
For though they may be parted, there is still a chance that they will see
There will be an answer, let it be