The Trouble with Mary – Advent 3


Luke 1.39

+ May I speak in the name …

“Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb”

Queen of Heaven – Absence/Presence

As we journey through Advent, we acknowledge the various characters who point the way to the coming Messiah; The Prophets, John the Baptiser, and today we come to Mary;

But who are you Mary, and what would you say to us today? You are so deeply a part of this Advent story – so much a part of our hope. The generations have indeed called you blessed, but some have been wary and concerned, some have felt uncomfortable with the way you have been elevated to heavenly heights, and some have reacted with concern and lowered you to the status of any other person, a mere carrier of this Child of hope

Are you another young woman either deified on an unobtainable pedestal; a recipient of our projections and adulations, a woman whose authentic voice is lost in glory and adoration; or a woman whose voice is lost by ignorant ignoring; oppressed by those voices that yet fear the wisdom and strength of women?

What would you think about what we have done to your name and your legacy?

Who are you Mary?

Mary – Michael L Radcliffe, Artbizness

Are we to believe that you came from a poor family and were barely into your teens at the time of your betrothal to Joseph? And what did actually happen?
Becoming pregnant out of wedlock would have made you a social outcast and without Joseph’s decision to go through with the marriage you risked being stoned to death or banished from your community, with slavery or prostitution becoming the most likely options for survival.

Mary’s Flight – Absence/Presence

And then, soon after the birth of your child, you became a refugee, fleeing from persecution and an army bent on the genocide of children in the area.


*3 Mary your life does not match the romantic images created of you; in fact we see your story mirrored, in our modern times, by those who face uncertainty, marginalisation and exclusion…

slide04 In this time of Advent-waiting Christians we look at your example; mother of Jesus in your willingness to be open to God. Mary you endured and reflected on the deeper meaning of all you lived through. You found hope, peace, love and joy in the midst of adversity.

How do we understand you Mary today?

Protestants remain uneasy about your exaltation, whilst Catholics embrace you, elevate you higher than you might have ever imagined….?

And the Orthodox church….? (A different approach, and to them we will return)

Yet to both of these, I wonder if what we think of you, says something about what really think of Jesus too?

slide05 Because Mary, the church has always—even through head-scratching bewilderment—said that your son was fully God and fully Human. Fully human? That means from you then doesn’t it – of you? Your DNA is in our coming Messiah; you influenced Jesus; taught him, loved him, guided his first steps, he would have followed you through Galilean markets, seen the ways you interacted with others, would have learned from you, mimicked you.….

Have we underestimated you Mary, (and Joseph too?). Could it be that you are both more than side characters?

So… ‘Hail Mary, Full of Grace, blessed art though among women…’ maybe there is more to this—more to you—than we might assume… and maybe the song in your heart which call to us; inspires us, teaches us and provokes us still, also tells us something about your G-d and your Son?

slide06 You sang this song—‘the magnificat’—of protest, of outrage, anger and rage; a song of liberation, vision and hope. You understood something so profound about the Advent of God, an Advent that would literally turn the world upside down,

He has brought down mighty kings from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly.
53 He has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away with empty hands.

slide07 You saw what we still struggle to see clearly, a song of hope born in the hearts of all mothers (and fathers) who care passionately for their children, and the children of this world. And yes – you were the same mother who raised Jesus, your song was his song….

How can we believe that God was beyond this?, Surely God was in this, right at the heart.

So friends, this Thursday was the Lesser Feast of the Conception of Mary, and Vincent and I spent most of the day it seems doing ‘Mary things’.

It’s interesting to not that in the Roman church the celebration is of the Immaculate Conception.

This is a different teaching, exclusive to the Roman Catholic Church, which tried to deal with the doctrine of Original Sin – the teaching that we are all born sinful, passed from one generation to the next.

I personally have many problems with this doctrine. But for the early church this was a problem. Biology and cosmology at that time understood that a man truly carried a ‘seed’ of a child, which was planted in a woman. So for Christ to be born sinless, (which the church upheld), then the father bit was sorted, but the mother bit was more tricky. And so the tradition and doctrine developed that Mary herself was conceived as sinless; Biologically as we expect, but by a grace of God, without the ‘taint’ of Original Sin. For the earlier church this helped deal with a very significant problem of how can Jesus be born to a sinful woman?

Annunciation, Fra Angelico, San Marco Convent

So Mary, did the “Hail Mary” – (that greeting!), turn a humble young woman into an unassailable deity? Has the church’s adoration and need for ‘purity’ removed you from the everyday messy and broken world in which we all live, stumble, falter and occasionally fly?

And what do we think sin is anyway? The bad things we do, or is it deeper; a brokenness which seems to reside in all things? A brokenness over which we sometime have no control, (like tsunamis, disease or the earthquakes of depression, suicide and shame? )

Sin or Brokeness? What this means to us, might tell us something about how we understand the incarnation too.

slide09 Mary, you said “yes”, when so many of us would have said “no”. In trust and in hope you embraced the undefended. You saw faith as Process – the only way you could know was to enter in. You said yes to the impossible, to the unknown, to that which we cannot contain. Thunder entered you… and the world was transformed.

Annunciation, John Collier

But does that take you beyond human? Above our sinful ways – or does it take you to something truly human? The birth of your vulnerable son suggests something very powerful. His incarnation, his ‘made flesh’ pictures G-d rolling up G-d’s sleeves and getting stuck into the dirt and mess of our lives. Emmanuel, G-d with us… not above us. Weakness and Fragility at the source of all life

slide11Which is where your Magnificat emerges from…; a hungry expectation that G-d hears the tears and yearning of her people; that G-d will redeem and set people free; not a personal thing, but a corporate social political thing; Mary, you knew your history, you understood the prophets, your heard the ache of your people, “how long Adonai, how long?”.

So today, how can we understand your song as our song?

slide12 In the Orthodox tradition they call you…. ‘Theotokos’ – God-Bearer.. Mary, you carried God… when said “yes” to the unknown, the world heard a resounding ‘no!’ A ‘no!’ to isolation, to self-service, to arrogance and greed. A ‘no!’ to indifference and fear, a no to the inevitability of poverty and exploitation.

We do ourselves a disservice to dismiss you Mary too quickly; our discomfort of you—in reverence for Christ—carries the danger of actually de-humanising Christ.. to make Christ less than human, (merely a God!)

And to dismiss the feminine in G-d’s story? To dismiss the combining of motherhood and divinity, the mystery of birth – its joy and its terror. Again, we lose the connection of faith to life, to earth, to body – we lose something of the wonder.

Yet, our over-reverence surely does the same thing; taking your feisty, revolutionary, (probably very angry), teenage zeal and turned you into an unreachable deity; an idolised virgin. We have taken your manifesto of political insurrection and instead made a glory of eternal purity!

What have we done? Ours is a small vision; not conversant with the lives of the many bold, wise, heroic and strong women we know; women who are embodied; who bring wisdom into the world with grace, and love, and style!

Icon of the Mother of God of Mt. Athos, “Sweet Kissing”

Yet we can listen again; If you Mary are the Theotokos, the God-Bearer; then are we all God-bearers too?; are we all like you, Mary? Giving birth to Christ in our time and place; recognising our own imprint, our DNA, and our culture as we seek to give birth to the one who turns our lives upside down.

Mary, Mother of God, Star of the Sea, God-Bearer, Activist, Dreamer, Lover of the Impossible – pray for us, because you are one of us; may we love humanity, love the earth, love G-d, and love your dream – until it is made real.




Mary Visits Elizabeth

39 In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 40 where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42 and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43 And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44 For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be[e] a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”

Mary’s Song of Praise

46 And Mary[f] said,

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
47     and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
50 His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

56 And Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home.

Part of the Gospel Series