Son of Mary
Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; December 20, 2020
4th Sunday of Advent
Fred Craddock, one of the most influential preachers of the past century, shared a story about something that occurred when he was a young preacher, still wet behind the ears. It just so happened that he was invited to the “coming out” party for a young girl on her 16th birthday. What a shindig it was—a beautiful home, a lovely girl with a lovely dress, food, music—a wonderful celebration. From a well-to-do family, this young girl had the world on a string—a future filled with endless possibilities. A short time later, it just so happened that Craddock had an invitation to another home, to visit another young girl—she, too, was 16 years of age. But when Craddock approached her house, he was taken aback by the scene before him. There she stood on a rickety old porch, no shoes, a baby cradled on her hip, with a face that looked as if it had already seen half a lifetime. From a poor, down-and-out family, her future, and the future of her baby, looked awfully dim. Craddock recalled feeling such sadness as he made his way back home that afternoon. He could not help but compare the circumstances of the two girls with whom he had recently spent time, and, as he made his way down the road, he said aloud to the heavens, “I don’t get it, God. Do you love that other girl, the one who lives on the “right” side of the tracks more than you love this one? It sure looks like it.” And after a while, Craddock was certain he heard God answer. “Fred, O Fred,” the voice of God spoke, “Fred, are you stupid?”
In this life, who is blessed and who is not? It is an age-old question that we ponder from time to time. Into our ponderings, walks none other than Mary, the mother of Jesus. Mary is a young girl, living in a poor, nondescript town, likely 12 or 13 years of age. She is betrothed to Joseph, which means, among other things, that the bride price has been paid. By all accounts, they are “married” but Mary will continue to live with her family for a year before the marriage can be consummated. Mary is living in an “in between” time, caught between her life as a daughter and her life as a wife.
One day, quite unexpectedly, the angel Gabriel appears with a message for this young girl with no outstanding pedigree. Gabriel comes to announce a special event—a baby will be born. But wait! Something is oddly familiar about this. It sounds a lot like the stories told of long ago—the foretelling of the birth of Ishmael, the birth of Isaac, the birth of Samson. It is the same pattern, isn’t it? The coming birth is proclaimed, the name of the child is given, and then something of the child’s future is foretold. But this is the coming Messiah so why this hearkening back to birth announcements of old? Could it be that the world needs to remember that the saving work God was up to back then is the same saving work God is up to now?[i]
During our journey through Advent, we have considered different ways of knowing Jesus—as the Son of Man, the Son of God, and the Son of God’s Love. Today we consider Jesus as the Son of Mary. Let me be clear, nowhere in Scripture is Jesus specifically addressed as Jesus, Son of Mary. Yet, Mary is favored by God and called to do an extraordinary thing. In fact, Mary is no less “called” than is Moses or Jeremiah. Have you ever thought of Mary as a woman “called” by God to do a prophetic act? Honestly, have you given her much thought at all?
In the book, Mary in the New Testament, Roman Catholic and Protestant scholars work together to examine what the churches have had to say about Mary over the years. [ii] The authors confess that neither tradition has done Mary justice. The Catholic tradition gave her the title, “Mother of God” and made her into a sort of goddess. While Protestants may not be guilty of putting Mary up on a pedestal and denying her full humanity, we are hardly innocent. In our haste to deny “all things Catholic,” we have thrown out the proverbial baby with the bath water. In truth, Mary makes us so uncomfortable that we only bring her out this time of year. We dust her off, shine her up, dress her in blue, and have her smile that sweet, ethereal smile while she holds baby Jesus in her arms. Then, in another week, quick as a flash, we stick her back in the closet until next year. For us, Mary has become little more than a prop in the manger scene. In our determination not to adore Mary, not to pray to her, and certainly not to bow to her, we have gone to the opposite extreme. We ignore her. It seems to me that Mary may have found favor with God, but neither Catholics nor Protestants have done her any real favors since. Nevertheless, could it be that Mary still has something to teach us on our pilgrimage with her Son?
Mary finds favor with God—not because of any special status of her own—but because God chose her—plain and simple. “Greetings, favored one, the Lord is with you,” the angel Gabriel says. “The Lord is with you.” These are the same words spoken to mighty warriors like Gideon and to godly prophets like Moses and Jeremiah when they are called by God to do extraordinary things. “The Lord is with you.” Following these words, I imagine there is a great pause…and then…and then…the commission. Mary is called by God and what is it she must do? Mary’s mission? Mary’s prophetic vocation? Motherhood.
“How can this be?” When Mary objects (as all prophets seem to do) she is reassured that God is at work and, ultimately, will be glorified when the Holy Spirit overshadows her with the resulting birth of the Son of God. If these words of assurance are not enough though, like Gideon, Mary is given a sign. The angel Gabriel directs her attention to Elizabeth—old, barren, and in her second trimester! You see nothing is impossible with God. Mary is called and she humbly responds: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Mary joins her voice to those of Abraham, Samuel, and Isaiah: “Here am I.”
Mary becomes the Amma Mother of Jesus. Favored by God, and obedient to God’s call, what wonders she witnesses. She is there when the Magi come from the east to wonder at this king. She is there as a refugee in Egypt, keeping her baby safe. She is there in Jerusalem when her 12-year-old son goes missing. She is there at the wedding in Cana, prompting her Son to make a wine that is oh-so-fine. She is there at the foot of the cross seeing what no mother should ever see. She is there when the news breaks, “Christ has risen! He has risen, indeed!” After his ascension, she is there praying along with the rest of the disciples. She is there, waiting for her next assignment, her next vocation: to continue the work of her Son.
Whenever I pause to ponder the life of Mary, I have renewed respect for this precious woman, who, as a young girl, appears to have little to offer to the world. Except herself! Turns out, that is all God wants from Mary. It is all God wants from any of us! In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
[i] Brent A. Strawn, The Lectionary Commentary, ed. Roger E. Van Harn, 286
[ii] By Byron L. Rohrig, pastor of First United Methodist Church in Bloomington, Indiana printed in Christian Century, November 26, 1986, p. 1062