Mary, the Mother of God
After Christmas Day we no longer hear Christmas carols on radio or elsewhere. However, the church reminds us that Christmas is not a one-day-event but an ongoing part of our lives. Today, with Mary, the Mother of God-become-human, we ponder what Christ’s birth means for humanity every day of the year. Rather than gathering around the manger like the shepherds, we gather with the one who transforms us into brothers and sisters – each bearing God’s image. We are reminded that each day is Christmas where we can encounter God in the people we know and love and those we find it hard to love.
In today’s gospel, God reaches down into the social fray to the victims of empire and society which stretches all the way to embracing a group of shepherds who were kept at arm’s length by those of higher status and tolerated as an economic necessity. As we begin this new year, we see the shepherds who were silenced by society finding their voices. They are the early prototypes of the disciples and evangelists that followed. They were emboldened by being included in God’s plan for peace. They found one whose circumstances was as humble as theirs. Though once invisible, they were the first to witness God’s work and speak of what they witnessed as they returned to their homes.
On this solemnity, Mary the Mother of God, we witness to the God who comes in dependence and loving vulnerability. Today, Mary models peacemaking and one who could not be silenced. Many people pray that she intercede for us that we might walk in the way of peace, we fail to see that it is up to us to the hard work of peacemaking. The 14th century mystic, Meister Eckhart, challenges us to reflect on Mary as peacemaker. He writes: ‘What good is it to me if Mary gave birth to the Son of God fourteen hundred years ago and I do not also give birth to the Son of God in my time and in my culture? We are all meant to be Mothers of God.’ If that is true, we must ask ourselves what Mary can teach us about mothering the God of Peace in our materialistic and technological society. In Mary, we see the intervention of the feminine into a worldview and world politics. The intervention of gentle strength, patient endurance, contemplation, cooperation, and nonviolence is absolutely crucial if we are to avoid suicide by war, or nuclear and environmental catastrophe.
To do this we need to set aside the rational analysis, logic, and fear of the unknown as Mary did by embracing intuition, feeling and faith. We know what rational arguments and commonsense can lead us, e.g., that weapons keep the world at peace, that first strike arsenals are logical responses to conflict, that our national security is primary to that of others. Can we choose alternatives that make for peace by seeing every person as a sister or brother whether in Moscow, Yemen, or Redfern? Is the rational the only reasonable response to God-become-human in our culture. With Mary, we are asked to give birth or enflesh this God every day of our lives. Will we answer, ‘be it done unto me?’ At the Cross, Jesus entrusted all sons and daughters to her and she embraced them as her own when he said, ‘Woman, behold your son; son, behold your mother.’ This quote has real significance for us. It was not just about Mary or John, but about us – the love and care in God’s heart extending to all people and the earth. But how do we respond to the question, who is my mother? My brother? My sister? Can we respond from the heart that the people of South Africa, Palestine, Russia, Libya, China, Israel are all our mother, brothers, and sisters and members of the same family? We cannot give birth to the God of Peace until all the faces of the earth become precious in our sight. We must make choices. To choose the intuitive over the rational, refuse selfish pursuits and serve the poor, choose humility over domination, accept the cross over personal comfort, share God's gifts with the whole human family, leap with abandon into what others see as impossible, forgive without limit and love unconditionally, look in the face of each human being and see our brother, our sister. Like Mary, let us mother the new creation.
Anglican bishop, Philip Huggins in a recent meditation on Christmas (‘True love never coerces: a meditation for Christmas 2022’ Pearls and Irritations December 22, 2022) asks us to imagine something beyond the commonsense. Huggins writes,
‘Imagine if there was even one day when no one on the planet was killed by someone else.
Imagine if we did not need to pray for those who die today, violently and unprepared.
Imagine if the United Nations members convened in deep silence for meditation and then resolved to rid the planet of all weapons of mass destruction.
Imagine, imagine, imagine.
Imagine if the brilliantly conceived Agreements to prevent catastrophic climate change and to protect the beautiful biological diversity of God’s creation (UNCOP27 and UNCOP15), were fully implemented!
Imagine if the relentless cruelty being inflicted on the people of Ukraine, mid-winter, was to cease and the young people of both nations were to partner in rebuilding all the homes, hospitals, schools and power plants that have been psychopathically destroyed…
Imagine if everyone and every nation actually lived by Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as regards freedom of religion.
Imagine if everyone had the freedom to search without loveless coercion. A freedom to either have a religion or not; to change religion, even to change back or change again in the personal quest for beauty, truth and kindness.
Imagine the referendum on the Voice is passed by a wonderful majority of the Australian people.
Imagine if we all lived the prayer Jesus gives us, especially “forgive us… as we forgive”, so we can better choose to heal, never to harm’. Maybe it is a way of pondering with Mary for alternatives in our world at the beginning of this new year.
I am reading a book by Jerusha Matsen Neal, The Overshadowed Preacher: Mary, the Spirit, and the Labor of Proclamation. There is nothing passive about today’s Solemnity. Neal speaks of the power of Mary’s song - the Magnificat - which ‘stands as a critique of any codification of tradition that would set up the powerful on thrones or silence the lowly” (117). Mary is a woman who will not be silenced. A few years ago when I was in court with four other people for participating in a nonviolent protest against children in immigration detention in the office of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnball, one woman said afterwards, ‘As a mother, I have to speak up for those mothers whose voices have been silenced, who fear every day for the safety of their kids. How can we not do everything we can to end this violence even it that means risking arrest.’ She was not to be silenced. Knowing something of the heart of women who care enables us to imagine Mary in a contemporary and creative way. This revolutionary woman ‘is not passive and silent’ like many women who have the power and imagination to envision a world where the lowly are recognized as having value. They are determined to structure a world where food and wealth are not hoarded by a few rich, hetero, white men, but shared equitably among those who work for it. Those who try to make themselves big by cutting others down find their thoughts scattered and impotent. Berta Carceres, murdered in 2016, fought for many causes: for indigenous peoples to have control over their own territories; for the rights of women in a patriarchal world; for LGBTQ rights in a macho culture; for authentic democracy; for an end to tyranny by transnational capital; and an end to US empire. She said, ‘they fear us because we are fearless.’ She knew that she would not die of old age because she spoke too much truth to too much power.
Our world is facing unprecedented challenges from a pandemic, from inequality, from environmental disasters, and from long-standing racism. This is an all-hands-on-deck moment for humanity if we’re going to pull through. So, we need everyone – women especially – to be equipped to reach their highest potential to get us out of this mess. Part of the reason our human society is in this sorry state is because we have not availed ourselves of the human resources of half the population – women who are black, coloured, Indigenous, lesbian or trans.
Pope Francis in his 2023 Peace Message today says, ‘When tragic events seem to overwhelm our lives, and we feel plunged into a dark and difficult maelstrom of injustice and suffering, we are likewise called to keep our hearts open to hope and to trust in God, who makes himself present, accompanies us with tenderness, sustains us in our weariness and, above all, guides our path.’ He calls us ‘to remain alert and not to withdraw into fear, sorrow or resignation, or to yield to distraction or discouragement.’ He continues, that we need to ‘let our hearts be changed by our experience of the crisis, to let God, at this time in history, transform our customary criteria for viewing the world around us. We can no longer think exclusively of carving out space for our personal or national interests; instead, we must think in terms of the common good, recognizing that we belong to a greater community, and opening our minds and hearts to universal human fraternity. We cannot continue to focus simply on preserving ourselves; rather, the time has come for all of us to endeavour to heal our society and our planet, to lay the foundations for a more just and peaceful world, and to commit ourselves seriously to pursuing a good that is truly common.’ Here is a dream of a new world that begins in deep love and devotion to the liberating God of her people.
Pope Francis in criticising today's neo-capitalism where more is better, where profit takes priority over caring for workers and employees, where survival of the fittest is lauded, where bigger is better, where power is prized, where conquest in war shows greatness, we see in this woman that less is more, that small is bigger, that vulnerability/powerlessness is real power, where dialogue is preferable to conquest, poverty is a real blessing in God’s world. Closeness with God calls forth human responsibility in sympathising with God to resist whatever degrades people or creation, to have God’s passion for the world’s flourishing which begins with the neighbour in need. Christians who forget the motherly in God will also forget the brotherly and sisterly as well.
God of all the world’s children.
May the killing of innocents stop.
Forgive our own failure to shelter your children from death.
Give us the strength and courage
to weep for those who suffer and to resist all oppression.
Give us a holy determination for saving the lives
of those who are deemed expendable.
Empower us to boldly live the good news of Christmas.
May joy come and we sing with all “Peace on earth!”
(edited from OutinScripture)
Blessed are you who bear the light
Jan Richardson (janrichardson.com)
Blessed are you
who bear the light
in unbearable times,
to its endurance
amid the unendurable,
who bear witness
to its persistence
when everything seems
Blessed are you
the light lives,
the brightness blazes—
an altar where
in the deepest night
can be seen
the fire that
shines forth in you
in unaccountable faith,
in stubborn hope,
in love that illumines
every broken thing
© Jan Richardson from Circle of Grace: A Book of Blessings for the Seasons. janrichardson.com
(Originally published in the Winter 2017 issue of HOPE magazine.)