MARY: THE MARRIAGE OF INNOCENCE AND REVERENCE
Luke 1: 39-56
A national drugstore chain has started a new ad campaign in the past year saying they are on the corner of “happy and healthy.” Often people like to pair words like that which are descriptive. You’ve heard them before; we often pair “deep and wide;” “young and sweet;” “tall and lanky.” There are also some teenagers in our world today who parents might describe as being at the corner of “attitude and anger.” That is, their attitude is bad, and their anger is almost constant. Attitude and anger can create explosive or destructive situations. There are, then, others teenagers who do not exhibit those kind destructive of qualities that, when acted on, can lead to tragic news headlines. Good kids often fly under our radar, doing much of what they are told to do, doing the schoolwork that is required, and starting to understand responsibility. Then there is the nearly perfect example. We call her Mary. She is often called the Virgin Mary, or the Blessed Mother. But I will call her, with the deepest respect, “Mary, the one filled with both innocence and reverence.”
First of all, I think God made a magnificent choice. To be able to find a young woman who would not only consent to his request, but one who was brought up in a home that embodied the qualities God hoped for in a mother; well, God found a gem. Although little if anything is known of Mary, I can imagine that God was looking for someone who was loved as close to unconditionally as possible. God’s love, especially shown through the everlasting covenants, is unconditional; Dr. Greg Baer calls it “real love.” Dr. Baer, (no relation to our Counseling Center Director) was a medical doctor who had been raised with conditional love; with parents who said, at least in his mind, “We’ll love you best when you become a doctor. We want you to become what we want you to become.” So he believed there was no other choice. He became a doctor; and he disliked it; he grew rich; he and his family had everything monetarily, but there was tension among them all in part because the family only learned and demonstrated conditional love: loving only when other persons did what they asked. Such limited love is coercive. It says: “I’ll love you if you buy me everything on my Christmas list”; “I will love you, but you have to always be home for Christmas.” Coercion; messages that leave no room for free will; God does not love that way. God gives every one of us free will; for we can only love God back freely if we have freedom, understand? In order to get love freely given and unconditionally offered, God offers love freely given and unconditionally offered. What we do with that love either pleases God, hurts God, or saddens God. This last week events took place in Connecticut that broke the heart of God. When God gave us free will, I can imagine our Creator hoping; hoping and watching the choices we make. Sometimes our choices hurt God; sometimes our choices hurt others. But at other times, we join people like Mary by pleasing and honoring God.
So ages ago, first God must have found a family that loved unconditionally. That’s what God wanted the Son to learn. Second, in spite of the socially unpleasant situation around Nazareth when word got out that Mary was expecting a child before she and Joseph, her fiancé, were married; Mary’s family must have shown unconditional love along with an abiding faith in God. If God was going to carry out the magnificent plan, there would need to be prior work done in the heart of this young woman. As Jesus described in the parable of the sower (which is really about preparing people’s hearts, not about agriculture) some hearts can be like stone; some can be filled with weeds; and some can be receptive. If a heart has turned to stone then it is only with the right circumstances, with prayer, and God’s gentle but persuasive Holy Spirit, that sometimes “hearts of stone begin to beat.” Charles Dickens described such an event when he created a man named “Scrooge” in “A Christmas Carol.” There also are people whose hearts filled with weeds. Today the weeds can be terrorist manifestoes gleaned from the internet, or the enticing but misguided advice from school friends, or people trying to imitate a hero or villain from the fantasy world of films or video games. The weeds can keep good seeds, dare we say the seeds of the Gospel, from taking root. But for some, some who have had good parenting, a good peer group, a life of faith, and a prayer life, even one seed planted by God can grow ten fold, twenty fold, or a hundred fold. Mary was a least a one hundred fold case. She must have had love; she must have had good guidance; she must have had faith in God instilled in her in a way that made her receptive to an angel instead of a tempter. What an incredible story; what a magnificent choice. Of course the first thing that had to happen with this girl, who scholars are sure was just around the age of 14, was her consent to have a child. When I hear about a 14 year old who is with child, I generally shudder. “Too young” I think to myself. But the first century was a different time. Young men who would marry were always older than 14, but it was customary to marry a younger teenager if her parents and his parents thought it was a good match. It was never just a choice between two young people as it is today. The groom was generally older to reassure the father of the bride that he could provide for and protect his daughter. Young women were chosen so they would hopefully have many years to bear and rear children. Mary was a pure young woman, ready to be married when she and her parents were ready. An arrangement had already been made to marry Joseph, a man of more years than Mary. But this young woman, like some young women of today, had a mixture of reverence and innocence in her. In her reverence for God, she also had passion for justice; and like a young heroine, she used her voice to speak out against injustice. She had a conversation with an angel who told who her son of this unusual collaboration, would become. Did she know he would fight for justice and try to bring down the proud? Could a young girl have come up with her great declaration that we call “The Magnificat,” or did she get a holy message from God about who the Son would be and what he would do? Even in her innocence, she could discern a voice to be followed, apart from one to be rejected. And even her reverence for God did not mean she would be silent i
n the world. As Mary said “yes” to perhaps the most extraordinary request in history, she was also empowered, filled by the same Holy Spirit that created life in her womb. Hers was not just a new life that was begun; hers was a child who would bring new life! But such an event would not be received well in her day any more than in our day. Her parents, trying to create a supportive nest away from Nazareth, sent her to be counseled by a relative: a woman of later age who also was well grounded in prayer and in God’s Word. Her name was Elizabeth, and together with her husband Zechariah, she would soon give birth to a boy we would call John the Baptist. What a perfect mentor and supportive environment for the Son of God.
With Mary, it seems that God found innocence and reverence, unconditional love, someone who had been taught about God, and someone who found her voice when the Holy Spirit empowered her. Such an event, such a collaboration, changed the world. Oh, and about Dr. Baer: he got some good counseling and learned how to break the habits of conditional love. Going to the brink of suicide, he came back from it and began to practice and teach-not medicine- but unconditional love. He calls it “Real Love.” And that has made all the difference.
Long ago, a union between a God of love and a young woman who said yes created the one we call “Savior; Christ the Lord.” God is still raising up preachers and chaplains; teachers and nurses and even doctors; construction works, fast food servers, and administrators who march to the beat of a different drum. Like the gift the little drummer boy gave to God, they gave God their heart. Give God your heart this year if you haven’t done so already. Can you imagine what tidings of great joy Heaven will have if people really do that? May the extraordinary mother who said yes; a step father who did the same; and the Holy child who came into the world long ago, inspire you this Christmas to say “yes” to God.
Jeffrey A. Sumner December 23, 2012