We live in a world fixated on popular figures found in music, film, and TV. We exalt them as some form of modern hero. In fact I once heard a young person assert that the modern pop stars are on equal plain with the ancient gods of Greece, or Egypt, or some other pantheon. In fact, some even suggest they are on par to great historical figures that have shaped the modern world. With all this attention, these pop stars somehow think that gives them some moral authority or intellectual wisdom, for which those who esteem them will ponder and find fascinating. But they all fall away as time goes by, and new “idols” rise to distract us from the normalcy of life.
I often ponder what Mary would make of all the fuss made about her over the years. This simple girl, blessed to be the mother of our Lord, destined to see him crucified on the cross, and able to see him raised again, confirming everything the angel told her. You have to admire her resilience. Betrothed to a man many years older than her, pregnant before their marriage, marked by cultural shame with a man who wasn’t sure he wanted her, and having visions of angels telling her it was the messiah she carried. It must have been a tough gig. Imagine the isolation she must have endured, having to go and live with Elizabeth for a time, before eventually reuniting with Joseph and journeying to Bethlehem for a census.
The visit by the shepherds would have been just as big a surprise as the visits from the Magi. All of which she ponders on her heart as she watches the child grow into a man. But her story doesn’t end with the birth. She pops into his story periodically. Asking him to produce wine at a weddings. Showing up with Jesus’ brothers and sisters trying to pull him away from his task. Then at his trial and then at the cross, where he hands her to John to now care for in his place. Mary continues to appear, pondering the Christmas story, and trying to make sense of what her son is doing. Her distress at his death is only surpassed as she hears of him raised again. Then all that she saw and heard, finally makes sense.
All the machinations around Mary over the centuries since seems to have made more of her than the Biblical evidence suggests. It seems we have done to her what we do to others in the spot light. We want to believe there is more than what we see or hear. But this is the amazing thing about Mary’s story. God takes an ordinary, young girl, and does an amazing thing through her for us. It is her love for her son that raised him, protected him, nurtured him, shaped him, and helped make him into the man he became. God chose wisely and intentionally, knowing that Mary was the one who could do this for Him. This was no random act. It was God who did this, and he used Mary to achieve it.
The truth is that God uses ordinary people to do amazing things. He’s not interested in creating rock stars or pop idols. He finds blessing in the ordinary. He uses the mundane to do extraordinary things. He uses you to bear witness to the things he has done, and will do, not just in the past but now in your own life. The real message we have from Mary is just that. God can take any one of us and do amazing things. And like Mary he invites us to ponder these things. To journey with Jesus as he unfolds his life into ours. To be his witnesses to the desire God has to become intimately involved in the life of others. This is the real message Mary leaves, to believe that God can take the ordinary and do the extraordinary.
Mary the Prophet
The bible is full of stories of God calling prophets, and their responses. Often, they are reluctant: Moses claimed to be a nobody, Isaiah said, "I am a person of unclean lips," and Jeremiah said, "I am too young."
Yet the prophet Mary not only says "let it be, according to your word" (or, ''I'm ready to serve" according to The Message) but bursts into song, proclaiming the goodness of God.
At this time of year, we see Mary a lot, usually dressed in blue, in Christmas cards, manger scenes, and nativity pageants. But do we really notice her? This young, previously unknown teenager from Nazareth made an amazing speech (Lk 1:47-54) and -in addition to birthing the Messiah -did a number of other powerful acts in her life as well.
In the midst of this busy season, pause and pay a little attention to Mary. Read her story, and listen to her challenge.
Take time to be aware that in the very midst of our busy preparations for the celebration of Christ's birth in ancient Bethlehem, Christ is reborn in the Bethlehems of our homes and daily lives. Take time, slow down, be still, be awake to the Divine Mystery that looks so common and so ordinary yet is wondrously present. -Edward Hays