A Christmas tree frames the golden statue of the Virgin Mary atop the Duomo gothic cathedral in Milan, Italy, Thursday, Dec.8. 2011. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)
During Advent, Protestants are reminded that we’ve almost thrown the baby out with the bathwater, in diminishing Mary’s role in the miraculous comedy of Jesus’ life.
In the Koran, Mary is mentioned more than she is in the Greek New Testament. In fact, the call of Mary in the Koran (3:42-45) goes like this:
“When the angels said; O Mary, Allah has chosen you and made you pure and has preferred you above the women of creation. O Mary! Allah gives you good news of a Word from Him. His name will be the Messiah, Jesus son of Mary, held in honour in this world and the Hereafter and shall be one of those who are nearest to Allah. She said My Lord! How can I have a child when no man has touched me? He said Even so. Allah creates what He wills. When He has decreed something, He says to it only, “Be and it is.”
Why, then, is her role so diminished within the Protestant faith, and why is she not included more as a key protagonist in the story of God speaking to God’s people? She’s often an afterthought, relegated, in Protestant churches, to the wings, until she’s holding the infant Jesus, and the shepherds arrive, having been “sore afraid” (think Charlie Brown’s Linus Van Pelt reciting the King James version).
Yet, Mary’s role in the incarnation needs to be in the spotlight, dusted off like a creche from the attic. Catholics know this, they have chapels in her honor, churches and hospitals named after her. In adult Christian ed, a former Catholic was explaining on Sunday the Catholic understanding of the “Immaculate Conception,” which is about how Mary was conceived, not about Jesus’ conception.
The truth is, we have a pregnant woman, she’s giving birth to God, and is told to name him, “Jesus,” which takes care of one of the trickier elements of childbirth, finding a name to carry the child through a lifetime. She’s also been told, “He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David.”
Having had children both biologically and via adoption, I know this: the child you get will surprise you whether it’s “yours” genetically or “yours” via adoption. Sure, we all know “mini-me’s” running around, children who appear to be clones of their parents, children who love the same sports, same foods, have the same quirks. But usually, the parents I know wonder at their children, and have countless moments of, “Huh?” Meaning, children are miracles; they arrive with their own templates of who-they-are, and what-they-bring to the kitchen table, and to the planet.
Nine years ago this month, we were preparing to fly to Hong Kong, and then to take a train to main land China to adopt our daughter. I remember one friend saying to me, “How can you do this? You don’t know what you’re getting into?” To this day, that conversation makes me smile, as if we as parents ever know what we are getting into, let alone Mary, parent of Jesus. How much did she know what she was getting into? There’s a Relient K song, that asks, “Do you know what you are getting yourself into?” As parents, the answer is, “No. No, we don’t.”
I have seen strong, capable, brilliant friends reduced to tears and hand-wringing as they discuss their children. These friends can solve many of their companies’ ills, or can help cure their patients’ sicknesses, but can’t figure out how to help their kids stay motivated in school, or can’t speak to their teenagers anymore. I have seen worry bags under my friends’ eyes, “the three bag row,” as one friend describes her eyes. We worry how our kids are doing, how they are surviving this life, and God forbid, will they make it home safely each and every night, wherever “home” is for them?
Mary says “yes,” to the call to parent a child who will never be “hers,” a child destined for greatness, one who will rule, but over whom she’ll never have authority. How’s that for courage? “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word,” she responds. What if every parent of tweens and teenagers said this to God, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word?”
The comedy of Christmas is that God was not finished with the world, so God sent God’s child into it. The comedy of Christmas continues in that God, apparently, isn’t finished with us yet. Mary’s moxie, under pressure, is an excellent role model for people of faith, in this time, as in any time. Her humanity makes her easier for us to understand. And, about her child? Mary “treasures all these words and ponders them in her heart.” She watches her child grow into the fullness of who he’s meant to be, watches her child “increase in wisdom and in years,” just like any parent hopes to do. Mary’s a contender, in the story of Christmas, and we Protestants would do well to notice her.