Readings: Isaiah 7:10-14, 8-10; Hebrews 10:4-10; Luke 1:26-38
At the beginning of each of the four Gospels, we are firmly informed that Jesus is the Son of God, not the son of Joseph. Matthew tells us: Joseph son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. We have just hears Luke’s narrative of Jesus’ conception. Mark and John do not begin with the conception of Jesus but tell us the same message. Mark’s first sentence is: The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God–nothing ambiguous about that! Eight verses later a voice from heaven, God’s voice, proclaims: You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased. John, with much more lyricism tells us that Jesus was born not of blood, nor of the will of man but of God. Not one of the evangelists could write about Jesus without starting from his divine origin. The point is made and that, of course, is what we celebrate today.
So why do we celebrate this great solemnity, year after year, with Luke’s Gospel which gives such prominence to Mary? Do we risk misunderstanding something essential without Mary? I, in fact, believe that we do.
What does Mary do in this Gospel? She listens, she questions–and questions intelligently–she trusts and she co-operates. God does not force Jesus upon us. God does not pull Jesus out of a hat. Such a Jesus could not be truly human; how could he ever impact human destiny with any credibility? Ours is a story of failed potential and infinite aspiration, of the capacity for God and alienation from our Creator. A Jesus who does not emerge from within that context could never address nor heal that woundedness. His experience must embrace our full potential from the Father and I are one to My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
But God would not force Jesus on us. Our human matrix needs to be ready and willing to allow the Christ into our human neediness because we accept, and do not deny, our humanity. Mary is our acceptance and our willingness. Mary is our voice, assenting both to our humanity and to God’s work within us: Mary is that point of correspondence between our human spirit and the Spirit of God.
Oddly enough, as a woman in her society–as women in most societies even today–Mary was voiceless. She would not have been consulted about her own marriage or her future. I wonder whether God depended on her voice precisely because she was voiceless. In choosing human incarnation, in revealing salvation through powerlessness–one of Luke’s inspired insights–could God have taken any other path than to depend on the consent of the voiceless and powerless? For our part, Mary reveals the true state of humanity: ultimately all of us, even the powerful and dominant, have no real or lasting power. We may coerce, intrude or dominate but that is a symptom of our congenital weakness. God can risk powerlessness and a voice so subtle as to seem mute and absent. And yet, God transmutes both powerlessness and voicelessness, because both are empty, open-ended and flexible. They are capable of being filled, being hospitable, being stretched by grace, becoming God’s own life through his creative Spirit.
Have we clothed Mary’s memory in titles of royalty, prestige and influence simply because we are too afraid to meet God-with-us in our redeemed powerlessness?