There she is: everywhere. In icons, on jewelry, in tattoos, airbrushed on souped-up cars: Mary, The Blessed Mother, The Virgin, Theotokos (The God-bringer) The mother of God, Jesus’ Mom.
She’s the subject of more portraiture, poetry, and song than we can imagine. She’s revered, she’s prayed to, she still appears to the faithful in visions ranging from visitations on mountainsides to slightly more dubious appearances in everything from office building windows to pieces of toast.
I –like millions on this planet–love Mary.
Most of all I love Mary because she is the OG of social justice workers, and because she immediately is down with what The Angel Gabriel is telling her:
She’s often (literally) painted as a blushing flower of young womanhood, meek and mild. Yet, when she’s greeted by the angel and told she’s literally going to get pregnant by the power of the Holy Spirit, and bear the son of God, she doesn’t say like Moses at the burning bush “my brother would be better for this” or fall face down and laugh at God like Abraham, or Zechariah– husband of our story’s costar Elizabeth– who the angel Gabriel strikes mute because he was so unbelieving. Instead, Mary asks perfectly normal questions: she says “What kind of greeting is this?” which seems pretty logical since even in the Bible visits from Angels are semi-rare and then she asks the very reasonable biological question: “How, since I am a virgin?”
The Angel further explains the miraculous process and Mary responds: “I am the Lord’s servant”. She doesn’t just use the word “servant” in the original language though–she uses the word “bondservant”–essentially an indentured servant or a slave. Mary frames her obedience this way: she says “the Lord OWNS me.” She doesn’t think about Joseph, her betrothed who will be shamed by this; she simply believes fully, and steps into the role that God has given to her.
I’d like to take a brief tangent to explain the possible consequences of her obedience and say why it wasn’t just dutiful –it was radical love, exceptional bravery, and bold trust in God. To be pregnant out of wedlock was at best a disgrace in Mary’s time and culture and at worst a death sentence. Mary goes all in on the angel’s promise: “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God.”
That’s not meek obedience. That is a badass.
We read today the story of the visitation, and today is a real-live feast day, handily called The Feast of the Visitation. Mary sings (or recites if you like–but why shouldn’t the Bible be a musical?) The Magnificat is one of the oldest hymns of the Christian church–and for good reason because just as a stand-alone piece of poetry, it is really something.
It’s a vision of a world full of justice, borrowing from earlier praise songs from the Hebrew Scriptures that Mary would have been familiar with:
“God hath filled the hungry with good things–and the rich he hath sent empty away!”
“God has sorted away the proud in the imagination of the hearts”
“God has put down the mighty from their seat!”
It’s a song of triumph over oppression, of equalization, of the poor being fed, the weird being welcomed, and a peasant woman becoming the bringer of God.
I come to church, and I think many people do, because I am HUNGRY. Once you’ve had a bit of the Holy Spirit, a glimpse of grace, or an ounce of the knowledge of the bigness of God’s love for you, you keep coming back for seconds, and for thirds. When I hear or sing the song of Mary, it reminds me that this all-you-can eat buffet of grace and love and peace is never going to stop serving–and that all are welcome in this place and at this table. When we eat at this overflowing table–this glimpse of the Heavenly Banquet here on Earth, we can all become tiny theotoki, bringing bits of that grace and love and peace back with us into the world, and our spirits– like Mary’s– can rejoice.
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