In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28And he came to her and said, ‘Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you.’* 29But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. 31And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32He 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. 33He will reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.’ 34Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I am a virgin?’* 35The angel said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born* will be holy; he will be called Son of God. 36And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 37For nothing will be impossible with God.’ 38Then Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’ Then the angel departed from her.
Luke 1: 26-38
Traditionally the image that we are presented of Mary is one of a timid young Jewish girl caught up in a bigger story, almost an incidental character. We see her as Mary meek and mild, a docile figure acted upon by the Living God. She is stripped of her femininity and sexuality, and branded by the Church as virgin for life. Until recently that was the way I viewed Mary too: acted upon, a pawn, an extra in the story.
Then I took a closer look at Luke’s text. Yes Mary is young. Yes she is caught off guard by visit of the angel. She’s surprised by the news that she will bear a child, seeing as she had not been with a man. Yes she may be surprised that she will play a role in this long desired, long awaited divine plan. But she is not docile, or simply acted upon. When called she says yes: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Or as the Message translation says, “Let it be with me just as you say.” She hears the promise, remembers the story and says “count me in.” She becomes a part of the story, the story of salvation.
Not convinced and still see Mary as the timid teen? Well look a few verses further into Luke’s narrative, to the Magnificat:
I’m bursting with God-news; I’m dancing the song of my Savior God. God took one good look at me, and look what happened— I’m the most fortunate woman on earth! What God has done for me will never be forgotten, the God whose very name is holy, set apart from all others. His mercy flows in wave after wave on those who are in awe before him. He bared his arm and showed his strength, scattered the bluffing braggarts. He knocked tyrants off their high horses, pulled victims out of the mud. The starving poor sat down to a banquet; the callous rich were left out in the cold. He embraced his chosen child, Israel; he remembered and piled on the mercies, piled them high. It’s exactly what he promised, beginning with Abraham and right up to now.
Also known as Mary’s Song, this little number has been adored by the faithful for generations; sung, read and prayed by countless millions over the centuries. For all its simple beauty though, it strikes fear into the hearts of despots, dictators and tyrants. It speaks of revolution and redistribution of wealth and for that reason it has been banned from public reading in many countries. It shows us that Mary is not just some ignorant teen caught up in some quaint religious Christmas card scene. No Mary is a part of the uprising, the resistance, the revolution.
What does it do to our image of Mary the Virgin to reimagine her as a Katniss Everdeen? She strikes fear into the despotic President Snow (the emperor) and births within here the spark that will set the entire corrupt Capitol (Roman Empire) ablaze. She is a smart, vibrant young woman who refuses to be a pawn and simply does what she can to protect her family and people.
Perhaps you are uncomfortable with the violence of the Hunger Games and say it has no place in this talk of Mary the blessed Virgin. Perhaps you are right, but we simply cannot ignore the revolutionary talk of Mary’s Song. Perhaps a better contemporary example is that of Nobel Prize winning Malala Yousafzai. Her courage and determination in the face of the Taliban as birthed a movement and inspired a generation of young girls. This young Muslim girl fights non-violently to overcome an oppressive regime. Nothing scares the empire like vocal young girls and the lengths that they will go to stop them show that their days are numbered, that salvation is at hand. Mary, like Malala, is an example to us all.
The time continues to fly with Christmas less than a week away. But before that we have one more weekend of Advent with the focus on love and the great example of Mary, the God-bearer, as she is known in the Orthodox Church. Mary is an example of life lived in openness to the Spirit of God, a servant of the Living God. She’s not just Mary meek and mild, but Mary the active participant in the story of God, the story of salvation. As we approach the end of Advent and the beginning of Christmas remember that we are all like Mary. We are all chosen and called by God. We are all blessed to be God-bearers to the world, bearing the love of Jesus to a hurting and broken world. Each kind word, each moment of generosity, each time we share presence (not necessarily presents) with someone we find ourselves caught up in the story of God, the story of salvation. We are all part of the revolution!