we don’t know her backstory. People like her didn’t matter enough to have one. By all accounts, she was an ordinary nobody. Until she was selected by God to carry God’s self into the world.
With only a few days left until Christmas, I have been tasked to say something surprisingly new about someone who has been written about almost as much as her son. Not an easy task considering there’s very little of her story in the Bible.
The lectionary offers two different readings of Mary to choose from. One being the annunciation, when Mary is visited by the angel Gabrielle who gives her the news of her calling.
The other is the Magnificat, the song Mary sings that reveals what God is doing through her because she accepted her calling. I chose the ladder because it not only reveals something about Mary but says something to each one of us as well. Read Luke 1:46-56.
As you might imagine from the title, the sketch begins with a young millennial couple sitting in their rather upscale home. Both are stylishly dressed and tethered to their smart phones. A very pregnant Mary is making a Tik-Tok when Joseph interrupts to announce, “Caesar Augustus just tweeted that we have to go Bethlehem to fill out a census.”
Mary is quick to point out that Fauci has banned travel - otherwise they would have done Thanksgiving at her parents house. Joseph assures her it’s just a quick Uber ride away, and even suggests they could get a hotel for the night. As we know, all the hotels in Bethlehem are booked.
Leave it up to Mary to find a rustic barn on AirBNB. Having read that it’s “a full immersive experience with live barn animals,” Mary is all in. She knows it will be better than any of those trendy gender reveal parties. She tells Joseph, “I’m going to post on Instagram from a barn, with live barn animals announcing our newborn child. Imagine all the likes.”
That Mary is barely a teenager living in 1st century Palestine. We don’t know who her parents are, or her father’s occupation, or how many brothers and sisters she had. Luke tells us she has a much older cousin, Elizabeth, who Mary goes to visit for three months – probably to get her out of the sight of the neighborhood gossips.
Judging by her song, it’s safe to assume Mary’s family is not wealthy or powerful which might explain why we don’t know her backstory. People like her didn’t matter enough to have one. By all accounts, she was an ordinary nobody. Until she was selected by God to carry God’s self into the world. Now her name is forever on the heart of creation.
Her song is one of four sung from the mouths of women who play key roles in the lives of ancient Israelites. The first was Miriam, the sister of Moses. Then Deborah, Hannah, and now Mary. Because she knows their ancient stories, she knows God can be trusted. So, Mary is willing to say yes to God, even when she doesn’t understand how a virgin like herself cold bear God’s Son.
Because of her response, and her responsibility, Mary is depicted as a model Christian. More churches bare her name than any other biblical figure. She has a reputation of being in perfect sync with God, responding to God's call with absolute obedience, to carry the Christ child and offer him to the world.
Who was she that God would choose her? She was an ordinary nobody who was brave enough to say yes to God.
In the faithfulness of this unknown girl from Nazareth is “the model for the way the grace of God can and will, albeit in smaller ways, use each of us” writes Frank Logue.
The way I see it, Mary is us. An ordinary nobody like you and me, called to do the extraordinary.
I don’t know if Mary was reluctant or afraid. But I know she was willing to trust that God knew what God was doing. I also know her story is no different than our own. Her call, as extraordinary as it was, is our call. But will her yes, be ours as well?
Which takes us to the Mary I think we all can relate to today. A Mary who reminds us that God has invited us ordinary folk, to participate in God’s redemptive plan to transform the world. Don’t be surprised if there isn’t a choir of angels lightning up the night sky to mark the occasion. It seems like God prefers to show up in the ordinary things that ordinary people do.
There’s a story told from a mother’s perspective that I’d like to share with you. It begins, “It was Thursday, on Christmas, our family had spent the days before the holiday in San Francisco with my husband's parents. But in order for us to be back at work in Los Angeles we found ourselves driving the 400 miles to Southern California on Christmas Day.
It was normally an 6 hour drive, but with kids it can be a 12 hour endurance test. When we could stand it no longer we stopped for lunch in King City, a little metropolis made up of 6 gas stations and a diner. And it was into that one diner that the four of us strode ...road weary and saddle sore.
As I sat Eric, our one-year-old, in a highchair, I looked around the room. The restaurant was nearly empty. We were the only family, and ours were the only children. Everyone else was busy eating, talking quietly, aware perhaps that we were all somehow out of place on this special day.
My reverie was interrupted when I heard Eric squeal with glee, “Hi there;” two words he thought were one. He pounded his fat baby hands on the metal highchair tray. His face alive with excitement, eyes wide, gums bared a toothless baby grin. He wriggled and chirped, and then I saw the source of his merriment. And my eyes couldn't take it all in.
A tattered rag of a coat, dirty and greasy. And worn baggy pants. A spindly body. Toes that poked out of old, old shoes. And a face like none other. Gums as bare as Eric's. Hair uncombed and unwashed. Whiskers too short to be called a beard. I was too far away to smell him, but I knew he smelled. And his hands were waving in the air flapping about on loose wrists. “Hi baby. Hi big boy. I see you Buster.”
My husband and I exchanged a look that was a cross between ‘what should we do’ and ‘that poor devil’. Eric continued to laugh and answer “hi there.” Every call was echoed. I noticed the waitresses’ eyebrows shot up their foreheads and several people sitting near us ahem’d out loud. This old geezer was creating a nuisance with my beautiful baby. I shoved a cracker at Eric, and he pulverized it on the tray. I thought “why me” under my breath.
The meal came and the nuisance continued. Now the old bum was shouting from across the room, “Do you know Patty cake? Attaboy! You know peekaboo! Look, he knows peekaboo!”
Nobody thought it was cute. The guy was probably drunk and a definite disturbance.
I was embarrassed, my husband was humiliated, and even our six year old said, “Why is that old man talking so loud?” We ate in silence, except Eric who was running through his repertoire for the admiring applause of this Skid Row bum.
Finally, I had enough. I turned the highchair. Eric screamed and clambered around to face his old buddy. Now I was really mad. Dennis went to pay the check imploring me to “Get Eric and meet me in the parking lot.”
I troubled Eric out of the highchair and looked toward the exit. The old man sat poised waiting. His chair directly between me and the door. “Lord just let me out of here before he speaks to me or Eric.” And I headed to the door. It soon became apparent that both the Lord and Eric had other plans.
As I drew closer to the man, I turned my back walking to sidestep him. And as I did so, Eric, all the while his eyes riveted on his new best friend, leaned far over my arm reaching with both arms in the babies ‘pick me up’ position. In a split second of balancing my baby and turning to counterweight, I came eye to eye with the old man.
Eric was lunging for him. Arms spread wide. The old bum's eyes asked, implored, “Would you let me hold your baby?” There was no need for me to answer since Eric propelled himself from my arms into the man's.
Suddenly a very old man and a very young baby were involved in a love relationship. Eric laid his tiny head upon the man's ragged shoulder. The man's eyes closed, and I saw tears beneath the lashes. His aged hands, full of grime and pain and hard labor, gently, so gently, cradled my baby's bottom and stroked his back.
The old man rocked and cradled Eric in his arms for a moment. And then his eyes opened, and they set squarely on mine, he said in a firm commanding voice, “Now you take proper care of this baby.” And some how I managed “I will” from a throat that contained a stone.
He pried Eric from his chest unwillingly, longingly, as though he was in pain. I held my arms open to receive my baby and again the gentleman addressed me. “God bless you ma'am. You've given me my Christmas gift.”
You see, it doesn’t take much to say yes to God; to bring to life the great joy of Christmas to one another through simple acts of kindness, forgiveness, love, mercy, and gentleness. This is how Christ is born in us; how God breaks through all the pain and suffering of the world, time and time again. Transforming harden hearts to mushy, innocent, non-judgmental love.
I think we all possess a little bit of each one of these Mary’s. The one who is excited to show off on social media, the one who story is known but not really. And the one who, despite not wanting to, reluctantly gives in to God’s call to give birth to Christ in the ordinary and everyday.
As we wait in these final days of Advent, we do so by carrying the love and light of Christ within our bellies, always ready to give birth.
Right now God is acting in the world, in the broken, ordinary me and the broken and ordinary you to turn all that we think we know upside down. Ordinary people doing the extraordinary; joining Mary in praise, “Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me and holy is his name.”
Bartlett, David L and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word, Year B Vol. 1. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2008.
Logue, Frank S. Here I Am. episcopalchurch.org (accessed on December 18, 2020).
Rohr, Richard. The Universal Christ. New York: Convergent, 2019.
Unknown story was found on the Heart Wisdom with Jack Kornfield podcast, Episode 8 11/25/2014 (accessed on December 18, 2020)