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"Mary" - Feast of the Nativity - December 18, 2022

Updated: Jan 12, 2023

I absolutely loved Monica’s sermon this past Sunday. If you missed it, go find it online and give

it a listen – you’ll be glad you did. I appreciated how she brought out the story of Joseph,

humanized him, made his story accessible, made his faith possible. So, in keeping with that

spirit – how about on this night, this Feast of the Nativity, we look at another member of the

family we call “Holy.” The one who brought Jesus into this world.

When I was growing up - it was always the pretty girls in the youth group that got to play her at

the annual church Christmas pageants. The girls you had a crush on the whole year, except on

Christmas Eve – because on that night there was something different about them. No one was

looking for the Mother of our Lord beneath the mistletoe. You had to wait until New Year’s Eve.

Maybe you could steal a kiss.

Honestly, I didn’t give much thought to Mary, mother of Jesus – I didn’t really care. Even after

becoming an Episcopalian, I didn’t really care. I cared after becoming a father.

I cared after watching my wife bring our first born into this world. I remember holding Simon in

our hospital room, looking at Ericka asleep and thinking, “She did this…she cared for this child

for nine months, she’s connected to him in this primordial way, how amazing, I’m such a selfish

jackass, God I will never be a selfish jackass again…I will treat this woman like a queen.”

And that brothers and sisters is what you call an empty promise. Because after a week of

waking to a crying baby three to four times a night – nobody was treating anybody like royalty.

But…even after all that…I started seeing Mary differently. Started listening to her more intently,

especially this time of year when we get to hear her song – the Magnificat….(found in the

gospel of Luke)

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, and my spirit exults in God my savior.

There’s been all kinds of people who’ve seen Mary in all kinds of ways through the centuries.

Painters, poets, composers, theologians, historical scholars…on and on. Who she seems to have

appeared to the most, though, are children – on playgrounds, amid their dizzying laughter and

skinned knees, or in the fields while they tended sheep – one second walking a pasture,

morning dew and dung clung to their shoes – the next standing in a field of golden light with

the sun dancing in the sky. That’s how they described the experience…like the sun was dancing.

I don’t know. There’s a skeptic in me like there’s a skeptic in you – but maybe just as it took a

mother to bring the Christ child into the world, maybe it takes a child to bring the mother back

into it.

People see her in other ways too. There’s a story about G.K. Chesterton, the brilliant 19 th

century writer and apologist. He wanted to donate an ikon or statue to his local parish in

Beaconsfield. He went to a rather large repository in London to find an image that represented

most faithfully his inner vision of Mary. None of the ones on display satisfied him. Finally, the

manager of the store led him to a room upstairs where all the items deemed unsuitable or

unfashionable were put away. A kind of island of misfits and throw-aways. There he came upon

a statue of Mary of Ireland, a barefoot commoner, carrying a child wrapped in a rough shawl,

and Chesterton said, “This is the one.” The store manager barked back, “You don’t want that

one. It’s just from Ireland…” “This is the one,” Chesterton replied. And the statue remains

there in that little church to this day. Not the monarchial Mary dressed in royal attire as the

Queen of Heaven, not the Madonna and Child of Renaissance painters – sat as a countess in

opulent beauty…No. Chesterton was captivated by the Mother of God, whose son was truly

God with us – a mother and child, poor and clear and simple….

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord

And my spirit exults in God my savior

Because he has looked down upon his lowly handmaid

Yes, from this day forward all generations will call me blessed…

Did you hear it? God has chosen a lowly, poor, simple, common handmaid….that’s what Mary

said, that’s how she knew herself to be…and we’re still talking about her…generations will call

me blessed.

You know…after I watched my wife become a mother and as the years went by, I started seeing

Mary…I did. Oh, I’ve never seen the sun waltz with the sky, I’ve never fallen into some beatific

vision…but I’ve seen her – I’ve had my visions of Mary…

One night I saw her coming out of a gas station in the mountains of Eastern Kentucky – carrying

a little boy, another tagging-along behind her, a loaf of bread and pack of bologna held in her

other hand. I looked at her, nodded and smiled – and she looked at me, eyes like shards of glass

that could slice a man open if he wasn’t careful. The face of a mother raising her children in a

harsh world…

Another time I saw her in Peru…a poor farmer’s wife, the blood of the Inca people running

through her veins, screaming, and blockading a road, a road built by cutting off her village’s

primary water supply for their crops. She handed a protest sign to her young son …”Now wait a

minute…” you might say, “the mother of God wouldn’t tell her son to do such a thing…scream

and holler and disrupt.” Oh no??? What about the next words in her song of praise???

(God) has shown the strength of his arm, he has scattered the proud in their conceit, lifted up

the lowly, filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty…

She wouldn’t do that?? Are you sure?? Remember that time Jesus turned over tables in the

temple?? Where’d he get that?? See. I think Joseph taught Jesus how to build tables, but it was

his mother who taught him how to flip them over.

Just the other day…I saw her again. She was at the table across from me in a coffee shop.

Precocious little boy – not even two years old – sitting with her. She was speaking in a language

I couldn’t identify – perhaps Middle Eastern or Eastern European. She looked beautiful and

tired the way all young mothers somehow look beautiful and tried at the same time. The boy

kept throwing his toy on the ground, and she’d get out of her chair and pick it up…a few

seconds later he’d do it again…and she’d pick it up again…the boy just laughing and

laughing….this went on for another 3 to 5 minutes until she told him, what I assume what any

mom would say at that point. She set him in her lap and for a split second they both looked at

me and there they were…holy mother and child.

There is a word you should know if you don’t already. Incarnation. It is the central Christian

commitment that God entered into this world in flesh and blood. It is the muse of every carol

we sing tonight. And there is a tendency to leave the mysterious beauty of the incarnation like

straw in the manger – resign it to a moment. But what if that’s not enough? What if the

incarnation extends beyond that? Writer and theologian, Teilhard de Chardin, was captivated

by a robust theology of the incarnation…an incarnation still at work in the world. He writes, “…I

have found myself resonating…to a certain vibration, a certain human and religious note, which

is in the air everywhere…it is no longer a matter of simply being enveloped by God – we have to

do more…we have to disclose God even more fully.”

I hear in those words a call - to not just see the nature of a loving God at work in one holy

family at one point in time, but the continued work of that love in the human family through all

of time. To see the disclosure of God in the faces we encounter everyday – Look, there’s Mary.

Look, there’s Joseph…and even the Shepherds…they’re all there. And Christ, in the midst of all of

them. In the midst, of all of us. This Feast of the Nativity playing out before us. Transforming all

our collected moments into gift.

A gift continually given to our world.

A gift continually given for our world.


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