Learning to Tell Time with Mary, the Mother of God
Reflecting on The Day of Pentecost: Three Days after Sunday (Year C)
Psalter: Psalm 48
Epistle: Numbers 24:1-14
Gospel: Luke 1:26-38
Holy God, you spoke the world into being. Pour your Spirit to the ends of the earth, that your children may return from exile as citizens of your commonwealth, and our divisions may be healed by your word of love and righteousness. Amen.
The 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 (Luke 1:35).
from Stanley Hauerwas:
Conservatives and liberals alike assume that any account of Christianity that can pass muster in our time will be one in which the Christian faith is understood to be a set of strongly held ideas. Conservatives have the virgin birth and satisfaction theories of the atonement. Liberals have love and justice. Conservatives and liberals understand the Christian faith as a set of ideas because, so understood, Christianity seems to be a set of beliefs assessable to anyone upon reflection.
Mary and Joseph are not ideas. They are real people who made decisions on which our faith depends. Christianity is not a timeless set of ideas. Christianity is not some ideal toward which we ought always to strive even though the ideal is out of reach. Christianity is not a series of slogans that sum up our beliefs. Slogans such as “justification by grace through faith” can be useful if you do not forget it is a slogan. But Christianity cannot be so easily “summed up” even by the best of slogans or ideas. It cannot be summed up because our faith depends on a young Jewish mother called Mary.
Mary and Joseph are real people who had to make decisions that determined the destiny of the world. Isaiah had foretold that a Mary would come, but we had no idea what Isaiah's prophecy meant until Mary became the Mother of God. This is no myth. These are people caught up in God’s care of his people through the faithfulness of the most unlikely people. They are unlikely people with names as common as Mary and Joseph, but because of their faithfulness our salvation now depends on acknowledging those names.
Jesus, very God, became for us time. He was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of a virgin named Mary. Jesus, so born, is very man. He is fully God and fully man making it possible for us to be fully human. To be fully human means that through his conception and birth we have become storied by Mary. We are Mary’s people.
That Mary is the Mother of God means we do not begin with speculative accounts about God's existence or nature. Our God is to be found in Mary's womb. Because our God is to be found in Mary’s body we believe that same God desires to be taken in by us in this miraculous gift of the holy Eucharist, the body and blood of Christ. By partaking of this gift, a gift that if pondered leads us to ask with Mary, “How can this be?” But the gift makes the question possible, because through this gift we become participants in a time that is filled with God’s providential care of us. We are Christians. We live in Mary's time.
Such a time is anything but empty. Rather, it is a time storied by people whose lives witness to the Lord of time, the Lord who encompasses all life and death. I suggested above that there was a politics often associated with the question, “Do you believe in the virgin birth?” There is also a politics that is entailed by our affirmation that Mary is the Mother of God. The politics of Mary is a politics of joy characteristic of a people who have no reason to be desperate. They have no reason to be desperate because they have faith in the Lord of time.
So, on this Sunday, a Sunday when Christmas seems so near, let us remember that because we are Mary's people we are in no hurry. Let us wait in patience for the Christ-child whose own life depended on the lives of Mary and Joseph. The Word of God was made flesh. He came so that we might experience the fullness of time. Let us wait with Mary and Joseph for the child who will redeem all of time. Let us wait with patience and hope so that the world may discover that time is not empty; rather time remains pregnant with God’s promise found in Mary, the Mother of God.
More about Stanley Hauerwas and his writings can be found here.