Greatly Troubled

Reference: Luke 1:29-56
“Mary was greatly troubled at his [the angel Gabriel’s] words”(Luke 1:29). When you know what happened to her, her feelings are very understandable. But she is apparently not the only one troubled. At Christmas, a time announced as one of good will and peace, ironically modern Christians seem bothered a lot by Mary. Instead of being an inspiration and role model, Mary is often the focus of contention and discord. None of this is her fault, but all of it distracts from the Christmas message.

First, there are supposedly sophisticated modern theologians who simply proclaim the whole thing is nothing more than a sweet fairy tale, even less believable than Santa Claus. The story of the virgin birth and incarnation makes them see connections with ancient mythology but not with modern science. Virgin births don’t happen, they will tell you. Their reasoning is familiar to church folks, whose most firm conviction can be expressed by a statement virtually every new pastor has heard: “We’ve never done it that way before, Father,” useful in ending discussion on any and every proposed change to anything. It can be applied to virgin birth as well. That birth appears to be unique, and therefore, “We’ve never done it that way before, God.” End of discussion. But God has a distressing habit of not doing things the way we expect. Since this is the only Incarnation in history, it is not surprising that it has some unique features which can’t be replicated in the science lab. It is surprising, however, that those theologians who otherwise embrace new and trendy ideas frequently, are unable to accept the virgin birth, because it has never been done before or since. Apparently, if you accept the thoughts of such theologians, God is only capable of deeds which are within the grasp of human logic and can be confirmed by human experience.

Second, there are those who reject the whole idea of Incarnation, not just the virgin birth. Jesus is a good man, even a great man, they say. But also Divine and able to save? Their minds cannot grasp such a God. They reject the conclusions of the Council of Chalcedon, as did Nestorius and Mohammad. Some are even unaware how ancient the rejection is and think they have had a modern novel idea in rejecting Incarnation. But Chalcedon, in affirming Incarnation, also denotes Mary as “Theotokos,” literally “the bearer of God.” It is a rather inescapable determination if you believe that Jesus is both God and man. Designating Mary as Theotokos was a confirmation of Jesus’ Incarnation, not a detour into hagiography.

Third, there are some who are so captive to Roman Catholic dogma that they oppose everything contained in it. This is what it means to some to be “Protestant.” For such, the end of any discussion is if something is “too catholic.” Roman Catholics have candles on the altar? We must never do that. And they have the altar as well. It must therefore be removed from our church. Perhaps we can find a table to use instead. Thus, if Roman Catholics venerate Mary, we must absolutely ignore her.

Fourth, others have become so captive to the ancient Greek pagan philosophers that, if Mary is to be Theotokos, she must be removed from humanity and sanitized into being sinless, the womb not only virgin but exempt from the consequences of human ancestry. The role model of a sinful human who yet was able to respond in obedience to God is replaced by an animated plaster saint untouched by human foibles and therefore easily able to assent to the wish of God. The Gospels give no grounds to believe that. We see instead the picture of a terrified fallible young woman, indeed greatly troubled by contemplating what is happening to her. It is this woman, who is like us, but nevertheless has the faithfulness to her Lord and the courage derived from that, to say “yes” to God, greatly troubled or not. This is like our lives, messy rather than immaculate. Yet in spite of this, Mary says yes to God and it is this which pleases God and makes her “blessed among women,”as her cousin Elizabeth perceives (Luke 1:42).

There is no better time than the Sunday immediately before Christmas to honor this remarkable and humble woman, who can rightly be called the first believer. Christmas belongs to Jesus, not to Mary. But she who has borne the Incarnate Lord also is worthy of praise and veneration for faithfulness and obedience as the second Eve. Mary sings in her own song of praise to God, “now all generations will call me blessed” (Luke 1:48). That includes our generation as well.