“Blessed is she who believes.” Luke 1:45
Having spent the first 50 years of my life as a member of the Catholic Church, praying through Jesus, the Great Intercessor, to God, we were also taught to pray through Mary, the Mother of God, also as an intercessor – someone who intercedes on our behalf. Mary was not ever equal to the three members of the Trinity, but rather, another means through which to pray. Like asking someone ever so close to Jesus, to intercede on our behalf.
Here at Emmanuel, and indeed in every Episcopal Church, we do intercessory prayer every Sunday too, when we pray the Prayers of the People. We essentially become intercessors for those we are praying for, asking God to hear our prayer on their behalf.
For example, during this pandemic, each week we pray for those who have died and we ask God to help us find our way through this present challenging time. We pray on behalf of those who are hurting, asking God to hear our prayer for them.
When I was growing up, no one blinked an eye if you said you prayed The Hail Mary prayer, or prayed using a rosary, or went to Mass on any one of the feast days recognizing Mary’s importance in the story of Jesus’s life.
While doing a little research for this homily I enjoyed a good laugh when I came across one author’s take on Mary:
The author wrote:
I have this memory from when I was 12 years old of going to a friend’s house for a sleepover and feeling quietly scandalized by something I discovered about her and her family. No, they weren’t heroin addicts or part of an armed militia. They. Were. Catholic. And they weren’t even trying to hide it.
The author continued:
I knew Catholics existed with their saints and candles and rosaries and all their other exotic ways of being wrong. But now I had met some. And I realized I couldn’t stop staring at their Mary. She seemed luminescent and good and trustworthy and her beauty strong. And I was secretly jealous as all get out.
Because [the author said] let’s be honest – Protestants don’t really know what in the world to do with Mary. It’s like Roman Catholics already have dibs on her and we just kind of stand by … only dusting her off once a year to be the pretty young girl in the nativity set and then putting her quickly away before someone asks us a question about her, which we cannot answer.
So… here, in today’s Gospel, we have a girl, likely around 15 years of age. She’s a peasant and she’s engaged to a pretty religious guy named Joseph.
An angelic figure visits this girl, Mary, saying that Mary has found favor with God and that she is going to conceive a son by the Holy Spirit.
Mary, based on very little solid evidence or information, said “I am God’s” and “Let it be with me according to God’s Word.”
Ultimately Mary said YES!
The author continued:
I wonder if that is what being blessed looks like?
We usually use that word “blessed” a bit differently, like: “You’re so blessed to have that new boat.”
So, how exactly is Mary using that word “blessed?”
The author said, I wonder:
Did Mary feel blessed as her unwed belly grew under the gaze of disapproving others.
Did she feel blessed when laboring in a barn with sheep and straw?
Did she feel blessed when her heart dropped realizing she left her 12 year old son in Jerusalem?
Did she feel blessed at Jesus’s arrest?
Did she feel blessed seeing rope dig into the wrists of both God made flesh and the flesh of her flesh?
Did she feel blessed when they lifted him up on the cross?
I think Mary of Nazareth had a particular wisdom from God.
I think Mary deserves our devotion because in her we see what casting our lot with – and being blessed by – the God of Israel really looks like. Namely that being blessed means seeing God in the world and trusting that God is at work even in things we can’t see, or understand, or imagine.
Mary didn’t say yes because she thought by doing so God was going to shower her with cash and prizes. No. Here’s where this girl had some serious chops. She got something others really struggle to understand: that getting a blessing is not the same as getting a present. She said yes not based on the expectation of things being awesome for her; but based on the expectation that God can create something out of nothing.
To be a people marked by the faith of Mary is to be a people who say OK, I don’t entirely understand what’s going on and I know that my life isn’t going to end up looking like one I would choose out of a catalogue … but I trust that God is at work in all of it.
Blessedness is being used for God’s purpose more than it’s getting what I want … or things being easy.
Christmas itself isn’t about getting what we want, or making sure we’re giving others what they want.
To experience Christmas is to trust that God can do this thing again. That God can again be born in me, be born in you, be born in this broken mess of a gorgeous world.
In the 4th century St. Gregory of Nyssa wrote, “What was achieved in the body of Mary will happen in the soul of everyone who receives the Word of God.”
That God can again be born in me, be born in you, and be born again in this world we call home.
God is at work in you in much the same way God was at work in Mary. And I think that you carry in your body the blessing of God … and having faith like Mary means allowing yourself to trust that.
So, may the God through whom nothing is impossible help you to be Marys … saying a fierce, or timid, or quiet, or confident YES to God. May it be with you all according to God’s Word.
Peace friends, chuck.
The Rev. Joani Peacock, Editor for Emmanuel Voices: A Parish Blog