Poor Mary. Every year she gets dragged to everyone’s consciousness, paraded out before oogling eyes, her situation and condition deconstructed, and behavior spun to drive home someone’s pet belief.
If you haven’t been reminded enough through nativity scenes, artwork on Christmas cards and postage stamps, there’s always the third Sunday of Advent and the lighting of the pink candle (fyi: there are 5 candles in the traditional Advent wreath; 3 purple, 1 pink, and a white center candle to be lit on Christmas day).
I’m not even going to address all of the theological aspects of debate surrounding Mary, the limited biblical presence of such an important person, given she gave birth to a historical figure who has had an incredible impact on history, regardless of what one thinks about him. And then there’s all of the psycho-social, literary, and other constructs attributed to her.
When all is said and done, it all boils down to: What do we do about Mary?
This is where I think we completely miss the message. What do we do about Mary? Nothing. There’s nothing to do about Mary. When we try to manage her and her story, we dehumanize her and take away all the richness of who she is and what she can tell us. If we get caught up in the historical-cultural context of her place in Christian doctrine or her representation for womankind, we have really missed her purpose. She’s not something we do something about; she’s someone with whom we have a relationship.
What got me thinking about all of this was being in a meeting with community leaders who were talking about how our county has the highest rate of teen pregnancy, per capita, in ALL of Texas! Of course, I wasn’t surprised at all that we had teen pregnancies, given the lack of reality in the messaging to young people here. I was surprised we claimed the per capita prize.
Once that shock settled, I became disturbed how the conversation turned to the usual direction of solving a social “problem”: what do we do about this? I wanted to say, you’re way of doing something about this hasn’t been effective so far. What about a change of approach? What about engaging in a meaningful, realistic way? What would be different if we met those involved where they were?
What if our question moved from what do we do about Mary to who is Mary and what does she have to say to me? Once I ask the different question, I move out of being mired down in doctrine and representation to something that might be meaningful in my life.
There is no way I can really know Mary, but I can look at how she addressed what faced her. With the limited information we have about her, what can I glean about how God actually works and moves and speaks in my own existence. If I can let go the complications about Mary, I can let go of the complications about other people, accepting them for who they are, complications and differences included.
Maybe it’s a good thing Mary’s Advent candle is pink. It reminds me that Mary is different, that God came to her saying, “I love you and care about you intimately. For you to live fully in the mystery of who you are and what you are called to be, this is what I’m asking of you.” Not conventional, but then when is anything that forces us to become more than who we think we are.
Oh, and if you’re interested in knowing what limited perspective we have about Mary in the Christmas story, take a look at these passages: Luke 1:26-38; Luke 1:39-45; Luke 1:46-55.