A great portent appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. (Revelation 12:1)
In the name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
One fall Friday evening fourteen years ago, after a banquet, a group of Jesus Scholars stayed up late talking together in a hospitality suite in the convention hotel – and began to play a parlor game together. They asked each other, if you were going to make a movie about Jesus, whom would you cast as Jesus? As Mary of Magdala?
I had all sorts of ideas – but just as someone turned to me and asked, whom would you cast? The door opened and in walked a Hollywood director who was indeed planning a movie about Jesus. I got a little tongue-tied and lost my chance at fame.
Since then, I’ve turned the question over in my mind and I’ve even thought up a plot device to frame the story – one I thought that director might like. Things like that. It’s a fun game to play.
But here’s a part for you to cast, one we didn’t really discuss that night so thoroughly. Maybe it was too tough a problem for a late-night bull session.
Who would you cast as the Mother of God?
Who would you cast as the Bearer of the bearer of our sins? The one to give birth to the One in whom are born our hopes for new life?
What qualities would she have? Where would you find such a person? How would you break the news to her? What kind of family would she have?
What we know about Mary is that she was a girl living in a poor village. She was the promised bride of a man named Joseph, a workman who worked with his hands. And there was certainly work to do.
The poor village lay in an obscure corner of a mighty empire – not so obscure but that its power could be felt. The Romans had indeed been by – flexing their power, the Imperial troops had laid waste to a nearby town, a center of rebellion. They didn’t like those things, no, and they blotted them out. They’d leave no stone unturned until they’d rooted out the last nugget of resistance.
We know this of Mary: she said Yes. May it be so with me as you have promised. As you have promised my people from long ago – send us a Savior. Send him to me; I will bear the mystery.
I will raise him, and teach him. And he will raise up his people and teach them the way – the way of the Lord, the way of justice, and righteousness, and mercy, and peace.
Courage, faithfulness, and hope. Innocence and obedience.
A girl who had never known a man was declared to be the perfect mother. No wonder she ran to consult her cousin Elizabeth, who at least had some idea of what was going on. Indeed, as the once-barren bearer of the greatest of the prophets, the mother-to-be of John, the voice calling in the desert, one who had spent long years waiting for her womb to bear its fruit, for new life to begin and grow and come to time, she would be the best to know.* To know what it meant to bear the greater mystery, the coming of the Christ – as a Child.
O little lady, you are not least among the women of Israel, for from you shall come the greatest of Kings – greater than David his ancestor. The hopes and fears of all the years will meet in him.
What were you expecting, O people of God? A baby? Or a warrior, a prince, a king, a deliverer? One to lead you to triumph? One to set you free from those who made you captive, to heal you from all infirmity, to comfort you from all sorrow, to set you up once again as the peak of all the nations, the highest mountain in the whole range of hills, the one all would turn to – to regard as the greatest of nations?
And yet, you get a baby, an infant meek and mild, vulnerable, tiny, just a beginning, a birth, a new life, a small package promising greater things – so fragile: but not to worry.
She is up to the task. Let it be to me according to your Word.
And now you and I are called to bear this fragile message into the world. In each of us to bring it forth, give it a new place to begin to grow, to nurture it, to give it a new start, and let it grow, and carry it into the world.
In innocence of our experience,
In obedience of our misgivings,
In the strength of our fragile hopes,
To take him in our turn, the burden and the message,
To conceive the new life in us,
To know the Christ in us, the Hope of Glory,
To take that little light of ours, and give it to the world, and let it shine,
And to be willing to say to God:
Here we are, the servants of the Lord,
Let it be with us, according to your Word.
*[Meredith Long shared this insight with colleagues at World Concern while leading prayers one Thursday this past month.]