Tuesday, December 2, 2008

What is it about Mary?

This is the time of Mary, the time we remember a young peasant woman long ago who broke every tribal rule to say "yes" to God. Below is a brief mediation on Mary by Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury who wrote this two years ago. Enjoy:

What Matters About Mary?
A message from Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury
for the Second Sunday of Advent

If all we ever see is a rather sentimental picture of a passive young girl as a decorative centrepiece for the Nativity scene, it may not be clear why Christians should be concerned to honour and remember her as they do. Here are two things that might make us think about her more seriously.
The first is something we easily forget. When we meet Mary for the first time in the Bible, she is a person who, in the society of her day, doesn't matter in her own right - a single woman who will only become really significant when she gets married and continues the tribal line. God comes to her and calls her to take a massive risk. She is to step right outside the business of 'tribal lines', the male world of inheritance and power. By saying yes to God and letting God create a new world within her very body, she is saying no to some of the most dominant things in her world. She is risking rejection, perhaps destitution (as Matthew's gospel hints). She is putting herself, spirit and body, at God's service, with practically no idea of how deep the cost may be. Say what you like about that, but it isn't the story of a passive person. This is someone who, at least as much as any great artist or scientist, is taking the risk of making the world different - breathing deeply and facing the price they'll have to pay whatever it may be.
The second thing is this. Jesus is a real human being, so he has a real human psychology. He learns how to be human as we do, from the people around him. Just as for all of us, the first faces and voices he sees will shape who he will be. So the mother of Jesus is central to Jesus' humanity - not in an abstract sense, but in a very concrete one. He learns how to be human from her. He learns from her how to respond to the terrible, risky calling of the Father. And as he learns how to be human, he acts out more and more fully on earth the eternal life of God that he was born to live among us. Mary's human discipleship is one of the conditions for Jesus' humanity to grow up and reveal that perfect fusion between divine love and human response that is his unique gift to the world. He is who he is because she was who she was.

She is not the final and perfect form of renewed humanity - that belongs to her son alone. But she is part of what makes his perfection possible. So - passive? Once again, no. In one of the great images often used of her, she is the open door of the Temple, through which the streams of living water flow to heal the earth. Her freedom to respond to her Lord turns the wheel of history and begins the story of our salvation. She is someone who deeply deserves our celebration and gratitude.

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