On Sunday, and again today in the Daily Office readings, we hear Luke's account (Luke 1: 26-38) of how the angel told Mary she would be with child, and this child would be "called the Son of the Most High."
Mary declares she is a virgin, and the angel says she will be pregnant from "The Holy Spirit."
And so the Christmas story begins.
Through the ages, Mary has become larger than life, the "Theotokos," the "mother of God." For some she has remained a perpetual virgin, although the biblical accounts clearly state she had other children besides Jesus (and why wouldn't she?).
We almost lose sight of this perplexed, probably frightened, teenage peasant girl in a land long ago. Much would happen to her -- she would outlive her son, Jesus, and would be carried into her old age by the early Christian community.
We are still carrying her. We are still connected to her through this same Holy Spirit who came to her and comes to all of us, and gives us strength and hope and healing, often when we least expect it. Many encounter "Holy Spirit" as female, and why not?
Sometimes in my daily prayers I imagine myself sitting beside a river, and all of human experience is in that river. Mary herself is somewhere downstream, but I am still connected to her in that river, the same river where John the Baptist stands, the same river that brings water and life to people everywhere. We are all connected in this river just as the Holy Spirit connects us through her breath.
When you pray, your prayers will touch me, as mine will touch yours. We are connected to the poor, and the rich, to the Tea Party and the Occupy protesters. We are connected even to those who cause us the most pain. We are connected even to our enemies.
Lately, Steven Charleston, the retired bishop of Alaska, has been writing brief prayers from the heart and posting them daily on his Facebook page. Here is his prayer for today:
"Peace on Earth. Goodwill to women who work two jobs, to men who come home weary. Goodwill to those who carry our conscience into the streets, goodwill to the soldier missing home, to the student climbing the wall of tuition. Goodwill to the poor standing in line, to the elder sitting alone. Goodwill to the foreclosed family, to the pink slipped worker, to the new parents of an uncertain future. Goodwill to those in chronic pain, to those in chronic hope. Goodwill to the hungry of body, mind or heart. Goodwill to those who have given up and to those who have just begun. Peace, I pray, peace, and goodwill to us all."Amen.