RSS Feed

Mary Rides Again

I very much like preaching about Mary.

There is a dearth of good Anglican mariology, in my opinion.  Generally, we fall into one of two camps:  either we go full hyper-dulia and Romish about the Mother of God, with rosaries and novenas aplenty, or we go full Baptist, and ignore her.  I don’t think either are helpful.  Mary has a unique role in the Gospels and in the life of the church.   So it’s important for a theoretical, textual reason.

But it’s also important because of actual, human people.  This year, I was tempted to talk about something other than Mary, and her kick-ass self.  But then I came across a published sermon, given by a mainline Protestant minister, in which he claimed Mary was unimportant because she merely was a pawn in God’s larger plan of grace.  In fact, he argued, she had no choice at all–and emphasized that several times.

Nope–I decided right then and there I had to talk about Mary again.  It was either that or be kept awake for the next year with nightmares of that horrifying sermon playing in my head.

As I was giving the sermon, I watched the congregation.  They were on the smaller side–it was the morning of Christmas Eve, after all.  But when I got to the part about Mary being her own person, a teenaged girl in the pews shot her head up, and started grinning.  Afterwards, she told me delightedly that she loved my sermon.

That’s why I do this.

 

Rev. Megan L. Castellan

December 24, 2017 (Morning)

Advent IV, Year B

Luke 2

 

The week before Christmas is a fascinating time for clergy, and other workers within the church.  Traditionally, it is the time when the copier breaks, when the plumbing declines to further plumb, and when all manner of small inconvenience suddenly appears, such that you cannot deal with the mounting pile of insanity that needs to be dealt with.  It breaks the weak, let me tell you.  And it’s why I’ve been bringing chocolate into work all week.

 

Of course, that’s what it’s like for most of us in these last pre-holiday days:  lots of rushing, lots of worrying about whether the family will make their flights, or whether Atlanta will have another blackout.  Whether that last side dish will get done, whether everything will be read or not.  For many of us, clergy or not, Christmas is an exercise in anxiety.

 

Contrast this, then, with the images on our Christmas cards of the Holy Family:  figures serene and formal, spotless and pale–looking like they never had a day of worry in their lives.  

Most of the images of Mary and Joseph that we see around this time of year do not reflect what we know their reality must have been:  harried, frantic, dirty, and terrified.  I did a Google search this week, when I was trying to avoid writing this sermon, and by a large margin, most of the images you find of Mary, especially, show her emotionless, and with her gaze off in the middle distance.  She’s distant and otherworldly–too pure and holy for whatever fears and concerns we struggle with.

 

But we know, of course, that this isn’t present in the narrative.  To read Luke’s account of the Annunciation is to encounter a young girl who has a lot of emotions.  

 

When Gabriel shows up to Mary (according to tradition in Nazareth, he shows up while she’s getting water from a local well), she very clearly has some concerns.  If you read the text closely, you can track the changes as the conversation happens.  Gabriel gives her the good news, and Mary is quite explicitly not on board.  She is worried, she is frightened, she has some questions, gosh darn it.  So she asks them.  “How can this be, since I am a virgin?”  Mary is trying to figure this out.

 

Gabriel gives further information, and it is only when he does, that Mary responds to the initial announcement.  “Here I am, the servant of the Lord.”  Mary’s affirmative response is predicated on this give-and-take with the angel, and we know this in part because Luke describes Mary’s interior life–the only person really besides Jesus who is described as having interiority at all in the gospels.  

 

It never fails to amaze me, how many sermons and articles I come across which try to overlook or dismiss Mary’s arguing with the angel, and try to make the case that she either had no hesitations (flimsy) or she had no choice (horrifying.)  Each year, when I read about the Annunciation, these depictions of Mary as an emotionless pawn again flood my vision–the verbal equivalent of those pictures of the otherworldly, distant white girl on the Christmas cards.  

 

For one thing, the girl who doesn’t care doesn’t appear in Scripture, so there’s that.  For another, any assertion that Mary is anything other than a fully embodied agent of her own authority helps prop up some really disturbing ideas about women as a whole, and their ability to make their own decisions.  Because Mary is so often held up as What All Faithful Women Should Be, when she is reduced to a quiet pawn in the hands of God, that similarly tells women that the ideal to emulate is quiet, subservient, and without a will of her own

 

But finally, and perhaps most vitally, when we do actually stick to Scripture, and the depictions of women shown there, instead of our invented nonsense, we see that Christianity is resting on the foundation of the (still-controversial idea) that it is vital to believe women.  Both the malaligned women at the empty tomb, and the frightened, excited girl who spoke to an angel.  Without the believed testimony of women, we would have no church.  We would have no faith.

 

And just as vitally, when we bear witness to the fullness of this tradition, then we also see that it is as fully formed human beings that God encounters us.  God encounters Mary in her complete humanity–in all of her confusion, in all her doubt and fear, in all her questioning.  God does not shy away from any part of her or declare her questions out of bounds–God declares her as Blessed among women before a single word leaves her mouth. Indeed, she is blessed just as she is.  She does not have to do or change a thing.  

 

So then, Mary serves as a reminder that God takes us, each as we are.  Each one of us, regardless of our doubts and our hesitations has been declared beloved and blessed by the Most High.  Each one of us is needed in this recreation of the world.  And for each one of us, regardless of how well the cookies turned out, regardless of whether the dog eats the turkey, regardless of whether the children fight, regardless of whether we can muster up enough cheerfulness or not–Christ will be born on Christmas.  

 

 

 

Rev. Megan L. Castellan

December 24, 2017 (Morning)

Advent IV, Year B

Luke 2

 

The week before Christmas is a fascinating time for clergy, and other workers within the church.  Traditionally, it is the time when the copier breaks, when the plumbing declines to further plumb, and when all manner of small inconvenience suddenly appears, such that you cannot deal with the mounting pile of insanity that needs to be dealt with.  It breaks the weak, let me tell you.  And it’s why I’ve been bringing chocolate into work all week.

 

Of course, that’s what it’s like for most of us in these last pre-holiday days:  lots of rushing, lots of worrying about whether the family will make their flights, or whether Atlanta will have another blackout.  Whether that last side dish will get done, whether everything will be read or not.  For many of us, clergy or not, Christmas is an exercise in anxiety.

 

Contrast this, then, with the images on our Christmas cards of the Holy Family:  figures serene and formal, spotless and pale–looking like they never had a day of worry in their lives.  

Most of the images of Mary and Joseph that we see around this time of year do not reflect what we know their reality must have been:  harried, frantic, dirty, and terrified.  I did a Google search this week, when I was trying to avoid writing this sermon, and by a large margin, most of the images you find of Mary, especially, show her emotionless, and with her gaze off in the middle distance.  She’s distant and otherworldly–too pure and holy for whatever fears and concerns we struggle with.

 

But we know, of course, that this isn’t present in the narrative.  To read Luke’s account of the Annunciation is to encounter a young girl who has a lot of emotions.  

 

When Gabriel shows up to Mary (according to tradition in Nazareth, he shows up while she’s getting water from a local well), she very clearly has some concerns.  If you read the text closely, you can track the changes as the conversation happens.  Gabriel gives her the good news, and Mary is quite explicitly not on board.  She is worried, she is frightened, she has some questions, gosh darn it.  So she asks them.  “How can this be, since I am a virgin?”  Mary is trying to figure this out.

 

Gabriel gives further information, and it is only when he does, that Mary responds to the initial announcement.  “Here I am, the servant of the Lord.”  Mary’s affirmative response is predicated on this give-and-take with the angel, and we know this in part because Luke describes Mary’s interior life–the only person really besides Jesus who is described as having interiority at all in the gospels.  

 

It never fails to amaze me, how many sermons and articles I come across which try to overlook or dismiss Mary’s arguing with the angel, and try to make the case that she either had no hesitations (flimsy) or she had no choice (horrifying.)  Each year, when I read about the Annunciation, these depictions of Mary as an emotionless pawn again flood my vision–the verbal equivalent of those pictures of the otherworldly, distant white girl on the Christmas cards.  

 

For one thing, the girl who doesn’t care doesn’t appear in Scripture, so there’s that.  For another, any assertion that Mary is anything other than a fully embodied agent of her own authority helps prop up some really disturbing ideas about women as a whole, and their ability to make their own decisions.  Because Mary is so often held up as What All Faithful Women Should Be, when she is reduced to a quiet pawn in the hands of God, that similarly tells women that the ideal to emulate is quiet, subservient, and without a will of her own

 

But finally, and perhaps most vitally, when we do actually stick to Scripture, and the depictions of women shown there, instead of our invented nonsense, we see that Christianity is resting on the foundation of the (still-controversial idea) that it is vital to believe women.  Both the malaligned women at the empty tomb, and the frightened, excited girl who spoke to an angel.  Without the believed testimony of women, we would have no church.  We would have no faith.

 

And just as vitally, when we bear witness to the fullness of this tradition, then we also see that it is as fully formed human beings that God encounters us.  God encounters Mary in her complete humanity–in all of her confusion, in all her doubt and fear, in all her questioning.  God does not shy away from any part of her or declare her questions out of bounds–God declares her as Blessed among women before a single word leaves her mouth. Indeed, she is blessed just as she is.  She does not have to do or change a thing.  

 

So then, Mary serves as a reminder that God takes us, each as we are.  Each one of us, regardless of our doubts and our hesitations has been declared beloved and blessed by the Most High.  Each one of us is needed in this recreation of the world.  And for each one of us, regardless of how well the cookies turned out, regardless of whether the dog eats the turkey, regardless of whether the children fight, regardless of whether we can muster up enough cheerfulness or not–Christ will be born on Christmas.  

 

 

 

About megancastellan

Episcopal priest, writer, wearer of fancy shoes.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: