“Among the downtrodden people she was one of the lowliest, not a maid of high station in the capital city, but a daughter of a plain man in a small town. We may infer that she was of no account because she herself said in her song, “He hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden.” Who knows whether her parents were alive at the time? In all likelihood she was an orphan… In the village of Nazareth she appears as a mere servant, tending the cattle and the house, and no more esteemed than a maid among us who does her appointed chores.” ~ Martin Luther’s reflections on Mary, the mother of Jesus, from Roland H. Bainton’s “Martin Luther’s Christmas Book”
Inside this newsletter you will find an article by Emily Koski, our Shepherd Song Music Leader. As a mom she takes some time to reflect on Mary’s faith, strength and rightful place of honor as “The Mother of God” as she is often called in Catholic theology. As Lutherans we probably don’t pay enough attention to Mary, so I’m grateful for Emily’s instinct to think about her as we approach Christmas. Her article is honest and helpful. Please be sure to read it! And, as importantly, I’m grateful to serve along side strong, outspoken, thoughtful, faithful women like Emily, Pastor Joanna, Kaye and Shawn who follow in the same powerful Spirit that animated Mary’s life.
All of this inspired me to do a little research into what Martin Luther said about Mary. The quote above is one little bit of Luther’s reflection. What all of this triggered in me was the strange juxtaposition of the festive décor of Christmas and the plain, very difficult reality of Mary’s pregnancy and Jesus birth. At Christmas we haul out all the glittery things, all the bright and shining things, and all the holiday cheer we can safely handle. Certainly there is reason to celebrate every birth, and the coming of God into the world through Mary is worthy of festivities and décor.
But, Mary and Joseph and Jesus are beset by real troubles. Is it possible that Mary was an orphan? No parents for comfort? Did she face the stinging reality that Jesus would have no grandparents on that side of the family? Was she as vulnerable as a servant whose only source of support was tending someone else’s cattle? And, as Emily rightly points out, was she sick, tired, worn out and hiding her situation to avoid what could have been fatal consequences all the while feeding someone else’s cows? I hope our décor isn’t an attempt to cover up the difficult realities of our lives.
Maybe if we hit the pause button for a moment on the festivities and lingered a while at the feeding trough (read manger), we’d notice that God does not distain the real and painful troubles of human life, but instead seems to bring hope by entering into such pain. It’s easy to see God in the good stuff, but Mary’s story also seems to indicate that God is also in the rough stuff. Mary is brave and honest about her difficult realities, which also allows her to absorb all the hope and joy too. As church folk, it might be better if, instead of prettying everything up at Christmas and pretending that all is calm and all is bright, we acknowledged all the difficult, stressfulness and pain that we human beings experience almost daily. Honesty about those things might allow us to feel more clearly God’s love, care, hope and promises more palpably. A little more honesty, a little fewer twinkly lights…
Thanks to Emily for helping me pause and reflect. Thanks to the women of the Bible, like Mary who remind us that life is full of moments of pain and difficulty, and also moments of joy and new birth, sometimes coming all at once together. Remembering that God isn’t found in the tinsel, but instead God is found in the manger, in the barn, in the cold, surrounded by the warm loving tender hands of Mary’s brave bold heart. For Mary and all the women who shepherd new life, “Thanks be to God!”
Merry Christmas, Pastor Scott