16 December 2009

nativity: 2

Weakness and Grace.

The third week of Christian Advent centers on the motif of joy, and is often known as a time to think about Mary (specifically, Mary's joy). Interestingly, there is little mention of her joy in Scripture. There is, however, specific mention at her being troubled and confused by the situation. Perhaps two of the most telling verses of Mary's character are found in Luke 1:28-29. Two things happen here: 1) the angel tells her that she is highly favored and that the Lord is with her, 2) her immediate response is that she is greatly troubled and confused. Why? Because she is wise enough to know that getting involved with God is messy and risky. She wouldn't be wrong.

On this peasant girl a tremendous amount of pressure would be placed, more than most of us could probably endure if given the same set of circumstances. While we have the luxury of viewing this story as sacred pageant, solemnly reciting and pondering the covenant promises of David's lineage, Mary had to endure real life where families were dishonored and unfaithful brides were stoned. The promise of eternal kingship might be true and holy, but it is not always convincing.

Yet her only question comes from her confusion, she has nothing to compare such an unprecedented act of the divine. Her statement reveals her weakness: she does not have the present means to accomplish this. It is not in her mind for a moment that she might conceive by promiscuity, her faith has kept her within the righteousness of the covenant. She is not married and cannot envision breaking the law which governed the engagement process. Mary sees herself as 'weak' in accomplishing this task . . . to which God comes in his grace to be sufficient for her position.

"The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most high will overshadow you . . ." is the description of the fusion which will occur inside of Mary. Again, in our high theological pageantry we refer to this as Incarnation. This young girl saw it as the climax of her deeply held and passionate faith. Before she could ponder on the meaning of this - the cultural fallout or the christological definitions - she commits herself to the will of the Lord, because she is his servant.

That is all that we know about this scene, and it is all that we need to know. For we ourselves struggle with the pageantry of our faith - the clinging to promises found within Scripture - without ever allowing this Word to encounter real life. Too often we find ourselves questioning the implications of our devotion, or thinking that we cannot move until we get all of our doctrine and theology worked out. All the while we could be demonstrating the commitment of our faith, if it truly is deeply held and passionate. The acknowledgement of our weakness allows God's grace to rush into our present situation, giving us power and guidance for the journey ahead.

But the requirement is the initial 'yes' to his summons.

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