Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Mary: the Hope-Bearer

Image by He Qi
I'm thinking a lot about Mary the mother of Jesus at the moment. It must have something to do with Christmas. In this blog, I wrote about Mary's reaction to the message she received from the angel Gabriel in 'How Can This Be?' and 'Pondering an Announcement'

This December I've pondered Mary as 'Hope-Bearer' and wrote on this as a #digidisciple at The Big Bible Project. This post was first published as 'Hope-Bearer' on 14 December 2011 at The BIGBible Project  as the 3rd of my monthly series 'Blogging Women of the Gospels'. Here is what I wrote:


What is your picture of Mary, the mother of Jesus?

When I was a child, Mary of Nazareth was the coveted role in the nativity play – the only decent role for a girl who enjoyed playing with dolls and dressing up like a grown-up. Then, when I was about 14 or 15, I learned that when Mary was pregnant with Jesus she was probably about my age. I began to see how difficult was the real-life role Mary played. A few years later, when I was pregnant at Christmas, I listened to Bible readings from the first 2 chapters of Matthew’s and Luke’s gospels and knew that every pregnancy is, in a sense, a miracle. Not that every pregnancy is welcomed, especially if the mother’s fiancĂ© is not the father.

Who would believe the story of the angel Gabriel’s message?

And how could Mary believe it at first? You might not agree, but I don’t think she did – at first. No wonder she asked the angel, “how can this be, since I am a virgin?” With the reply, “the Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you…”  Gabriel revealed that Mary’s relative Elizabeth was 6 months pregnant, although old and previously infertile,  because “nothing will be impossible with God”. Was it this that gave Mary courage to say “Here am I, the servant of the Lord”?  But when the angel left I imagine Mary in a state of considerable confusion and probably fear.  No wonder she  hurried to Elizabeth’s home, some distance away. Was she fleeing or was she sent?

How did Mary cope in those first weeks of miraculous but inconvenient pregnancy?

It’s interesting following @natwivity this year, a creative retelling on Twitter of the Christmas story by the main characters.  Here are some of the tweets by or about #Mary. Be warned: they are not very ‘Merry Christmassy’ as these are about Mary’s situation immediately after the angel Gabriel’s visit.
#Mary Why is life so unfair? He’ll drive me out of this town.
#Mary I’m packing my stuff and running away. I don’t need this.
#Mary I am alone and leaving. I am walking through the darkness. Can I hold on? Can I hold on?
#Jerusalem Daily Young Pregnant Woman Missing after Row with Boyfriend. Last seen walking out of Nazareth clutching small bundles of clothes.
#Mary I don’t know where I am going. I just know I can’t go back. #Castout.
#Mary Struggling along the dusty road desperate and scared.
#Mary Who am I? Just another fearful soul. That is all. Just another running scared. This is too much for me.

With that picture of despair, why is this post called ‘Hope-Bearer’?

If everything is fine in the world why would anyone need hope? Doesn’t the light of hope only have meaning in relation to the darkness of despair? Some people who have been through the deepest darkness become the most powerful symbols of hope. Does anyone like that spring to your mind? Other than Mary?
Based on the account in Luke 1: 39 – 56 I imagine the young Mary finding safe refuge in Elizabeth’s home, her fear giving way to joy because of the older woman’s confirmation that what the angel had told Mary was really true – impossible though it might seem. The longings and hopes of her people were to be fulfilled in the child in Mary’s womb. She was to give birth to Jesus, the Hope of the world. And so she sang her song of praise – the ‘Magnificat’, about the powerful being brought down, the lowly lifted up, the hungry filled with good things and the rich sent away empty.

For further reading

Other than Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-2, Jesus’ mother Mary is mentioned in the following places in the gospels: Matthew 12: 46-50; Mark 3: 31-35; Luke 8: 19-21; John 2: 1-11; John 18: 25-27. The only other mention in the New Testament is in Acts 1: 13-14 where Mary is shown as within the community of early Christians.

For Reflection and Discussion

  1. Imagine you are Mary’s mother or father. You discover your daughter is pregnant and she says she hasn’t had sex with Joseph yet, or any other man. What would you think, say or do?
  2. In what sense is Mary a hope-bearer?
  3. Who are significant hope-bearers today?
  4. How can you be a hope-bearer?

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