First Mennonite Church
December 6, 2015
Christmas: A Difficult Calling for Mary
Mary, a girl living in shadows anonymity suddenly came under the spotlight of world history. For you see, since the people of Israel settled in the Land of Canaan, young men and young women had engaged, gotten married and have had children. For centuries this cycle of family life had been repeated and gone into obscurity, with a few exceptions. But Mary’s and Joseph’s lives, as fledgling couple, were forcefully transformed. Mary was a “nobody,” per se; yet, her life came into the spotlight of world history the day Gabriel came to visit her. It was perhaps or in part, her humble and trusting condition which led her to accept the call of becoming the human vessel in which the Savior came into the world. Now it is hard to avoid talking about Mary when talking about Christmas. It is almost impossible to speak about the birth of Jesus and to leave Mary out of the picture. The whole world remembers Mary for being the mother of Jesus.
The world has a good list of powerful, influential, and outstanding statesmen and women, philanthropists, visionaries and missionaries. Yet, in order for these to be remembered, we have set dates in the calendar or had to erect statues of them so we do not forget them.
In some way, many around the world honor the memory of Mary for willingness to accept her calling to be the mother of Jesus. And even thought we do not pay homage or offer prayers to her, we do remember Mary.
Mary was also moved from perplexity to full surrender. The Gospels tell us of a couple instances when Mary was puzzled. The first is, of course, when the angel announced to her that she was going to have a child even before she had gotten married. “How can this be?” a puzzled Mary asked. The angel explained that the Holy Spirit of God would overshadow her. We now talk about the virgin birth of Jesus. This explanation was and is still a puzzle to past and modern skeptics. How can it be? Mary overcame her puzzlement about how it could be possible.
Luke 2, 41-52 gives the account of Jesus in the Temple. There Mary was also puzzled to see her son showing signs of picking up a different trade than that of his father Joseph. He seemed more interested in theology than in carpentry and he was very good at it to the degree that even the temple scholars were puzzled, too.
Mary was also puzzled to see her son show signs of siding with the “wrong” group of society. He was inclined to having fellowship with the poor, the outcasts, those called sinners, and those in the margins of society. Yet, his motivation was so obvious. He truly loved them. He had genuine compassion toward this type of people. He would even stick out his neck for the woman caught in adultery. He was caught between the raging self-righteous mobs with rocks in hand ready to stone to death the poor woman, but he defended her. “Let any of you without sin, throw the first rock,” he demanded. On another occasion, he befriended the Samaritan woman; but not only befriended her, he also opened her eyes to the love of God.
There is another cause of puzzlement for Mary, which the Gospels only speak about indirectly. Mary’s love, devotion and sacrifice to raise her son were not reciprocated. It seems that her love for her son was never corresponded, at least never clearly spell out in the gospels. In Mark 3, verse 20 and following, we read that the townspeople believed Jesus had lost “his marbles.” This is how it reads: “…the people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.” And what did Mary do? She rallied her troops and headed over “to restrain him.” When Jesus was told, “Your mom and your siblings are out there calling you.” Jesus replied, “Who is my mother and who are my brothers and sister?” Then pointing at those sitting around him said, “Here are my mothers; here are my brothers and sisters. Whomever does the will of my Father, they are my mother and my brother and sister.”
On another occasion, while they were attending a wedding the groom ran out of wine. And Mary, concerned about the problem, came to Jesus and said, “Sonny, they ran out of wine.” The way Jesus answered might have not sounded awful in Aramaic, but it does sound terribly disrespectful in English and Spanish. He said to Mary, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me?” How about that answer from a holy child! (I should remember this more often now that my children are all teenagers! They are only PKs!)
From early on Luke wrote about Mary’s response to such puzzlement. He wrote, “Mary was amazed and she treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19, 33, and 50).
Mary’s journey in fulfilling her role of being the mother of Jesus was one of extraordinary joy and excruciating pain, one of singular privilege and of unspeakable sacrifice. She was called blessed of all women; people envied her for having given birth and nursed a holy man (Luke 11:27). Mary also had to walk the hall of shame and pain. She had to flee in the middle of the night with child in arms (Mt. 2:14); she had to bear scorn and pain when Jesus was rejected (Mt. 13:55).
Most often when we celebrate Christmas we forget the immense emotional roller-coaster Mary had to live. She heard the most amazing stories regarding the uniqueness of her son from the shepherds, form the wise men from the East, from Simeon, Anna, and others. She also rejoiced at the wisdom, and grace displayed by Jesus. But Mary also witnessed with pain the fierce opposition and rejection her son suffered. Her heart was truly pierced when she witnessed her beloved son breathing laboriously and agonizing with harrowing pain as he hung on the cross. And once again, instead of a final goodbye with love, Jesus’ last words to her were, “Woman, behold your son” as Jesus eyes motioned towards John. And to John he said, “Behold your mother.”
I want to close with this final thought. Frederick Buechner writes about Mary and her relationship with Jesus:
For all the sentimentalizing that their relationship has come in for since, there’s no place in the Gospel where he speaks some special, loving word or does some special, loving thing for the woman who gave him birth. You get the idea that he felt he couldn’t belong truly to anybody unless he somehow belonged equally to everybody. They were all his mother and brothers and sisters, and there is no place in the record where he offers anything more than he offered everybody else.
Just as every consideration of Jesus’ birth cannot be told except by making reference to Mary, it is also of little profit to consider Mary apart from the person of Jesus. Christmas only makes sense if and when we do not lose focus of Christ Jesus. It is therefore important for us to realize that just as Jesus could not give any more special love to Mary alone that he could not give to others, today we cannot offer our love for him apart from loving our brothers, sisters, neighbors and even those want to do us harm. Just as Jesus could not limit his filial relationship to his blood relatives only, today we are called to extend our heart to welcome everyone who confesses his name regardless of race, place of origin, language and color of skin. Jesus lived his message when he said, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:37.) Many find it too difficult to break away from family traditions in order to follow Jesus. Jesus loved his family but he never held them over against his calling to love the world. And he calls us to love him above all things including our family if that becomes a hindrance to loving him first and foremost.
The love he freely gave to everyone and not only to his immediate family, is the reason why even today he calls me his brother, and calls you his mother, brother and sister. This Christmas, let us express the spirit of brotherhood and sisterhood and of family that Jesus came to show us. We are his family if and when we do the will of God. Amen!
 Frederick Buechner, Peculiar Treasures: A Biblical Who’s Who (New York, HarperCollins Publishers 1979), 114.