What My Grandmothers Taught Me
Lesson Seven: Mary
Primary Scripture: Matthew 1:18–2:23
The Scandal of Mary’s Christmas
How appropriate it is that this blog falls near the Advent season—that beautiful lead-up to Christmas that invites us to slow down, immerse ourselves in the Christmas story, and wait in expectation of God being birthed among us and within us in unexpected ways.
Mary is the climax of Matthew’s “history” of salvation. In Matthew it is as if all roads lead (unexpectedly) to a young woman, probably little more than a girl, who goes about her simple daily routine in an out-of-the-way place called Nazareth. Like the other women we’ve studied so far, there is nothing out of the ordinary about Mary. She could be anyone we know; she could even be each one of us.
The thing about Mary’s story is that there’s nothing particularly sweet or romantic about it. If we look at her and only see the clean and serene statue in snowy white and radiant blue robes, we’ve missed the point. Imagine instead, the terror of having to tell your parents (at around 14) and your betrothed (a “righteous” man who could be expected to be shocked beyond belief at the news) that you’re pregnant. Add to this picture a society where the probable outcome would be the disgrace of the whole family and possibly your own death in an “honor” killing.
After having negotiated all of this (with the help of angels) there is then the requirement, while heavily pregnant, of long travel by donkey and giving birth for the first time, away from the help of family and the well-known village midwife. And if that wasn’t enough, being forced to flee for your life from an assassination attempt by the most powerful man in the country. Even then, the people who recognize and celebrate this miraculous birth are not your country folk or co-religionists, but strangers from a faraway land who follow a very different religion but are nevertheless open to the nudge of the divine.
I recently read a post that said something along these lines: if we come towards Christmas without concern for unmarried mothers, immigrants, refugees, and people of other faith traditions, we should not be celebrating it at all.
I felt confronted by that statement. How about you? I hope so because Mary’s story is also confrontational. Matthew’s birth narrative has challenging overtones that place the whole thing in a political context that hovers like a cloud of threat. Matthew seems to be saying that this is where God is born: into dangerous political turmoil, among the powerless, unrecognized except by those few who are carefully watching for the signs of God amongst us.
It takes courage to walk alongside Mary, especially at Christmastime. She is not to be found in the glitz of decorated shops, piped carols, extravagant gift-giving. Instead, Mary takes us into lost and forgotten places where our compassion is tried and stretched. It is in these places where we see God born in hope yet again.
Merryl L. Blair
author of the 2021-2022 PW/Horizons Bible Study
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