If there is one point of contention that I get about my Catholic Faith more than any other, it’s what we Catholics believe about Mary. Mark Shea has handled the topic quite thoroughly in his excellent book “Mary, Mother of the Son.” In many ways, I don’t really feel that I can add anything to what he has said, but since he took a several hundred pages to say it, and most of my Protestant friends and family won’t read that much, I’ll do my best to condense it here.
Recently Kristin and I found out we were expecting our second child. That revelation brought with it a flurry of activity! Expectation changes behavior. Overnight her diet changed – more fruit, more protein, and pre-natal vitamins. We began to think about names. We began to make mental lists to make sure we were ready for the arrival of this new baby. Expectation changes perception. Suddenly she understood why she was over-tired. She understood why she was more emotional than normal. When she viewed those emotions and feelings through the lens of pregnancy it all made sense. Expectation changes priorities. Because we are expecting, we are intentional with what she eats, we are intentional with how late we stay out, and we are intentional with preparing for that which we expect.
In the midst of this I think of Mary. Betrothed to be married, she was expecting. She was already making her plans; she was already in the middle of rearranged priorities. She was expecting a wedding. Then the Angel Gabriel stands before her and tells her of a new expectation (Luke 1:26-38). Mary humbly accepted and her life forever changed in an instant! Her thoughts became preoccupied with this new baby. The scriptures say that “Mary pondered these things in her heart.” How frightening it must have been to be pregnant and unmarried in those days. The stigma surely followed her throughout her life. But God’s priorities superseded the approval or understanding of people.
Today, we are far removed from that ancient story. In this season of Advent, we remember that Christ became a human to save us from sin and reconcile us to God. We use Advent as a reminder, and are grateful for God’s mercy to us. It is easy to forget that we too are a people who live in expectation. At mass we proclaim the mystery of faith together, “We proclaim your death, O Lord, and profess your resurrection, until you come again!” Generations have passed, and it may not seem likely that Christ will return in our lifetime, but Christ will come again. We celebrate Advent not only to remind us that Christ has come, but also to stir up expectation. Expectation changes everything. How will our thoughts, actions, and priorities change as we expect the return of Christ? Will we, like Mary, spurn public perception in favor of living out God’s priorities? Let us be a people consumed by expectancy!
Homework this week: Examine your priorities, thoughts, and behaviors through the lens of Christ’s return. How will a sense of expectation change your life?
“Therefore, I will always be ready to remind you of these [truths of the Gospel], even though you already know them, and have been established in the truth which is present with you. I consider it right…to stir you up by way of reminder,” – 2 Peter 1:12-13
I find this time of year, that it is easy to quickly rehearse the Christmas story and, because I have heard it so many times, gloss over it, and not give it the attention it deserves. I know the story well. I could quote it to you without thinking.
Virgin Mary + Baby Jesus = Christmas Story!
Shepherds x Wiseman = rocking party + (cool gifts)3!
It’s formulaic. Here just days away from Christmas, I need my heart stirred up by way of reminder. I need to be reminded that the God of the ages, who is too awesome to be contained by the heavens, put on flesh and lived the human life for thirty-three years. I need to be reminded that God submitted not only to a human life, but submitted to nine months in the womb; submitted to being born.
Ours is not a God who takes the easy way. He could have revealed himself in the form of Man fully grown, appearing from nowhere. But God gave himself a past, a childhood full of an early exile and painful moves in the middle of the night. Our God choose to identify with us in our sufferings from the greatest to the smallest, from the latest to the earliest. The maker of the Universe was made in the womb of Mary. The Author of all life was born. Christmas is not a wonderful children’s bedtime story. It is the story of God invading enemy territory with a plan to release a captive people.
The Christmas story is inextricably linked with the Passion and Easter story. God came, God lived, God experienced, God loved, God died, God conquered, God lived, God saved. This Christmas, let us stir up one another by way of remembering the wonderful true story that was handed down to us from ages past. We, the captive people, have been freed.