How has Mary, the apparently demure teenage mother of Jesus, become such a controversial figure? The way of all doctrinal controversy, perhaps? The Church is adept at finding things to argue about. Why bother doing something, when you can talk about it instead?
Mary, though has been the subject of vigorous – and sometimes vicious – debate over the centuries. People have given – and lost – their lives in opposition to and in defence of their understanding of her status. When it comes to the theology of Mary, as with most doctrinal issues, there is a spectra of views, ranging from the Marist to the Mary-lite, from veneration to vituperation.
I believe in the Virgin Birth. I really do. Not as a fact to be scientifically or rationally argued – because that is simply not possible – but as a Beautiful Mystery to be beheld and wondered over.
So, why is Mary important? Because she is ‘chosen’. “Blessed are you among women”. Chosen. Blessed. Woman. Mary is important because she is a woman, and women are important to God. Women should be important to the Church. Wonderful news this week that Sarah Mullally was appointed to the post of Bishop of London, the third most senior clergyperson in the Church of England. And not before time.
The world of the New Testament was intensely patriarchal. Yet, here in the Christmas story a woman takes central stage. Indeed, Mary is central to the Gospel story, from the birth of Jesus to His death. When the male followers of Jesus had run away and deserted Him, three women remained at the Cross. Mary has a central role in the Gospel accounts. And not just Mary…Elizabeth, Anna, the Woman at the Well, Martha ‘the homemaker’, Mary Magdala, the woman who anointed Jesus’ feet before the crucifixion… The Gospel narratives affirm the place, importance, and equality of women. It is easy for us to underestimate how just how radically affirming and incendiary this inclusion of women was at the time, both in the Gospel writings and in the life of the newly emerging Church.
From ‘Mother of God’ to ‘mother of Jesus’, Mary is neither to be venerated, nor to be dismissed lightly. The truth, as always, is in the tension between two opposing poles. A middle way. The Mary way. Mary is important. She is to be respected, as all women are to be respected. Spare a thought – or a prayer – with or for – Mary this Christmastide, as with and for all the wonder-full women in our lives.
Advent 4, Christmas Eve 2017