Mothers of God

Theotokos or “Mother of God,” is an expletive to some and a name for Mary for others. To most of us it is a vaguely familiar expression that we somehow recall as being “Catholic.” Sadly Protestants are often a little leery of our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters, especially in the veneration of Mary. But, on this Mother’s Day, can’t we agree that “Ave Maria” is just as appropriate in a Protestant church as much as in a Roman Catholic one?

If it weren’t for Mary’s humble willingness to endure the ire of Joseph and surely that of the rest of Nazareth’s townspeople, we would be without a Jesus born both of God and of humanity. Jesus had to be human to satisfy justice, and he had to be divine for his death to save the whole world. I dare say one reason for Jesus to have a human mother is to claim that the very best representatives of humanity are women. Too often more is made of the political incorrectness of God as father when we miss the greater affirmation of women found in the person of Mary.

Meister Eckhart, famous theologian and mystic of the fourteenth century, described our affinity to Mary this way: “We are all meant to be mothers of God. What good is it to me if this eternal birth of the divine Son takes place unceasingly, but does not take place within myself? And, what good is it to me if Mary is full of grace if I am not also full of grace? What good is it to me for the Creator to give birth to his Son if I do not also give birth to him in my time and my culture? This, then, is the fullness of time: when the Son of God is begotten in us.” Like Mary, we should all birth the Christ!

Of course, women are ahead of the game in this regard, whether they have had a child or not. For instance, I am reminded of a somewhat obscure passage of Scripture found in Paul’s lengthy greeting at the end of Romans. In this list he greets a host of people that have meant something to him. One such greeting includes a special word to every woman who has been a spiritual and emotional mother but maybe not a biological one. In Romans 16:13, Paul states, “Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother, who has been a mother to me, too.

Haven’t we all had women in our lives like Rufus’ mother, someone who has nurtured us, taught us, cared for us? A lot of my mothers were actually my real mother’s helpers. Aunts and school teachers come quickly to mind. Included would be the wise women of my first parish that taught a young inexperienced minister the way to care. My mother-in-law certainly was a mother to me, and with deepest sincerity I humbly admit that my wife has been like a mother to this her “fourth child” more often than she should have.

Mothering isn’t about biology. Like Mary and Rufus’ nameless mother, we can all fill in the blank of those women who have mothered us. We are grateful! This day is for every one of you. Our prayer, like Meister Eckhart’s, is that your grand unfathomable love might be born anew in us, that we might become Theotoki, bearers of the Christ child, as well as you. This is our tribute to you who have borne Him so well. This is our prayer of dedication. No greater compliment can we pay, no greater Mother’s Day gift can we purchase save the desire to be like you in birthing Christ in the world.

Mary and Child

Role Models: Zechariah or Simeon

To everyone who hasn’t figured out your family’s Christmas plans, your gift lists, or whether or not you’re going to invite Aunt Sue, the drama queen, to anything – here’s to you! Two weeks from today is Christmas and I’m behind in my decision making and confused. Like being caught between the First Advent and the Second, I am in this tenuous almost there, but not quite mode of either making some hard and fast decisions or just throwing my hands up in the air and go with the flow. My choice is to go with the flow, God’s flow.

Isn’t that what Joseph decided as he heard about the impending birth? He could have really wrecked things. Gosh, Mary absolutely could have refused to say to Gabriel, “Be it unto me as you have said.” All the people from Mary, Joseph, Zechariah, Elizabeth, Magi, Shepherds, Innkeeper, Herod, Cyrenius, Simeon, and Anna could have make fateful decisions that would have made the Lord’s birth turn out very differently. It is simply amazing how God allowed human freedom of choice to affect his plan of salvation for the world. What a risk, but we have a God who risks and I’m glad!

Now, I know that some of you think that the whole birth thing and everything before and since about everything in life has been a done deal, pre-arranged, and orchestrated, but to do so lessens the love-factor that God embraces for human history. God loves us so much that He allows us to be partners in this thing called life. Our decisions are ours to make, and for God to use, oftentimes having to bring good out of our bad choices.

Well, enough about theological “what-if’s” and human choice and let me get back to what I need to do about Christmas shopping, planning family get-togethers that fit everyone’s schedules, and whether or not we clean the house for the potential aforementioned festivities. I am reluctant to be as compliant as Mary and Joseph, and feel as resistant and befuddled as Zechariah.

Zechariah is an interesting character. He’s a Levitical priest who is married to Elizabeth, Mary’s relative. He’s pulled the duty that places him in the temple and an angel lets him know that he and Elizabeth are going to have a child. What gets me is that he shouldn’t have been very surprised. It says in Luke 1:13 that his prayer has been answered for a baby, but his response to Gabriel the angel is DOUBT in verse 18, “How can I be sure of this?” He’s like people who pray for rain but never carry an umbrella. He’s been praying, but when it comes true, he’s shocked. Go figure, but it sounds like me – maybe you. I think: “Why pray if you’re going to be shocked when you get an answer?”

The character in Jesus’ birth narrative that I would most desire to be like is Simeon. In Luke 2:25-35 we read of this faithful devout man who has been waiting in Jerusalem for who knows how long because the Lord told him that he wouldn’t die before he got a chance to see the Messiah, the consolation of Israel. What I want to emulate is what it says in Luke 2:27, “Moved by the Spirit, he went to into the temple courts.” Wouldn’t my choices turn out better if I did what the Holy Spirit moved me to do? Of course!

Anyway, Simeon sees Mary, Joseph, and the Christ Child. He dares to take him in his arms like LeBron James hugging Princess Kate last week in NYC, and then he bursts into song. Simeon sings the “Nunc Dimittis” which says, basically “Now dismiss your servant because I’ve seen your salvation…” He says some other very important things, but what captures me is that he was willing to be faithful enough to wait until God delivered on his promise, obedient enough to be moved by the Spirit, bold enough to take the Savior from Mary’s protective arms, and fearless enough of what other people thought so that he could break out in a song that said, “Lord, now I’m ready to go. I can die in peace because You’ve kept your word and I’ve seen the Savior!”

Who do you want to be like in Jesus’ birth narratives? Who are you like? I may be a Zechariah, but I want to be a Simeon. If I’m like Simeon then the Christmas lists, plans, and what-ifs are going be no big deal. Real choices still need to be made like Simeon’s choice to remain in Jerusalem until God came through, but if I rest in the Spirit my choices will turn out better than okay. Reluctant Zechariah or Expectant Simeon, which shall I be?