Last Sunday…the 2nd Sunday of Advent, about 15 minutes before the worship service was supposed to start, I was on my way up to the narthex when I met 2 parishioners headed outside on a mission. At first I was sure that someone had fallen coming up the stairs to church, but later learned the truth: someone had taken Mary and Jesus in the night.
Footprints could be seen in the fresh snow coming up the side of the church facing Bridge Street and it appeared that they had left the same way. The aged particle board upon which these two essential characters in the Christmas nativity scene had been painted was unceremoniously removed from the metal stake that had anchored them to the ground.
My first response was laughter: some guy showed up to Saturday’s party with Mary as his date…too bad she couldn’t get a sitter.
I took a picture with my phone and quickly uploaded it to my facebook page before taking the pulpit. Once Sunday’s services were over I was anxious to see how my “friends” would respond: “Absolutely awful!” “Disrespectful!” “Shameful!” “I hope when you catch them that you make a spectacle of them right on the corner so everyone can see.”
This response perplexed me. Yes, I felt bad for the folks who had worked so hard to refurbish our 40 year old nativity scene; the people who had helped to make sure they were installed, but I didn’t see it as either disgusting, or disrespectful, or worthy of public shaming. This whole Christian stuff is totally about forgiveness, and mercy and redemption…you can screw up, but you’re not a screw-up!
But a conversation with a dear, Jewish friend, helped to change my perspective some. Yes, I still thought it was funny that some one thought that Herod was responsible, or that of course she left…she had to be in Bethlehem in a week, but I began to wonder about the symbol of this Mary person and why she was and is so important.
In the Orthodox Christian tradition Mary is called, “Theo tokos,” or “God-bearer.” She is so much more than an untainted womb, or a chaste habitat for God; she is a powerful and visionary symbol for this feminist in 2017.
Her autonomy is revolutionary. As a young woman she said, “Yes,” to God without seeking permission from her father, or brothers, or her intended husband. It was an unmediated encounter with God that conceived in her the hope of the world.
Her faith is exemplary. She believed so much in God’s realm of Justice and Mercy that she lifted her voice in prophetic proclamation:
“God has brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly;
God has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty”
These words are still powerful and threatening today. God favours the poor, the marginalized; the oppressed.
And her courage to have her world turned upside down – her reputation ruined, her word questioned, and even her life at risk – is inspiring. She did all of this because she believed God was about to bring the Kingdom to pass and she would be a full participant in it.
Christmas is a season of hope for “Peace on Earth and Good will to all.” Do you believe this is possible? Do you believe that even if Mary and Jesus aren’t returned, God will still show up and do you believe you have a part to play?
For me this is Christmas. It’s a time of year when every one of us is invited to participate in the possibility of God’s presence in this messy stable-like world of ours. Are we willing to be “God-bearers” to the world?
Before we had a chance to issue a casting call for Mary, someone mysteriously replaced her and Jesus overnight Saturday, the 15th. A brand new image sits where the old one once did. Thank you to the generous person with very, big feet who made sure that our community nativity scene is complete.