Reimagining Mary

The Nativity scene.

Do not be afraid, for you have found favor with God. (Luke 1:30)

Sweet Mary. Beatific, maternal, pale and serene, she appears quite other-worldly in our Christmas nativities. An angel proclaimed that she would be called “blessed,” and so she has been. From time to time she has even been elevated beyond her human state, a sort of demi-goddess, interceding between earth and heaven, the perfect mother of a perfect Son.


At the risk of shocking your sensibilities, I want to suggest a different portrait altogether. Mary is a well-known celebrity today, but she began as a nobody. Before God approached her through the Angel Gabriel, she counted for very little. She was probably an adolescent, probably poor, possibly an orphan, but we really don’t know. Like thousands of young Jewish girls of her time and place, she walked unnoticed through the world, valuable largely as an extra pair of hands. Her life was measured by her utility, and she was nothing special in that regard. Picture her in your mind as not particularly beautiful, not particularly bright, not particularly talented. Pockmarks, acne, missing teeth, a bit clumsy, too talkative, her laugh annoying, her gait ungainly, all these are possible. Perhaps it feels blasphemous to see her that way, but it is probably closer to the truth than the enhanced, marbleized and haloed versions we typically imagine. Her son, fashioned from only one set of human genes, “had no beauty that we should desire him.” (Is. 53:2)


Mary found inexplicable favor with God. This she was told when she received the gift of the Christ, placed inside her body by the singular action of the Holy Spirit. He approached her, chose her, implanted divinity inside her, that she might bear God’s only Son into the world. She was nothing, and then she was amazing – fertile, lovely, loved, important, meaningful, glorious and blessed – not because she stood out from the crowd but because God chose her, acted upon her and lived within her.


Astonishing and alarming as it may seem, this is also God’s work in you. We were born as Mary was, ordinary, broken people, chosen by God to be changed. As Christians, we now carry the Christ within our hearts as she carried Him in her womb, that we might bear God’s only Son into the world. Our mission, like Mary’s, comes through pain and struggle. It is a commission to be accepted rather than an honor to be earned. The Divine inside transforms the ordinary. No matter who or where you are, you began as nothing, but now you are amazing – fertile, lovely, loved, important, meaningful, glorious and blessed – because God chose you, acted upon you and lives within you. Do not be afraid for you have found favor with God. Rejoice, as Mary did, and bear Jesus into the world, your world, with peace and joy this Christmas.


My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. (Luke 1:46-48)


I am indebted to Pastor John Haralson of Seattle, Washington for the idea for this devotion.

Isn’t Christmas Just the Best Story?

Christmas nativity scene of the birth of Jesus depicted with figurines

Most of our major holidays have a story associated with them (maybe not Labor Day, but you get the point). And most of those stories concern a war, a battle or a tragedy. Even Thanksgiving is about starving colonists in the howling wilderness who were barely saved (many were not) by the generous aid of the neighbors with whom they would soon be locked in desperate combat. Chanukah, the festival of light, concerns a bloody revolt punctuated by eight days of miraculous illumination. The Fourth of July, well… you know. They are all good tales in their own right, but they aren’t cozy bedtime stories!


But isn’t Christmas just the best story? In fact, I can say it that way because it’s not just a holiday; it IS a story, the Christmas story. A poor, ordinary couple traveling through the countryside toward their ancestral village delivers a baby in a stable because the town is too crowded to notice them. Surrounded by sleepy animals and awe-struck shepherds, they cradle their newborn under the light of a marvelous new star. And that newborn turns out to be God Himself, come to share the world with all of us. Have joy, peace and beauty ever written a better script?


If you want bloody battles and warrior heroes, you can look to Easter. But for now, I hope you take a few moments of your day this Thursday to remember the tranquil, graceful story of love that we celebrate at Christmas.


Holiday Resources:

Advent Devotional Booklet

Help for the Holidays Handout