My sermon for this week was based on Luke 1:26-38.
To download an audio of my sermon, click here.
You have to look long and hard to find a really positive female character in the Bible. Even those who are positive characters like Sarah or Ruth come across by modern standards as pretty submissive or at least easily manipulated.
You have Eve, who is to blame for the fall of mankind. Thanks for that. You have Delilah, who betrays Samson. You have Jezebel, whose very name is a byword for sexual immorality to this day. You have Jael, who is depicted as a heroine in the Book of Judges, but for having lured Sisera into her tent with overtures of hospitality, and then driving a tent peg through his head while he slept.
So although there is not shortage of fallen men in the Bible, there is a distinct lack of female characters who could be considered viable role models for girls and women.
Even Mary, some claim, is not really a positive role model because she is depicted as submissive. They claim that Mary is not a positive protagonist at all because she is just essentially a container for God's grace, the passive bearer of the Messiah.
I don't think this is fair to Mary at all. Let's look at the text again.
It is true, Gabriel's statement to her (Luke 1:30-33) does sound very directive. He use the word "will" repeatedly: "You will conceive, you will bear a son, you will name him Jesus". Very imperative language, indeed.
Some commentators claim that in the original Greek, the word for "will" is used in the sense of prognostication: Gabriel is not issuing a command, he is merely informing Mary of what is to happen to her in the future.
Unfortunately, I did very poorly in Greek, so I can't comment one way or the other, but what I can comment on is Mary's response. Rather than simply salute and say, "Sir, yes sir, Mr. Gabriel, sir", she actually has the nerve to ask him a questions: "How can this be since I am a virgin?"
Any way you look at it, Mary was no idiot. She knew the way things worked, and she was not so over-awed by Gabriel that she failed to be skeptical and to ask for clarification.
That doesn't sound submissive at all. That sounds pretty brave and resilient.
In the end, Mary makes one of the most powerful statements in the Bible in response to Gabriel: "Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word".
Why would Mary say that unless she had a choice? Why would Mary say that unless saying no could have been an option?
Some people claim that submitting, whether to God or to another person is an act of weakness ad therefore to be avoided by definition. Some say submitting is an act of humility and compromise, and therefore to be embraced.
Either way, I don't think we can say that Mary was submitting to anything. She was choosing.
She was saying a resounding "Yes!" to this invitation to be a part of history, to play a role in the life of a child, and the Christ-child, no less. She was saying "Yes!" to her call, her vocation, her path. She was saying "Yes!" to God.
There is a power and a majesty to saying "Yes", to choosing consciously what we see as our path.
Mary was not submissive. She was one of the strongest people history has ever known.
This Advent, the readings and reflections have all been about preparation. Preparation for commemorating the coming of the Messiah, preparation for the coming year, preparation to carry out our Christian mission in the world.
But if you prepare and then fail to execute, why prepare in the first place? If you get your house ready for family and friends over the holidays but then fail to answer the door when they knock, you lose.
This Christmas season, and into the new year, I invite you to act on the things you have been preparing for, to do the things you have been meaning to do, to do like Mary and say a resounding "Yes!" to the path and mission you feel God is calling you to.