|12/15/2016 9:00:00 AM|
Mary, the great connector
BY BISHOP EDWARD B. SCHARFENBERGERNo wonder Mary is so controversial: a human being who dared to say, "Yes," to give birth to a divine being as her child!
Those who safeguard the tenets of many religious traditions would no doubt judge this as nothing short of blasphemy, an insult against God's honor and sovereignty. God is supposed to be "above it all."
In some religions, gods are even above morality itself. The logic is that, if they be truly gods, then they are bound by no rules. They can do whatever they darn well please.
The Judeo-Christian tradition does not deny the sovereignty of God: that no one is higher or greater than the one God. One need not dig deeply into Scripture to find that point made clearly and forcefully. It still troubles many people today to grasp a God whose sovereignty implies the prerogative of punishing and destroying.
God, however, is also supremely free and can very well choose how to reveal to us what the divine essence really is. In Jesus, we have a God revealed to us as love.
God's essence is love, and the first way this is received -- the only way, for a fallen race -- is as forgiving love. Humanity has been broken. Since Eden, it could not reconnect its lost relationship with God, unless someone -- Someone -- did it for us.
Jesus is that someone, but Mary is the connector, the one who makes this possible in the way God chose to do it. No wonder she is so misunderstood. How can a member of a sinful race be such a connector?
Our faith reveals the answer: Mary was conceived without sin. She never knew sin from the moment of her existence. Mary is God's first definitive redemptive act for the human race, one might say. Even before she was conceived, God chose to create a human being -- of human parents, remember (unlike Jesus, Mary was not conceived "by the Holy Spirit") -- who did not inherit Adam's curse of original sin. This in itself gives Mary a dignity, a constitutional holiness, but a human dignity nonetheless.
It is not only who Mary is, but what she did and does that completes her identity -- albeit by creating many complications for her and for Joseph, to whom she was betrothed.
It did not help her reputation to become pregnant without human intercourse. Even Joseph wondered about that and had at first to take Mary at her word, until he received a reaffirming revelation from an angelic visitation.
When the angel called Mary "full of grace" and asked her to be the mother of the Son of God, she could not understand how this could possibly be, let alone what this might mean. For one thing, Mary was a Jewish girl, and the idea of a God becoming so intimate with humanity as to be actually conceived in the womb of a creature was clearly a heresy of anything understood thus far about God and God's relationship with humanity. But she said, "Yes!"
Mary (like us, now) was in for many surprises from the God of surprises. She was to learn that all things are possible with God. And why not? Can't God do whatever God wants? If God chose to be revealed as friendly enough to humanity to want to be born of a human being, then so be it.
Mary went along with this proposition and, in so doing, became the great connector between God and us. Jesus is the Incarnation, of course, but without Mary there would be no Jesus.
There may be those who can never accept this great connection. Many, no doubt, are of good faith. But there is one who cannot stand the connection because it is a threat to his existence: Satan.
Satan loves division and rages that he is, once again, outsmarted by his Creator and, perhaps even worse, by one of God's creatures: Mary -- a free and holy woman, no less. How dare she undermine his self-insinuated claim to control women after Eve?
Want to outsmart this ultimate bully, too? Cling to Jesus and honor Mary!
At the other end of the octave of Christmas, we begin the secular New Year, Jan. 1, with a feast that celebrates Mary, the mother of God. How fitting! Without this great connector, we would only be celebrating one year closer to our death. With her -- and Him through her -- we only move closer to an eternity of true, endless love.
It is fitting to celebrate Christmas: the birth of Christ, the Savior of the human race, without whom there would be no hope of eternal life. But it can only add to our joy and confidence that this message is for us personally when we consider how Mary, a member of our human race, made the very arrival of our Savior possible by simply saying, "Yes," to God's design.
How much richer and more joyful our own lives could be by following Mary's lead, saying, "Yes," to God's presence in our lives and God's plans for our future.
(Follow the Bishop at www.facebook.com/AlbanyBishopEd and on Twitter @AlbBishopEd.)
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