I’m not sure what kind of feelings this holiday time evokes in you, but for me, it is always a time of excitement. Although circumstances this year have put a bit of a damper on the celebrations, I can still say I am looking forward to being with family. It is always a busy time, and sometimes I wish it wasn't so commercialized, but all the traditions we have help me to focus my thoughts on the birth of Jesus Christ.
What are some of the traditions you kept (or keep) in your family to help you in this time? Maybe you had an advent calendar to count down the days until Christmas. Maybe you had an advent wreath with candles that you light the four Sundays before Christmas. Maybe you had certain decorations or ornaments on your Christmas tree that are special to you and have a meaningful story. What about on Christmas eve or Christmas day? I’m sure you have some traditions that help to focus your mind on the true meaning of Christmas.
Our parents raised us with many traditions throughout the church year. As we gathered around the Christmas tree on Christmas eve or day, we would always act out the Christmas story as a family. My mom would narrate the story from the Bible and my dad would often play the donkey. The rest of us also had a role to play. The problem was that I have four brothers. There are five boys in our family and someone had to play Mary. That was usually me. As embarrassing as it was, with a little longer hair, I think I make a pretty good Mary!
Traditions like these have always been a part of our liturgical practice because they orient us to what is important and allow us to experience stories in such a new way. This is one of the reasons why children’s Christmas pageants are such great tools for Christian formation. It is one thing to read the Christmas story, it is a totally different thing to act it out and try to put yourself in the shoes of Mary, Joseph, the Innkeepers, the Shepherds, Wise Men, Sheep, Angels, etc.
Because I always had to play Mary in our family play, I had the chance to speak her lines and try to imagine what it was like to be a young, betrothed teenager, whose world was turned upside down. That was a hard thing to do, for a boy to imagine what it would be like to be visited by an angel and to be told I would have a child. I still can’t imagine what it might have been like, though mothers who have had children may have a better idea. But her pregnancy is not what always struck me about Mary. What struck me was Mary.
Why did God choose Mary? She was young, inexperienced, and unknown. Nowhere in the Bible before the New Testament is it foretold to us that this wonderful woman would give birth to God’s son. She wasn’t wealthy and she didn’t have high social status. Who was Mary to take on that role? She wasn’t anything special.
And I think that’s exactly the point. Mary was humble. She saw herself as a servant of God, willing to do whatever He asked of her. She also had an immense amount of faith to believe she could get pregnant as a virgin. She believed that God would do what He said He would do, and her faith and humility made her the mother of the most important human in all of history.
But again, Mary wasn’t anything special. She wasn’t rich, powerful, or popular. She was not a part of the religious elite. And again, I think that’s part of the point. God can use anyone to accomplish His plan. The Bible is full of failures, loners, murderers, the unqualified, and the oppressed, whom God calls and uses for His plan. He can use anyone because nothing is impossible with God.
It is important to remember that the focal point of Mary’s story is not Mary. When God uses ordinary people to do extraordinary things, He becomes the centre of the story. Mary was able to fulfill her role because the Lord was with her. These are the words the angel spoke when he appeared to her (Luke 1:26-38). The assurance Mary had when God called her to this important task is that God was and would be with her and that He would do what He said He would do. How fitting that the baby born to her would be called Immanuel - God with us (Matthew 1:23).
God is not finished with the world. He is active every single day. As we await the Christmas celebration, we are reminded that we are an Advent people. Jesus came as a baby and will come again to bring His kingdom to earth in full. He continues to look for servants who are humble, faithful and available so that He can do wonderful things through them. Nothing is impossible with God. This Advent season, as we remember the stories of those God used to bring Jesus into the world, my prayer is that we would open ourselves to the many ways in which He will use us to spread His love and message of healing and hope. And remember, when He calls you, it’s probably not because of you, but because of what He can do through you. He will do it and He will be with you.