Mary, Goddess or Girl
Sermon by The Reverend Charles Royden
We know quite a lot about Mary from the Bible
We certainly know a lot more about Mary than we do about Joseph. Apparently that is to be expected.
The Jewish joke is told about the little Jewish boy who came home from
school and he tells mummy that he is in a school play. His proud mother asks
him what part he is to play. He tells her that he will be playing a Jewish
husband. The mother says that he must go back to school and demand that the
teacher gives him a speaking part.!
So we know quite a lot about Mary.
However a great deal more is believed about Mary which comes from
traditions of the church and other sources.
My own suspicions are that the early church was guilty of some embellishments! Later traditions seemed to want to make Mary out to be something god like, something which I believe she was not. The vulnerable peasant girl was jettisoned in favour of the desire to make Mary sound as important as the Egyptian goddess Isis and other female deities. Other important female goddesses had virgin births, perhaps the Christians wanted Mary to sound better than the others, and so she took on more god like qualities and became removed from real life. Mary has eventually become, sinless, taken into heaven, an intercessor
As Christianity grew in the Greco-Roman world it took on some shocking characteristics. Other worldliness became prized, a devaluation of the bodily and the physical. So it was quite early on that Mary became removed from the stuff of our existence.
But I don’t want a goddess, I want a real Mary, not least so that Jesus
became real man, flesh like our flesh.
I want a real Mary, because I can relate to that. It makes much more
sense to me that Mary was ordinary and vulnerable like us. That as she grew
old she needed to be cared for. John 19-25-27
I don’t want an otherworldly Mary who never had sex or a proper family. I believe Jesus’ had real brothers and sisters and that is as important for our understanding of Jesus, that he knew what real family life was like.
I don’t like the thought of Mary suffering because she is vulnerable like us, but she does. She watches her own child suffer and die a cruel death before her own eyes. Christianity has always been able to address the dreadful crises in which we humans find ourselves, because we believe that in taking flesh Jesus went through what we go through. When we open our papers or listen to the news and read about policewomen being shot, or multiple murders of innocent women. It is because of the earthly humanity of Mary and Jesus that our faith has something to say in situations of grief and suffering.
I apologise if anybody is offended by the picture of Mary which I want to present, but I want to see Mary not as a goddess, but a human being, a woman, or even a girl. I don’t believe that Mary was sinless, and I don’t want to worship her. I believe in an ordinary Mary and I don’t think that this makes her any less to be admired or even honoured.
Take the Magnificat
Mary is shown to be subversive. The Magnificat is a magnificent radical agenda for social change. Mary's song is a statement of what she believes about God. Like the song of Hannah on which it is modelled, it celebrates the character of God as the great turner of tables. The whole of the history of Israel is about God tearing down the arrogant and lifting up those who are down. He is the God of the poor and the oppressed, under His hand the meek inherit the earth.
All of this is so much more powerful because it is spoken by an ordinary person who is one of us.
What we really do know about Mary makes her instantly likeable.
Here is a woman who exemplifies so much of humanity in which we want to rejoice.
I have had to spend quite a lot of time in the car so far this Christmas. Driving up and down the motorway to different places. You begin to realise that certain records on Radio 2 get played over and over. One of the really popular ones at the moment, apart from a Scottish band singing that Santa is Scottish, is a song called ‘driving home for Christmas.’ It’s years old but it is still popular. This is because it expressed something important to all of us, that we should be with our loved, ones, at home for Christmas.
That is why the scenes at Heathrow airport over the past few days have been so poignant. OK so it was only short hauls that were affected, most of the passengers should have stopped moaning about compensation and gone and caught a bus or a train. But aside from all that, the reason why it has taken up so much news space is that the image of people not being able to get home for Christmas is a strong one. It is not right that they have to be away from home. So we shout at the weather and blame British Airways for having pilots who cannot see in the fog.
So we relate to Mary. A young girl, who has to travel away from her home on a donkey. She has to struggle and take on a difficult journey, to give birth in a stable. She is like us!
Even when that episode is safely accomplished she is pursued by an evil
king and has to become refugee and escape to Egypt. Or was she more of an
asylum seeker? Either way, there were probably people in Egypt who thought
that she and Joseph were just economic migrants.
We feel for Mary, we can empathise, because Mary goes through the kinds of stuff that we go through.
Mary had real problems being the mother of Jesus. She spent time not understanding what he was up to. She is fallible. Like us Mary makes mistakes.
1. Jesus in the Temple Luke 2:41-51 At the age of twelve Jesus rebukes His mother for not understanding that He must be in His Fathers house.
2. The Wedding at Cana John 2:1-11 In this episode we learn that Jesus once again rebuked Mary for failing to understand Him.
3. Mary thinks Jesus has gone mad. Mark 3:21, 31-35 The Greek translated literally means that they thought Jesus had lost His mind. Jesus mother Mary and His brothers wanted to take Jesus by force because they thought he was mad.
Yet for all of her failings, in spite of her inability to understand so much of what is going on, just like us Mary keeps her faith in Jesus . Mary isn’t superwoman, she is ordinary woman, ordinary human. That is her attraction and her strength for us a role model.
Mary hasn’t a clue what lies ahead of her, yet to God she says ‘yes’
Mary faces a mind bending proposition. Her whole life is going to be changed. She is to become pregnant, bring disgrace on her family and herself and Joseph. But Mary says to Gods challenge 'let it be' and in saying 'let it be' she affirms her belief that somehow God is not bound by any human constraints. She affirms her willingness to suffer a life which will ultimately lead to a sword through her soul. (Luke 2:35).
She accepts God's plan for her in spite of all the sniggering which she will get.
We should not let our reaction to some of the excess about Mary to blind us to her unique and noble example. That example is to us. To encourage us and to sustain us through our commitment.