Sunday, December 20, 2009

Mary - Godbearer

Today, for much of the Church, Advent becomes more focused on the first coming of the Christ, with the reading from Luke's Gospel of Mary visiting Elizabeth.

I preached on Mary last weekend, and I've also preached on Mary on the occasion of an induction. It seems to me that Mary has a huge amount to say to us about the nature of ministry. I've drawn on a superb book, 'The Godbearing Life, The Art of Soul Tending for Youth Ministry', by Kenda Creasy Dean and Ron Foster.

Their point is the totally awesome one, that God asks a teenager to bring God into the world. The angel Gabriel had never delivered a message like this before to an adult, much less to an adolescent. And they quote Frederick Buechner, who puts it this way:
She struck the angel Gabriel as hardly old enough to have a child at all, let alone this child, but he'd been entrusted with a message to give her, and he gave it.
He told her what the child was to be named, and who he was to be, and something about the mystery that was to come upon her. 'You mustn't be afraid, Mary', the angel said.
As he said it, he only hoped she wouldn't notice that beneath the great, golden wings he himself was trembling with fear to think that the whole future of creation hung now on the answer of a girl.
And what sets Mary, this poor, unmarried teenage girl, apart from the rest of us is quite simple. She says, 'Yes'. And with Mary's 'Yes', the transformation begins and she becomes 'God-bearer', Theotokos. And she becomes a model for us, because we too are called to be God-bearers, Theotokoi. We bear God to others, as we seek to serve them. And service is ministry.

Creasey and Foster go on to talk specifically about youth ministry, but what they applies to all ministry.
Youth ministry is a womb, an incubation ward for potential God-bearers as they ponder and struggle with the news that God is crazy in love with them, would die for them and, in fact, has. What youth need more than gung-ho adults are Godbearing adults, people whose own yes to God has transformed them into messengers of the gospel.

And speaking of how Godbearing ministry begins,
it begins with a conscious 'yes' to God, a decision that flings wide open the doors of our souls so that grace no longer needs to sneak in through the cracks. Now the Holy Spirit rushes in 'like a mighty wind' and fills us, overshadows us, transforms us by forming Jesus within us, restoring us to the image in whose likeness we were created. Now our soul-wombs, already prepared by grace, can carry Jesus into the world.
Returning to today's reading of Mary's visit to Elizabeth in Luke 1.39-45, the poet Luci Shaw expresses it like this:

Framed in light,
Mary sings through the doorway.
Elizabeth's six-month joy
jumps, a palpable greeting,
a hidden first encounter
between son and Son.

And my heart turns over
when I meet Jesus
in you.

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