Advent 4: the Sunday that liturgically ought to see us focussing our thoughts on Mary the mother of Jesus. But come to most Protestant Nonconformist churches and we will be doing other things. Good things, great things even – the Sunday School Nativity, the Community Carol Service, the pensioner's party, the outreach event... But Mary will do well to get a bit-part in the day and may be ignored completely. So does she "sit a-weeping" as we carry on our own way?
Poor Mary! In some churches she is forced to become a plaster saint, eternally perfect, perpetually young and, of course, ever virgin. In other churches she isn't even given house room; prophets are listened to, the Baptiser is feared, but Mary finds herself overlooked or avoided, maybe a young woman pregnant outside wedlock is a step too far. Poor Mary indeed.
Authenticity and acceptability: two things that Mary seems to be denied. All of which makes me think about our own churches and who might be the weeping Marys this Advent.
Who is it, male or female, young or old, who we ignore, overlook or push out in all the busyness of our services? In our doing of much that is good, who is it we inadvertently bruise? Who stays home because it is all too painful? Who is weeping on the inside even they are smiling on the outside? Are our churches places where people can be truly authentic and still be accepted?
The playground song has its Mary weeping for a playmate – someone with whom she can be authentic and still be accepted; someone who will share the lows and highs. Someone who will be there with and for her when she finds herself overlooked or marginalised. Who might be that playmate for us in our own 'Maryness' and to whom might we offer the acceptance they so desperately need?
When the Mary of the song finds her playmate everyone is happy. When Mary the mother of Jesus encountered an angel, she was declared blessed, in Greek makarios, which can also be translated happy.
Can we be messengers of blessing, of true happiness, to the 'Marys' we meet this Advent, accepting them as they are in their raw authenticity? I dare to imagine, hopefully, that we might.
PostscriptAmong the Hopeful Imaginers I know in the 'real world' are some who have had a very tough year; those with eyes to see may have spotted the hints in their posts. Some have faced personal or family problems and some have seen their churches struck by tragedy or ignominy; each has maintained their authenticity and their acceptance of others as well as their ability to imagine hopefully. I am glad, in whatever measure, to count them among my playmates, and to pray that they may dance with other 'Marys' in the ceilidh of God's Shalom and so find blessing indeed.