We had a visit from the Angel Gabriella yesterday. I’ve known her for years. Her halo is a bit cock-eyed and doesn’t float over her head because, as she says, “she just can’t do that floaty thing.” She doesn’t wear her wings because that makes it too hard to get in and out of cars and doorways. And, she always has a slightly different take on the traditional Christmas stories because she was there. Yes, our Bibles say it was Gabriel, but Gabriella insists the male writers of the Bible left a few letters off of her name on purpose.
(For the full audio version, click here.)
As Gabriella spoke yesterday, she seemed a bit miffed about the “sappy, sweet, sad-faced” Mary who is portrayed in portraits and statues all over the world. She wasn’t too happy about the church, either, who has turned Mary into a pious, obedient, innocent virgin. “Seriously,” Gabriella asked, “if you were God, would you send someone with no backbone or fortitude to bear a prophet? Would this be the type of woman you would want to raise the likes of Jesus and support him down the difficult path his life would take?” No. This was the resounding answer of the congregation. They would’ve chosen a woman who was strong, determined, independent, open-minded, self-assured, courageous and faithful. And that, Gabriella assured us, is exactly the kind of woman Mary was.
Just think of the things Mary had to live through above and beyond being an oppressed Jew. If we take the stories at face value, she lived through the stigma of being pregnant before she was married; she, Joseph and their son fled to Egypt shortly after his birth and lived as refugees in a foreign land; we assume she dealt with the death of Joseph at some point because he is never mentioned again; she followed Jesus throughout his ministry, fearing for his life on many occasions and finally watching his execution; most likely, Mary had to go into hiding afterwards. It took a tough woman, in a time when women had little to no respect, for her to deal with all of that.
Mary’s song of praise (Luke 1:47-55) that we now call the Magnificat, likely did not tumble out of her mouth word for word the instant she greeted her cousin Elizabeth. But the author of Luke clearly portrays Mary as a prophet who understand that the Divine One sought peace and harmony that could only be achieved through a level playing field. With the confidence of faith, she believed that the overthrow of the powerful would come not through mounting a war or rebellion, but through a child. In that radical act the powerful are deposed, the proud are scattered. And, in contrast, the lowly are exalted and the hungry are fed.
As we head into this Christmas week, perhaps we should rethink the submissive, milk-toast Mary we see so often on Christmas cards. She deserves to be remembered as a strong, determined, faithful, intelligent woman. She was a prophet in her own right, and she was a teacher of her son as well as his most devoted disciple.