The Mary We Never Knew
There are two Marys. One wears a Carolina blue robe, exudes piety from a somber face, often holds her baby son in her arms, and barely makes eye contact with us. This is the familiar Blessed Virgin Mary, and she leads us to a Christmas celebration of quiet reflection.
Another Marythe Blessed Valorous Marywears ordinary clothing and exudes hope from a confident face. This Mary utters poetry fit for a political rally, goes toe-to-toe with Herod the Great, musters her motherliness to reprimand her Messiah-son for dallying at the temple, follows her faith to ask him to address a flagging wine supply at a wedding, and then finds the feistiness to take her children to Capernaum to rescue Jesus from death threats. This Mary followed Jesus all the way to the Crossnot just as a mother, but as a disciple, even after his closest followers deserted him. She leads us to a Christmas marked by a yearning for justice and the courage to fight for it. Like other women of her time, she may have worn a robe and a veil, but I suspect her sleeves were rolled up and her veil askew more often than not.
Instead of asking what the real Mary was like, we tend to debate what she was not: whether she and Joseph refrained from sexual relations and whether she had a sin nature. A cursory reading of Jaroslav Pelikan's brilliant Mary Through the Centuries will acquaint any reader with the fulsomeness of such debates. Because Protestants have spent their time debating about Mary, they have rarely attempted to claim her as their own. Consequently, she has become little more than a delicate piece in a Christmas crèche, whom we bring out without comment at Christmas and then wrap up gently until we see her again next Advent.
But there are signs that those days are coming to an end. On the horizon today is nothing less than a Protestant reclamation of Mary, seen most completely in Tim Perry's new book, Mary for Evangelicals(InterVarsity, 2006). For the purposes of this article, we first need to ask, "Which Mary?" A good place to begin our search for answers is Mary's Magnificat. There we will discover not so much the Blessed Virgin Mary draped in piety, but the Blessed Valorous Mary dressed for action.
If we read the Magnificat as the heartfelt release of a woman yearning for what God wasfinally!about to do in Israel and in historical context, we see it as a call to subvert unjust leaders. To turn this song into simple spirituality strips it of its meaning and leaves injusticespersonified by Caesar Augustus and Herod the Greaton the throne.
Luke tells us that as soon as the angel Gabriel left Mary, she hurried down to the home of her older relative, Elizabeth, to share the Good News. Mary knew that aging Elizabeth would also, by God's grace, give birth to a special son. As New Testament scholar R. T. France has noted so poetically, "One is old and has no children; the other is young and has no husband. But both are pregnant." And both are ready to announce the Good News to the world.
The moment Mary crosses the threshold of Elizabeth's home, the formerly barren woman bursts into a poetic blessing for Mary. Mary echoes back with what God is doing in her womb: "My soul glorifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior."
Mary rejoices over what Gabriel has told her and what Elizabeth has confirmed: Her son is the Son of David, the Messiah and future king. She exults that God is about to establish justice by ushering in the kingdom that all of Israel, especially the poor, have yearned for. Yes, like Hannah of old, she is happy that she will be a mother. Yes, she is happy that God has "been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for meholy is his name" (Luke 1:46-49).