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Home > 2010 > December Online Only > What Kind of Mother Was Mary?

I'd like to know Mary—the mother of our Lord—a lot better than I do. My Protestant indoctrination in earlier days left me with an impression of Mary as little more than a birthing mother and a compliant, second-level player in the Christmas story relegated to nurse-maiding the baby Jesus once he was born.

But now in more recent years, she has ascended to hero-status in my thinking. The new Mary, I've recognized, is tough, resilient, gutsy, healthfully independent, possessive of a radical gospel agenda. She is the epitome of mother-power. You must like her; you must listen to her. Jesus clearly loved her, and it's obvious that he certainly listened to her … a lot.

Think about this. Mothers "enjoy" nine months of almost exclusive influence upon a child while it remains in the womb. In most cases, the influence continues—little diminished—in the next 2-3 years of life. And what's to be said of the years beyond that?

The things a mother can pump into the life of a child in those first years—for good or for ill—is beyond calculating. And so it must have been with Mary and Jesus.

Mary's so-called "Song" in the Gospel of Luke is probably as close as we might get to knowing not only what she felt about the role that Heaven thrust upon her as the mother of the Messiah but also the agenda she pressed into his soul concerning his destiny. It is quite clear from the very beginning of the story: this Jewish mother had high, very high, intentions in mind for her boy.

I assume that Mary's song—the Magnificat—was a summary of the thoughts and feelings she shared with the followers of Jesus down through the years. One can only imagine that she was asked a million times, "What in the world were you thinking when you encountered the angel? What did you and Elizabeth talk about during those 3 months in the hill country?" Her usual answer? You'll find it in the song.

Many students of Scripture offer that Mary's song was probably among the first distinctly Christian hymns and that Luke placed it in his account of the life of the Lord because it provided such insight as to what this remarkable young woman felt about her baby's future mission.

Mary's "my soul glorifies the Lord … my spirit rejoices" is an expression of worship, an apt description of genuine ecstasy. In the revelation that God has come with favor upon her, Mary has highlighted what is perhaps the greatest claim of the Christian gospel: that God—the creator of the universe—is mindful of even the humblest of people. From his mindfulness comes love, redemption, mercy, re-creation, new birth.

In the angelic visit, Mary, product of an out-of-the-way town (Nazareth) and raised in poverty, had discovered that God knew her name and that he was prepared to lift her from obscurity to a position where she would be called "blessed" for countless future generations. And so a great truth was accentuated in Mary's experience: that God knows (thoroughly and intimately) every human being who has ever lived—the youngest, the most broken and disabled, the sufferer, the one who is of another culture, even the one who is my enemy. Mindful of them! And gracious toward them! And is prepared to redeem them … even if I am not always that charitable.

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Gordon MacDonald is chancellor of Denver Seminary and editor-at-large for Leadership Journal. He is author of numerous books, including Going Deep: Becoming A Person of Influence.

Posted: December 20, 2010

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