by Tim Mooney
Have you ever imagined what it was like to be Mary? To hear those unbelievable words: You have found favor with God? God is with you? You will bear a child called the Son of the Most High? That the Spirit will come upon you? You will give birth to the Son of God? You will be the mother of God?
Perhaps this is a pointless question. It might cause us to pause in wonder for a moment, shake our heads in amazement how such a thing could happen, or shake our heads in doubt that such a thing could happen. It might cause us to whisper a prayer of thanks that it was Mary, and not us, who was chosen to give birth to God in the flesh. But ultimately the question is pointless because there was only one Mary.
“So why, Tim, are you spending so much time belaboring a pointless question?” Because it’s not pointless. It’s our purpose. We are to become like Mary. We are to birth God.
I sense a bit of squirming going on while you’re at home in your pajamas. Particularly from those of you who identify with the male persuasion. But it’s true. Our purpose is to give birth to God. Not biologically, but in our lives.
This is nothing new. Theologians, saints, and poets, have found that “giving birth to Christ” is a powerful metaphor for the life of faith. Listen to Meister Eckhart, a 14th century German theologian and mystic: What good is it to me if this eternal birth of the divine Son takes place unceasingly but does not take place within myself? And, what good is it to me if Mary is full of grace if I am not also full of grace? What good is it to me for the Creator to give birth to the Son if I do not also give birth to the Son; if I do not also give birth to him in my time and my culture? This, then, is the fullness of time: when the Son of God is begotten in us…We are all meant to be mothers of God.
And these words from Dr. Howard Rice, former professor at San Francisco Theological Seminary, now deceased. The whole of the spiritual life is really that of giving birth to Christ in our lives.
Sometimes celebrating Christmas can keep the birth of Christ at a great distance from us – it was, after all, 2000 years ago. But the story of that ancient birth, is our story, too.
Gabriel’s words to Mary, are words to us. Gabriel’s message, basically, is this: You have found favor with God. God is with you. You will give birth to the Christ child. Mary is perplexed, and Mary’s confusion echoes our own. “You mean me? How can this be? How can these words be true?”
It’s hard for us to believe we have found favor with God. Many of us assume God is always displeased with us, annoyed with us, impatient with us. As if God stands at the back of the classroom slapping a ruler in his hand just waiting for us to act up. Of course, we know ourselves to be flawed, undeserving, sinful. So how is it that we have found favor with God? We can’t earn it, it’s not based on merit. But we are precious in God’s sight. God loves us, delights in us, and seeks for us until we are found. The good shepherd leaves behind the 99 sheep, and searches until he finds and, rejoicing, brings home the lost sheep. That’s how much God loves us. We are God’s beloved. These words of Gabriel, they are meant for us, too. We have found favor with God.
Mary asks a question, “How can this be?” Gabriel’s answer is that the Spirit will come upon her and overshadow her. In other words, it’s not of Mary’s own doing. God will bring it about. The same is true for us. It is not something we do on our own, God brings it about. In this way, we, too, are virgins. The word virgin symbolizes that without God, we are barren, cannot produce life. As Paul says, it is God who is at work in us. God is with us.
The Christ in us forms slowly, coming to birth in the fullness of time, not according to our schedule.
You have found favor with God. God is with you. You will give birth to the Christ child. To these words Mary now says, “Here I am, the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” This is an invitation for us, to yield ourselves in the same way. This is perhaps the most important part for us. God does not force us. God invites us to yield out of love. Christmas is about yielding, opening ourselves to God. Allow God to find as much favor with you as God wishes. Let God delight in you. Allow God to be with you. Let God birth Christ in you. Here we are, servants of the Lord; let it be with us according to God’s word.
I’ll admit, this metaphor of birthing Christ in our lives can be a bit romantic, especially this time of year. But on good authority I’ve been told childbirth is rarely romantic. It is, in fact, much more like a real pregnancy, accompanied by unmistakable birth signs.
In a real pregnancy, you feel nauseous, morning sickness, and the feeling persists. So it is with birthing Christ in us. Something’s wrong, we don’t feel well, we become sick of the way our life is going. We’re down, depressed, unsatisfied, and it persists. This can be a sign we are pregnant with new life. Morning sickness of the soul is an invitation to wait and see what new life God brings forth in us that is as yet unformed and unknown. Rather than being a sign something is wrong, not feeling quite ourselves might be a sign that something is right.
I’ve been told that when you’re pregnant you are voraciously hungry. In a similar way, birthing Christ is accompanied by heightened desires, a hunger for more. It may first appear as selfish and superficial. But the invitation for us is to listen deeply to those hungers. Is there a longing for more meaning and purpose in life, a better way to employ our gifts and talents? Is there a hunger for what will truly feed our soul, and feed others? A desire for more, is an invitation to pay closer attention to the birth of Christ in us.
A real pregnancy takes time. So it is with the birth of Christ in us. The Christ in us forms slowly, coming to birth in the fullness of time, not according to our schedule. Also, the birth of Christ in us is not just once, it happens over and over again, each time in a new, deeper way. We must give it time.
Giving birth is painful and effortful. This new life does not come easy to us. Letting go of behaviors, perspectives, and attitudes causes suffering in us; it takes work. But these pains and efforts are the necessary prelude to the birth of joy and new life.
One final birth sign. Birthing God’s life in us shows up in the real word as compassion, justice, a concern for others, and the wellbeing of all life. It is humble – scattering the proud. It is right use of power – the powerful are brought down from their thrones. It is liberating – the lowly are lifted up. It is a vision of shalom – the hungry are filled with good things. Meister Eckhart wrote, God is compassion…therefore as God is born more deeply in the soul, so too is the compassionate life…All virtue of the just, and every work of the just, is nothing other than the Son – who is the New Creation – being born from the Father.
It may be a shock for us to hear it this way, but we are pregnant with the Christ-child. We are Mary. Each one of us. Let us learn from Mary: “Let it be to me according to your word.” Amen.