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The Mother of the Lord

The Fourth Sunday in Advent

21 December 2003 11:00 | Fr John Slater

The Prayer Book devotes the last two Sundays in Advent to John the Baptist - the Forerunner who announced to the people of Judaea the imminent coming of the Messiah. But this was probably when Jesus was about thirty and about to begin his ministry of teaching and healing. In just a few days we shall celebrate his birth so it does seem appropriate to think today about the person most central to that birth - his mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Tradition has Mary leading a simple but devout life in the small village of Nazareth. Medieval manuscripts show her reading or weaving when the angel came to her. She was engaged but not yet married to a local man named Joseph who is described in the New Testament as a just man. Now I must tell you this story. I was in Jerusalem in 1991 and visited the Sisters of Nazareth. They were a French community which only moved to the Holy Land late in the nineteenth century. They went to Nazareth and looked for a building to occupy. They finally settled on a large old house which was described to them as the house of the just man. Later excavations revealed a first century house and burial ground beneath the present house. Is it possible that the tradition of the house of Joseph the just man had been handed on through two thousand years?

People married early in that society so Mary was probably only in her teens when she was confronted by an invitation from God to share in his plan of redemption. Anyone at any age would be daunted by such a divine invasion of their lives. The remarkable thing about Mary is that she didn’t turn away in fear but said yes to God.

Christian tradition makes much of the parallel with Eve in the Garden of Eden. She too was given a command by God but she said No! So just as St Paul describes Jesus as a Second Adam, tradition has called Mary a Second Eve whose yes to God reverses the disobedience of Eve.

Now there’s a danger in using language like this. Writers of the New Testament took the story of the Garden of Eden as historically true, whereas we do not. We can only use language like the Second Eve metaphorically. The truth is hard to define but the story of the angel announcing God’s plan to the mother of Jesus was written down in the first century and must have circulated in oral form for years before that.

The story of her giving birth to Jesus is truly remarkable - the arduous journey to Bethlehem, the visit of mysterious strangers, the flight into Egypt and the return to Nazareth. But the world was totally unaware that in this woman and her child God has begun the process of its redemption. And it all began with her yes to God.

But Mary is more than the mother of the Lord; she is also the model of Christian discipleship. Her virginity reminds us that we are all empty before God, needing to be filled by his Holy Spirit. At the wedding feast at Cana she says, Do whatever he tells you. And just as she was there at the cross and at the resurrection, we too are witnesses to the new and eternal life her son came to bring.
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