God Bearers: Making Christmas Real
A different image of Mary
I don’t think Mary gets enough credit for being the badass she was. Sorry, I Googled synonyms for that word, but “agitator, rebel, and sparkplug” didn’t convey how fierce she was.
Most Mary portrayals, whether in paintings, movies, or even nativity sets, play her off as passive, docile, and diminutive. She’s bland and milquetoast. My wife said, “When I was growing up, the dainty girls were cast as Mary in the church Christmas pageant.” But does the Bible portray her as frail and uber-accommodating?
Mary in the Biblical Story
Consider how tough she had to be to withstand (without retaliating) all the ridicule, gossip, and mean-girl crap that came her way because she was an unwed pregnant woman.
After the annunciation, she visited her relative Elizabeth and cast a revolutionary vision of a world transformed. She imagines that through Jesus, she will one day be able to say:
He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.
This is not exactly wallflower material.
How much grit did it take for her to flee hundreds of miles on foot with an infant to flee to Egypt, escaping Herod’s edict to assassinate her infant child? She didn’t know anyone there or have anyone there.
Next, we see her being a fierce mother and getting after 12-year-old Jesus for hanging out at the Temple and not telling her where he went. Luke’s gospel records her saying, “Child, why have you treated us like this?” She was a force. She pushed Jesus into his first miracle of turning water into wine.
When Jesus got arrested, his followers fled, but she had the temerity to stand at the foot of the cross, watching the horror inflicted on her son. She’s tough, and her resolve is iron, yet we portray her as weak and docile. What’s up with that?
Perhaps, as much as Mary is a representative of the divine feminine, history has tried to recast her as subservient and passive. But she is a model for women’s power and strength. She encourages all women to get in touch with their inner badass. Your strength, courage, and boldness serve God.
An extraordinary woman for history’s most important word—yes.
That wonderful song, Mary Did You Know, wonders if she knew that when she said yes to Gabriel, the cost to be exacted from her. Maybe God chose her for the most important task in history because she was extraordinary to do it. God needed a badass.
God sees what no one else sees—the heart.
Mary indeed describes herself as “humble and of low estate.” But low estate means her socio-economic condition. Archaeologists tell us that Nazareth was a small, impoverished community where many people didn’t even have houses; they lived in caves. Mary might have been so poor that she grew up in a cave.
Socially, she was on the bottom rung of a long ladder. She was an impoverished, young, unmarried woman in a patriarchal society where boys ruled. But God sees what others overlook and sees her heart. Who do you think initially taught and modeled the strength for Jesus to do what he did?
When Gabriel comes to her, he says, “Greetings, favored one.” I love that she has the favor of God before she does anything to earn it. That’s how God rolls. God doesn’t care about your status in anyone else’s eyes. The Bible repeatedly strikes the chord of identifying God’s preferential treatment of the poor and vulnerable. Other people and maybe even you may see yourself as flawed, focusing on your faults and failures, but God sees you as beloved.
Mary says, “Here am I.” All of me. No holding back from God’s intentions. Think about how remarkable that is. How willing are we to put ourselves out there, taking risks, to follow God’s will? How often have we shirked away and refused to take a stand for someone or adjust our priorities to get involved and contribute our time, talent, and treasure to make a positive difference in the world?
God bearers all.
Meister Eckhart was a 14th-century German theologian who asked,
What good is it to me if Mary gave birth to the Son of God 1400 years ago and I don’t give birth to the Son of God in my own person and time and culture?”
The Greek church has a long history of emphasizing that a primary meaning of Christmas is that, like Mary, we are all called to be God-bearers.
Just like Gabriel came to Mary all those years ago, the Spirit comes to you, inviting you to bear God’s purposes in the world—not to give birth to a person, but the ideals of joy, compassion, and justice. What does God-bearing look like?
How you can be a God-bearer.
- The Bible says, “God is love.” Ask yourself, “To whom can I bring love?” Who’s life can be improved by you expressing your love? Is there a situation that would look different if you approached it out of love instead of hurt, cynicism, or dread?
- If God is concerned for the poor and marginalized, and God’s intention is for justice, how can you bear God into this world through your giving and your advocacy?
- Since God is forgiveness, who can you forgive, even if it is yourself?
- Since God’s mercy is defined as giving people better than they deserve, how can you be a God-bearer to someone by doing better by them than they deserve?
- How can you be a God-bearer? God calls you just as much as Mary. God is waiting for your “yes” to play your part in making this a more user-friendly world.
Like women are called to care for themselves during pregnancy, we are called to take care of our spiritual lives so that the goodness, the God within us, can grow and be born when the moment is right. Caring for our spirit involves worship, study, prayer, and service.
I think gratitude is the prenatal vitamin for God-bearers. Ann Volskamp said, “No amount of regret can change the past. No amount of anxiety can change the future. But any amount of gratitude can change the present.” It cracks us open to let joy filter into us, changes our perspective, and helps us be God-bearers.
You don’t need to be perfect, pure, or devout to be a God-bearer. God takes us as we are and calls us to do what we can with what we have, where we are, to do some good.
Crusty Rusty the God-bearer.
I think of a guy called “Crusty Rusty.” His wife, Pat, belonged to a church I served. She told me that she’d attended several funerals recently, and if she had to go to another one where they made some “SOB out to be a saint,” she was going to jump up and scream and walk out. A few months later, she informed me that her husband, “Crusty Rusty,” had died, and she wanted me to do the service.
Rusty had earned his nickname. He was handsome, sour, and stern and had a reputation as a cocky, wild man with a collection of tattoos and Harleys. At the memorial service, there was an “open mic” time where people were invited to share memories. A couple of folks shared amusing anecdotes of the wildest times. Then, a woman in a short skirt, impossibly high heels, and plunging neckline blouse that left little to the imagination strode to the microphone. She said, “None of you know me. I’m Maria.”
It was like a movie where we all—including his wife and adult children—wondered the same thing. Mistress or love child? Even the air-conditioning fan turned off to hear what would come next.
She said she was a waitress at a diner where Rusty and his cronies used to gab and solve the world’s problems. Rusty found out she was struggling to get through college and was ready to drop out and give up on her dreams. She was a single mother with out-of-control kids. But he encouraged her to hang in there. He helped her with her math homework and studying for tests. He even helped her with tuition books and, most importantly, the kids.
Because of Rusty, she said, she persevered, graduated, and can now provide for her family.” She said, “I am who I am today because he believed in me when no one else did.”
No one knew anything about this. It turns out Crusty Rusty was a God-bearer. It starts when you believe in people like God believed in Mary and do what you can. That’s all we’re called to do. It’s all we can do. But that’s all it takes. Just say yes, and you’ll be a God-bearer, too. Amen.