Homemakers or God-Bearers?
Immanuel Lutheran, Chicago
I’m going to make a prediction. I bet on average right about now Christmas stress is reaching its peak. Time is running out. To-do lists are reaching the breaking point. Once Christmas finally comes we might settle in to enjoy whatever preparations did or did not materialize. But today we’re still cramming for Christmas.
We feel the pressure to be home-makers. Living rooms, kitchens, and front doors look like a photo shoot for Better Homes and Gardens—or, at least, we try. Christmas brings a whole season of decorating, preparing meals, special desserts, parties, cards and letters to write (can I just say, snail mail is so unbelievably time-consuming!) and of course, there are the gifts to purchase, wrap, and display before the big day with family and friends. Adding to all this are the ghosts of merry Christmases past, now lost, or Christmases present that disappoint us; or perhaps the ghost of Christmases future that haunts us with the dread fear of being alone.
Just when all your effort to make everything perfect threatens to overwhelm you, just when all your losses and regrets mount up to make celebrating a merry Christmas in your own home seem impossible, the Angel Gabriel’s announcement to Mary comes like water in a dry land, or like a light in the darkness. Christmas home-making is not your job, but God’s free and generous gift. Our Savior’s birth marks the moment in human time when God became flesh. In Christ, God makes a home within you. Through community in Christ, we have become a temple of the living God—a living sanctuary of hope and grace. You and I are God-bearers by our baptism into Christ.
It seems we all start out thinking of God as “out there.” Yet today, along with Mary, we learn God is always also “in here.” This is Mary’s great discovery. God is here and everywhere. It’s remarkable when you think that our enlightenment should come from such an unlikely place and circumstance. Mary, the mother of our Lord, was a peasant. Probably, she was not more than 12 or 13 years old. She lived in a little, back-water, behind-the-tracks kind of place, in Nazareth of Galilee. A place you’d never see in Better Homes and Gardens.
“If Mary’s ears had been less keen and her soul less willing, she might not have understood [Gabriel’s announcement]. If her eyes had been able to see only the broad outlines of trial, tragedy, rejection, and hardship, she might not have sensed the divine presence or heard God’s word of grace and favor. But she [did hear] and [she] responded, even to such an odd call in such a common hour of life” (Rev. Byron L. Rohrig, “Mary as Role Model”, The Christian Century, November 26, 1986, p.1062).
Gabriel called her the ‘favored one.’ Is this the special honor God bestows upon his “favored ones?” It is a strange blessing. Divine favor does not equate with wealth, health, comfort, or ease. Mary’s favored status led her straight from the blessings of a normal loving family life into scandal, danger, and the trauma of her son’s crucifixion. God’s call required her to be profoundly countercultural, to trust an inner vision that flew in the face of everything her community expected of her.
No doubt, some of this went through Mary’s mind while she listened to the angel Gabriel tell her about God’s plan. In a sermon on today’s gospel, Martin Luther noticed something in Mary’s response to the Angel that is instructive about faith. Faith isn’t about knowing the facts, he said. Faith is the willingness to stake “goods, life and honor” upon the promise of God’s love and the hope that springs from it. Faith always involves at least some risk and vulnerability. (Is the gift of faith on your list this Christmas?) Mary shows us faith must follow the way of the cross as we journey from belief into action.
But this is what’s so terrifying about the incarnation. Faced with Mary’s choice to be God-bearers or homemakers of lovely, respectable, successful, enviable Christian homes—we chose the stress of being home-makers. We chose religious self-improvement and moral achievement rather than the way of the cross. It seems harder to be vulnerable to suffering or to expose ourselves to the criticism of going God’s way rather than the world’s way. Or anyway, much less comfortable—and when we are home-makers, at least then, we can claim credit for our deeds.
This dilemma runs deep in our sacred story. A thousand years before Gabriel stood in the quiet night talking to Mary, God had a similar conversation with King David as recorded in our first reading from the book of Second Samuel (2 Samuel 7:1-11,16). David’s dramatic rise going from being the least notable member of a family of lowly shepherds to a military genius and world leader, made him look upon the simple tent that had been home to the arc of the covenant since the time of the Exodus from Egypt with embarrassment. Could he really be great while the religious symbols at the center of his kingdom were so humble?
King David of Israel looked ‘round him one day,
turned to Nathan, the prophet, and was heard to say,
“I’m living now in a house built of cedar wood.
God dwells in a tent; that just doesn’t seem good!”
I’ll build God a temple so people might see
That Yahweh is God of a great king like me.
But God did not wish for a temple as home;
God wanted a different space for to roam.
God wanted the world, both its width and its breadth,
God found it again in a small town called Nazareth.
Just the right size of room!
My true dwelling place—a young virgin’s womb.
I’ll live within them
In the believer’s heart. I’ll give them my breath.
This Christmas, we along with Mary are called once again to be what the desert fathers and mothers called Theotokos, the bearers of God’s life and presence in the world. According to the 14th century German Mystic Meister Eckhart, “We are all meant to be mothers of God. 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 his Son if I do not also give birth to him in my time and my culture? Then, then, is the fullness of time: When the Son of God is begotten in us.” “If in your heart you make a manger for his birth, then God will once again become a child on earth.” So, let our Christian homemaking be fun and cheerful, or else let it be less than nothing. Trust God to decorate our hearts with enough beauty and grace to fill the season with joy. Trust God to give you all the peace and strength that comes from a kind and loving home as you journey forward in faith. Merry Christmas and a happy new year.