The Feast of the Annunciation is celebrated today, which means that there are only nine more months of Christmas shopping remaining. Unfortunately, this day will pass with the vast majority of Protestants giving little, if any, notice. Since the time of the reformation and the ensuing centuries of struggle, Protestants have become suspicious of all things Catholic. Of course, this would include anything regarding the Virgin Mary. Out of fear that Mariology could develop into Mariolatry, the Mother of Our Lord has been almost completely jettisoned from the faith. At Christmas she will get an honorable mention from Protestants who will sing of her contribution to the day, but she need not expect anything else the rest of the year.
To be honest, there are some Catholics who dance on the edge of Mariolatry and seem to move from veneration of Mary toward the worship of Mary. Usually, where there are people who are at polar opposites in a debate, the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle. To steal a title from a recent movie, Protestants need to realize that “There’s Something About Mary.” Out of all of the women who have ever lived, she is the one chosen by God to give birth to the Son of God. This is the only occasion that someone was able to choose his own birth mother; of course that someone is God.
Think about the importance of this day in human history. After Mary said “yes” to Gabriel’s message, earth and heaven were changed forever. God enters human history in the womb of a young woman in Nazareth. God loves humanity enough to lay aside his glory, and take on human flesh. God, the creator of the entire universe, becomes a fragile, helpless embryo. This is the moment of the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ. Jesus was not born and then had some God added to him later. The incarnation was made possible and began with the “yes” of Mary.
Most Christians tend to think of Christmas as the celebration of the Incarnation of God. This is because we tend to best understand what we can see. We can see a babe in swaddling clothes in a manger, but it is hard to conceptualize the One True God swimming in amniotic fluid. There are an almost infinite number of artist conceptualizations of the infant in the manger, but almost none of the divine during gestation. How strange this all seems, but how necessary it was in God’s plan to bring us salvation. They say that love makes people do some strange things; probably because we are made in the image of God.
“God so loved the world,” we are told, that He came up with a plan and included Mary of Nazareth in it. We know the story but it is so familiar to us that it has lost much of its punch. Mary was willing to risk the potential shame and humiliation of an illegitimate birth in a society where such things were unthinkable. She didn’t know how the story would unfold, no one ever does. However, she was willing to be submissive and obedient to the will of God. Her response to the Angel Gabriel is one of the most beautiful passages of scripture in the entire Bible. Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”
Mary becomes for us the model disciple, bending her will to God’s will. She is willing to walk a path with God when she is unable to see that path’s end. Because of her faith, this young woman plays a role in God’s plan of salvation for the world. Through the centuries Mary has acquired numerous titles, many of which are not used by Protestants. But there is one title that comes to us from the Eastern Church which deserves our consideration. She is referred to as the Theotokos, which literally means God-bearer. Like Mary, you and I have been called to bring God to the world in the gospel message of Jesus Christ. May our answer to God’s call be as gracious as Mary’s: “May it be done to me according to your word.”
The though provoking painting at the top of the page is by John Collier (2000). We generally do not think it unusual that the great masters always depict Mary in European dress of their day. Note that Mary is standing on the welcome mat and she is the only one who can open the door. The image to the right is a Greek icon representing the Theotokos.