Mary is the woman of Advent and Christmas.

A creche without Mary is missing the main supporting character. It is unthinkable.

Mary was the mother of God and the temptation is to stop there. It doesn't get much greater than that does it?

It does, and Jesus says so in Luke 11:

27As he said these things, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, "Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!" 28But he said, "Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!"

Any temptation to reduce the role of Mary or women in general to walking wombs is rejected by Jesus. Mary, the Lord's mother, is not happy ("blessed") merely because she served as the house for the Lord, but because she heard the word of God and kept it.

It is no accident that the same gospel that records this story, Luke, also tells us the most about Mary, the mother of Jesus (especially in Luke chapters Luke 1 and Luke 2).

Mary is told that she will bear the Son of God and she agrees. She is pregnant without sex, has a baby in a stable, shepherds come and worship, her baby is blessed by two prophets. He grows to be an amazing boy who can teach the greatest teachers and she keeps all these mysteries and ponders them in her heart.

Mary is great because Mary obeyed and never stopped obeying.

The Blessed Virgin heard the Word of God, said "yes," and gave her flesh to the Word of God. Her obedience was virtuous and her holiness remarkable; how she did it (as a woman) was in one way incidental.

Too often women have been reduced to breasts and wombs but even true motherhood is not merely having the right parts and bearing a great child. A true mother can even adopt her baby and never bear or suckle her child in a literal physical way. The true mother is the one who loves the child. She hears the call to motherhood and obeys it, even if the child was born by another and fed by someone else.

The same is true for all of us in our spiritual lives. Sometimes God will give me the power to do something good and the temptation in those who watch will be to praise me for the job and forget that it was the loving obedience to God that made it possible.

God could have raised up a womb from the very rocks if He had needed to do so. Mary got to be the "one" because Mary loved and obeyed. The only greatness I will ever achieve will not come from talent or natural abilities but from hearing God and doing what he says.

The improbable truth of Christmas is that God does not need us, but He delights to offer us the chance to be part of His planning. If we say "yes" to HIm, then we do not end up doing anything for God that He could not have done for Himself, but we do end up being transformed into His likeness.

All generations call Mary blessed because she heard the Word and obeyed. We don't have the same role, but we can obey as she did. We can all say with her, " . . . let it be to me according to your word." If we persist for months, as Mary did, in that attitude we too will conceive and bring a "God with us" to the world.

Mary was blessed not because she had a womb that God used, but because she was the kind of woman that chose new life and God.

Mary's obedience made Christmas possible.

December 16, 2009

John Mark Reynolds is the founder and director of the Torrey Honors Institute, and Professor of Philosophy at Biola University. In 1996 he received his Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of Rochester. John Mark Reynolds can be found blogging regularly at Scriptorium Daily.

Image: From "Adoration of the Shepherds" by Gerard van Honthorst, 1622; 150 × 191 cm; Wallraf-Richartz-Museum