31 Maple Street
Bristol, Connecticut USA
December 16, 2018
Rev. Kristen J. Kleiman
And the angel Gabriel came to Mary and said, “Mary, you have nothing to fear. God has a surprise for you” (The Message, Luke 1:30)
I’ll say God has a surprise for you! Talk about a scriptural understatement, and what does Mary say in return “I’m the Lord’s maid, ready to serve. Let it be with me just as you say.” (The Message, Luke 1:38)
Whether you read this Christmas story from a modern translation of the Bible like The Message or from a more traditional source like the New Revised Standard, which is in our pews, you get the sense that Mary is this “blameless mother mild” to quote our final hymn.
Everything we hear and know about Mary gives us the impression that she is meek and mild, obedient and submissive. Picture how Mary is depicted on Christmas cards and in Nativity sets. On her knees, head bowed, this serene expression on her face.
Even scripture gives us this impression. When the angel Gabriel tells Mary she is going to have a baby, when the angel Gabriel tells her God is going to turn her life upside down, God is going turn the world upside down, Mary has only one question. And when her question is answered, all she says in return is, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38)
Sounds pretty meek and mild. Sounds pretty obedient and submissive. Even the part about being “overshadowed” by the power of the Most High makes it sound like Mary is simply this compliant vessel for God’s plans.
Overshadowed – that word bothers me a lot. Overshadowed – as if she is nothing, as if Mary means nothing; as if she were just an object to be used by God with no mind or will of her own.
I refuse to believe God would ever treat one of God’s beloved children that way so I looked the word up in Greek. Is overshadowed really what the gospel writer meant to say?
Yes and no. “Episkiazo” can mean to cast a shade on, so while shadow is part of this word’s meaning, it is more like shadow over than ‘overshadow’ in the way our modern English uses it.
“Episkaizo” has two other translations. It can mean to envelop in a haze of brilliance or to invest with preternatural influence. I had to look up that word too. Preternatural means out of the ordinary, exceptional, supernatural.
So go with me here, instead of being meek and mild, obedient and submissive, Mary is actually a super hero.
No, really, think about it – Spiderman, Superman, Wolverine – they are all “invested” with exceptional or supernatural influence – just like Mary.
You may have never thought about the mother of our Savior this way. Honestly, I did not think about her this way until last week. I was thinking about love. About what it takes to say such a big yes to God; what it takes to love God that much; what it takes to carry love incarnate.
Strength. It takes amazing strength to say yes to God; it takes amazing strength to be that faithful; it takes amazing strength to love.
It takes amazing strength to love.
Think about someone in your own life – parent, child, grandchild, partner. Think about someone you love.
When Jack was born, I said to my husband Stu, you had to work so hard to make me fall in love with you and all he had to do was be born. Love can be so easy, and love is the most difficult thing we will ever do. When we are tired, when we are angry, when we feel slighted by the world, the last thing we want to do is love. Falling in love can be easy; always being loving is a challenge. It can be a challenge to love our parents; love our children; love our friends and brothers and sisters.
And what about our neighbors? Our literal actual live-next-to-us neighbors? Our co-worker neighbors? Our different political party neighbors? Our immigrant neighbors? Our white supremacist neighbors?
We might find it more difficult to love them. Love takes work. Love takes discipline. Love takes amazing strength. Love takes super hero strength.
A super hero strength that every baptized person has because we have all been shadowed over by the Holy Spirit.
Sometimes though, our super hero gift of love walks around too much in its secret identity. Sometimes, the gift of love we all have inside of us needs to be taken out of hiding. In this week’s bulletin and in the previous two weeks, there is an insert about how to embody love of neighbor, love of creation, love of children.
I invite you to read the bulletin insert carefully and choose one way to embody love this week – and then to post about it on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram that others might be encouraged to share their super hero gift of love
We can all be superheroes like Mary. We can be faithful enough, we can be strong enough, to say yes to God and turn the world upside down with God’s love.