- December 18, 2016
December 18, 2016 4th Advent, A
Finally! After three weeks of gospels that shouted and called names, we have one that sounds more like good news.
Even though it’s not yet Christmas, the Feast of the Nativity of our Lord, on this Fourth Sunday of Advent this year, we get Mary.
But please take the time later to read over this gospel story, and compare it to Luke’s story. They are quite different, as we discovered at the St. Mary’s Guild meeting last week.
In fact, in this reading from Matthew, Mary is very passive. All the action centers around Joseph.
A friend once asked about when it was that Mary began to be revered. I said, with a touch of sarcasm, that, from Jesus’ point of view, it was probably when he was about 20—that’s the age when kids realize that parents aren’t as clueless as the kids have thought.
But my friend was really asking about Mary and the church—and that relationship had, mostly, to wait until the church was no longer persecuted, and it was safe to be a follower of Christ.
So in the 4th Century, when a lot of church doctrine and dogma were formed, Mary’s role as the mother of Jesus also began to take shape.
In the Western tradition, which may have shaped most of us, Mary is, of course, the Blessed Virgin Mother.
In the Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, and Eastern Catholic Churches, and others, Mary has a different name. She is called theotokos.
Theotokos means “God bearer,” or “One who brings God into the world.”
These titles we give Mary can separate her from us, make her so different, so “other” that we cannot relate to her.
But, as Anathasius said, in the 4th C, “God became human so that humans could become like God.”
So it is with Mary—and calling her theotokos can help us understand that.
It’s an idea that changed my life.
Twenty-five years ago, give or take, I was at a gathering where Bishop Tutu was the speaker. I was sitting way up in the stands, but he is such a dynamic person that his presence filled the whole stadium.
He told this story: A black woman is walking home through the dusty dirt streets of her home. She is barefoot, hungry, tired—she’s worked all day for the white folks in the big house. They call her Anna, because they can’t be bothered to learn and say her African name.
She trudges home to her tiny shack with no running water or electricity, one room for her and her children to share.
So tired she can barely move.
Bishop Tutu paused, and said, “She is theotokos.” There was some head nodding and smiling.
Then he paused again, and looking right at me, (or course, he wasn’t really looking right at me, but that’s how it felt) he said, “You are theotokos.” Theotokos, the one who brings God to the world!
My heart stopped at the enormity of that.
I hope your hearts won’t stop, but will be filled with joy and hope when I say to you, you are theotokos.
Theotokos—God bearer, the one who brings God to the world, the one who gives birth to God, not just at Christmas, but every day—by being loving and caring for others, by doing small acts of kindness, and sometimes giving up what we think we want so that others have what they need.
If being theotokos feels like too much for you, let me introduce you to a Jewish idea that Jesus and Mary would have known. The idea that Jesus lived. It’s called tikkun olam.
Tikkun olam means “repair the world.”
It is sais that the world has become broken, and with God’s help, we can work to mend it. It is like a broken pot, with lots of pieces lying around, and everything we do can help put it back together.
We begin by repairing ourselves, and Advent gives us time to actively watch and wait for Jesus, and to make ourselves “a mansion prepared” for him. There is still time, even though Christmas is so close—there is always time in God’s infinite mercy and patience.
We will never be that perfect mansion fit for Jesus, or a perfect theotokos, bringing God into the world, but we can help God repair the world while we are repairing ourselves.
Prayer is one way to help repair ourselves and the world. Praying for God to show us our true selves, and praying for healing and peace for those we love, and for the world. Praying that everyone may know the joy and hope that comes from being loved and welcomed by God, and by us.
God’s justice and righteousness (being right-wise with God) are part of tikkun olam—and signs of being theotokos, too.
So in ourselves, our families, our community, and in the wider world, we are invited to live by God’s values –and to promote them—so that everyone has enough, and everyone is included in the circle of caring and compassion.
Does being theotokos sound like a lot of work? I suppose it can feel that way, until you live it and realize that God’s values are really easier to live by than the world’s values. It does help to know that we are all God’s beloved, forgiven children. When we live that way, we are repairing the world.
And if Greek or Jewish ideas seem too foreign, look no further than our Prayer Book. Look at the promises we make at Baptism: that with God’s help we will continually turn to God who is always turned to us; we will “proclaim the Good News by word and example; we will seek and serve Christ in all persons; and strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.” (BCP p 304-5)
Each of us was born for that. None of us can do all of that perfectly, each of us can do a part, and together, and with God’s help, we can do amazing things.
How will you bring God to the world today? You are theotokos.