In many families, mine included, there are names that are passed down from generation to generation. In my family that name is Mary Elizabeth. On my father’s side his mother and his father’s sister were both named Mary Elizabeth. My mother’s sister and her maternal grandmother were also named Mary Elizabeth. Even my own sister is named Mary Elizabeth. When my second child was born, the first question my husband asked was, “Do you still want to name the baby Mary Elizabeth?” I had to admit that no, I did not. We would name our baby Scott Thomas (giving him his father’s middle name and his uncle’s first name).
To Christians, Mary is a name of great significance as is Elizabeth. There are several important figures in the Bible named Mary, including the Virgin Mary whom we celebrate today, a child of God and the mother of Jesus. Today is her feast day in the Anglican Faith. It still boggles my mind – Mary, is a child of God, created in God’s image and the mother of Jesus; Jesus, created and carried in her womb.
Mary is so important in the Roman Catholic church that there are no fewer than 13 major feast days and 7 lesser feast days dedicated to Mary. Today, the Roman Catholic Church celebrates the Assumption of Mary. In the Quran Mary is mentioned 34 times (more than in our Christian Bible). I While there are many differences in the beliefs of Islam, Catholicism, and Anglicanism, Mary holds great fascination for people of many faitihs.
In today’s Gospel we have the words of the Magnificat. These are the words Mary said while speaking with her cousin Elizabeth who was also with child. “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior. For he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.”
Her response to Elizabeth was one of profound humility. God asked her to be the mother of the Second person of the Trinity. And she said, “Yes!” I am pretty sure that she didn’t know what the future would hold for her and her unborn son, but she said yes.
She would spend the next 3 decades being the mother of God on earth, Jesus. Mary kept walking with God, putting one foot in front of the other, continually discerning God’s will for her, entrusted with the care and upbringing of the Son of God.
When Mary brought Jesus to the temple to fulfill the requirements of the Law of Moses on the 40th day from Jesus’ birth Simeon told her, ‘This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.’ That is quite a prophecy! And yet, Mary continued to walk with God, one step at a time.
When Jesus was about 12, Mary, Joseph and Jesus went to the temple in Jerusalem for a festival as was their custom, but when they were about a day’s journey towards their home, Mary realized that Jesus was not with them. They returned to Jerusalem, and found him about three days later. As someone who has lost one or both of her children, more than once, for just a few minutes, I cannot imagine what Mary was thinking for three days.
Jesus seemingly rebuked his mother when she asked him to solve the problem of running out of wine at a wedding in Cana when he says, ‘Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.’ ANd yet, she tayed with him and supported him and told the servants do do what Jesus asked.
And Mary was present at the crucifixion. She was at the foot of the cross. She never abandoned Jesus. She continued to care and serve him through her faith and devotion to God.
As I think about Mary I am fascinated. I have to wonder in awe at her unwavering devotion to God. Her humility in continuing to say yes, day after day, year after year, regardless of what happened in her life, regardless of what she didn’t know, she knew in her heart that she was loved by God, and God was with her.
I want to be more like Mary! I have heard it said that Mary is not the great exception, but the great example. I want to be like Mary.
Now if you know me, you know that I am a planner. I plan liturgies, pilgrimages, vacations, meals (although I don’t actually cook them), and even what I am going to wear on Tuesday of next week (after consulting the weather forecast of course). I love to plan! When things don’t go according to my plan, I tend to get uneasy and irritated. Planning is good for day to day life. It’s fun, especially when everything goes according to plan. As I age, it is easier to adapt and adjust if things don’t go according to plan (even if I remain a little irritated).
What is not so easy, is to go onto a path where the end is not visible or known. It sometimes seems easier to stay in a situation which does not feed the soul, and may not be where God is leading, rather than step out and venture into the unknown.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.” In 12 step programs one of the aphorisms is, “One Day at a Time.” What both of these suggest is that you don’t need to know the ending, you just need to trust, take the next step, knowing that God is with you. In Alcoholics Anonymous, “One day at a time” is broken down even further. If one day at a time seems insurmountable, then try one hour at a time, if that is overwhelming, try one minute at a time. Focus on where you are, and just take the next indicated step.
Mary lived this way. Mary did the next indicated thing. She continued to follow the path God had set for her, no matter the roadblocks put in her way. Her unwavering devotion as a servant of God while also being the mother of Jesus is worthy of praise! How can we be more like Mary?
Mary was humble. She was a servant to the Lord. She listened to what God was calling her to do. She magnified the Lord, both in worship and in prayer. She shared in the sword, she took up her cross and followed Jesus, no matter the pain it caused. Mary walked in darkness, not knowing where God was leading her, but knowing that it would lead to the light. No matter what happened, Mary still said yes. She surrendered totally to God’s will and she persevered in her faith.
Easy! Right? We can be like Mary! Have you ever made a decision that you believe is right, is what God wants for you and then second guessed the decision? Felt fear? Wondered if it was the right thing to do? Still believed it was right, but couldn’t see how it was going to turn out, and that bothered you? That is the time that it seems easiest to just do the easy thing and retreat into comfort. Here is where we can learn from Mary. She always kept God close to her. She listened, she persevered, she put one foot in front of the other, even when the end of the staircase wasn’t visible. She trusted God.
As many of you know, I am an avid hiker and love to plan our Epiphany walking pilgrimages in the UK. Pilgrimage is one of our spiritual practices. And while I can plan and plan and plan and try to anticipate all of our needs, something always takes us off the beaten path, the straight path, whether it is a health issue, lost luggage, a housing issue, or a direction issue. But even though we cannot see the end of the pilgrimage literally or figuratively when we begin, we trust in God that we will end up where we were meant to be. I can honestly say that on exactly zero of our walking pilgrimages so far have we managed not to lose our way for a while. And I can honestly say that on all of these pilgrimages we have ended up where we were supposed to be, in the right place at the right time and in a deeper relationship with God, through prayer, perseverance, trust, and humility (and looking at our gpx file).
Abraham and Moses undertook pilgrimages when they left their way of life and set out on new paths following God, one step at a time. St, Augustine stepped out of his quiet life of prayer to become a bishop. St. Therese of Lisieux felt called to treat those who hurt and frustrated her with small acts of kindness.
About a decade ago I was called to leave my comfortable life and a career path I had followed my entire adult life. I felt drawn by God to a different path, a path of simplicity and service to God. We downsized by selling our comfortable home and moving to a much more modest accommodation. The clutter, the stuff just melted away. That was something I had not even contemplated or planned for. I believe I am now doing what God has called me to do in this next phase of my life. It has not been a straight path where the end is in sight. It hasn’t always been clear or easy, but it has been so worth it. I can honestly say, I could never have imagined 10 years ago that I would be doing what I currently do, but I do KNOW it is right and a good and joyful thing! I may not see the end of this journey, and that is okay, God continues to show me the next step and I am not afraid.
When Mary was faced with moments of uncertainty she chose to remain open to God’s plan for her even though the way forward may not have been clear. She chose to treasure these things in her heart, awaiting God’s full revelation to her.
In times of change and unknowing fear can be a natural response. The Angel Gabriel told Mary, “Be not afraid.” And Mary replied, ‘‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’
Mary fascinates us. She is the great example of the Christian walk with God. And I want to be more like Mary!