Advent, for me, is often a reflection upon the life of Miriam (Hebrew version of the name Mary), mother of Jesus. Though Jesus is the central figure of the Christian tradition, the one whose life we celebrate at Christmas, Mary has been called the Theotokos, or God-bearer. She is the most exalted female religious figure in Christianity, described by many as the greatest of all saints. She is said to have had a quality of spiritual purity and inner autonomy (i.e. a virgin).
In the book “Truly Our Sister,” author Elizabeth A. Johnson explores the evolution of what Mary has come to mean to Christians through both history and theology. The bottom line, however, is that Mary was a fascinating woman on a spiritual journey. She is an ancestor of ours in faith, who, like all of us, lived between challenge and grace.
When we imagine her only as the Queen of Heaven, we might forget that Mary did not have an easy life. She lived in a poor and oppressed Jewish peasant culture. Her unwed pregnancy was scandalous by societal judgement, making her vulnerable to threats of punishment by law. She had a very real experience of pregnancy —excitement, discomfort, and labor — in an extremely difficult setting. Then, after the relief of birthing a healthy baby boy, she raised her child as most mother’s do – nurturing, protecting, teaching, and loving. And with the acute pain of vulnerability parents know too well, she sent her son into the world… come what may.
Despite the many challenges, Mary exemplifies to me what it means to cooperate with grace. In Scripture we find her proclamation of good news — filled with praise, gratitude, and trust in God’s blessings — right after unexpectedly learning that she will be a mother (Luke 1:46-55). She sees herself as a friend of God, faithful as she chooses Love over fear. And God does not disappoint as One who stands with with the marginalized and outcasts of society by using her life, and that of her son, to forever change the world for the better.
I like to look upon Mary as a wonderful “soul sister” in the communion of saints. This time of year I try to wait with her, in hope, for the light that is to come… for the ways in which God is needing to be born in me, again. How might we call upon the spirit of Miriam this Advent, to help us cooperate more fully with the grace unfolding in our own lives? May you be inspired!