The Incarnation: A Sick Practical Joke?

Advent 4 – we’re almost there, folks.

Today in our lectionary readings, we focus on Mary, the Theotokos – the mother of God. That’s a tough position. We often hold Mary up in high esteem to the point where we sanitize her, and we think of her as the perfect model of femininity and calm poise. But for some context, let’s cut the shiny veneer of romanticism we so often put on the birth narratives and see what her experiences were according to the Gospels, and extrapolate what Mary must have been feeling, thinking, and experiencing during her pregnancy.

Consider this: this whole ordeal all started when a random male stranger appeared to her and said, “Greetings Mary, you’re full of grace. God is with you! Also, you’re going to give birth to a son and be impregnated by the Holy Spirit. Capisce?” (I’m paraphrasing slightly.) I can imagine her feeling scared and confused. Who is this man? Is he dangerous? Should I call for help? Run?

But at the very least, she entertains the idea that maybe Gabriel is God’s messenger. She takes what he said and essentially responds, “God, I’m Yours. What You want, I want.”

I imagine she likely went about her business for the next few days in a total daze with her head positively spinning. She’d be thinking questions like, “Have I gone crazy?”, “What have I done that has made me so outstanding to GOD?”, “What will I do if I’m pregnant?”, “Is my family going to disown me?”, or maybe even “Am I going to die in childbirth? By angry crowds?”

Then, after all the wondering if this was some sick practical joke, she would have missed her period. This just became real.

This wasn’t just an over-spiritualized vision or a drunken stupor or a mental health issue – this was happening. Mary truly was pregnant. “Why me, Lord?”

Any couple that has had a unexpected, unwanted pregnancy can attest to the fear and confusion associated with this moment. And Mary didn’t even have a partner to lean on – how could she tell her fiancé about this? She was afraid to tell her immediate family. She certainly wouldn’t have wanted to tell her friends.

So she “got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea” to visit her cousin Elizabeth and her husband Zechariah. They, too, have had a crazy, unexpected pregnancy rife with weird happenings. Maybe they could give her some advice?

Mary walks in the house. Elizabeth, six months pregnant, sees her. And the two women share a wonderful, Spirit-filled greeting.

Again, Mary would be afraid and nervous about what others are thinking about her being pregnant. I can imagine she would be fearful that her family would view her as shameful. But Elizabeth’s greeting gives Mary hope: hope for this pregnancy, hope for her situation, hope for her child.

“Who am I that the mother of my Lord should visit me?”

I can only imagine what these words must have meant to Mary; My child truly is the Messiah. I am not alone – she is with me. God, thank you. You haven’t totally screwed me over. (Again, I’m extrapolating a little…)

So Mary sings (well, spoke…) the Magnificat – a hymn of her praises to God. In it, she sings that,

“[God’s] mercy extends to those who fear him,
    from generation to generation.
     He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
    he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
     He has brought down rulers from their thrones
    but has lifted up the humble.
    He has filled the hungry with good things
    but has sent the rich away empty.”

And this is the Incarnation to Mary. A God who is not distant, not uncaring, but a God in the trenches.

A God who is ready to dole out love and compassion without limit, like a grandma with fresh-baked cookies.

A God who despises injustice.

A God ready to serve the wretched and the unwanted.

Thirty years before Jesus begins his public ministry, Mary gets it. God didn’t choose a poor, backwoods country bumpkin for a mother just to become manifest as an authoritarian warrior-king. No, God is here to turn our world upside down – and he certainly turned Mary’s world upside down. God is here to show that God means business.

The poor will be satiated.

The old childless couple will be overjoyed with a baby.

The humiliated girl called “whore” and spat at in the streets will be exalted.

The nut-bar who wears sackcloth and eats bugs  will be the new Elijah.

The One who will be brutally executed will bring Truth and Life.

The last shall be first, and the weak shall be strong, and none shall be afraid.

So this week, in your final preparations for Advent, consider Mary’s pregnancy: one of fear, of inconvenience, and of upheaval. But she had hope. God, Elizabeth, and eventually Joseph – they gave her peace. In her Magnificat, she sings of her joy in spite of a pretty crappy situation, to be frank. And finally, she carries the Incarnate with such tenderness and love love of her child, and love of her God.

He is coming – prepare Him room.