by Bruce Gilberd
(Based on Luke 2:1-7)
Today we give thanks for the part Mary played in the story of God, bringing new life and redemption into this world, through Jesus, God, and Mary’s son.
I also, this morning, wish to probe what might have been going on in that Nazareth home as Jesus and his siblings grew up there.
Mary, the mother of Jesus, has had a place of honour in the church from the beginning. In some parts of the church this has taken rather extreme forms – which diminish her humanity.
We are well informed that both Mary and Joseph were descended from David, King of Israel – a flawed, penitent, blessed King and ancestor.
We read, each Christmas, the birth narrative, which is preceded by the annunciation narrative, and Mary’s consent to God’s purpose for her. There have been periods in the church’s history when the divinity of Jesus has been so emphasised that his humanity – his weeping, sweating, bleeding humanity – his identification with us – was almost lost. Admittedly, it can be difficult to get to grips with this divinely human brother who is also our “Lord and our God” (as Thomas put it).
We are told his mother, Mary herself, “pondered all these things in her heart”.
Jesus grew up with nurturing parents and younger siblings – attending the local synagogue, and probably a school there. He watched Joseph, and picked up carpentry.
Then, except for the incident in the Temple as a twelve-year-old, there are eighteen years of silence. We can assume Jesus was still at home. Some say he joined the Essene monastic community near the Dead Sea. The evidence is slight. So, as many young Jewish men did, he stayed at home, close to his mother – who we give thanks for today.
When Jesus began his ministry at about thirty years of age, it is abundantly evident from his teaching, parables, dialogue and deeds he had used the hidden years being an acute observer, learning from all that was going on around him. He had carefully noted and was deeply aware of:
- the hypocrisy of many in religious leadership;
- the brutality that underlay the Pax Romana – the peace of the Roman occupation and empire;
- the wisdom, depth, ethics and prophecies of the Hebrew scriptures;
- the minutiae of family and village life;
- how to run a small carpentry business;
- the working life of surrounding farms, and nearby fishermen – also wine makers;
- what goes on behind closed doors between masters and servants;
- how to listen accurately and question probingly;
- the side-lining of children and women; of tax gatherers and prostitutes;
- the burdens of the sick, and the excluded: Samaritans and Gentiles;
- the changing of the seasons, and the world of nature;
- the jostling for political and religious power.
Jesus then used all this accumulated knowledge and wisdom in his ministry, enriching those who had ears to hear, and us today.
But even in that hectic three years, his beloved mother was still at his elbow:
- at the marriage at Cana, broadly hinting he could solve the lack of wine problem;
- wanting him to join her away from the throng, and rest from the stress.
And Mary was there, probably in her mid-forties, at the foot of the cross, and was taken in to the care of John the apostle, at Jesus’s bidding.
So, thank you, Mary, mother of Jesus, for your loyalty, your obedience, your nurture, your mothering. Your pain and joy of childbirth, your wondering heart as your boy grew up and grew in stature and wisdom. Your heartbreak at the cross; and yet joy beyond understanding at his rising.
The lives of these two – human Mary and her divinely human son Jesus – are inextricably bound together.
I want to conclude by inviting you to use your hidden, quiet times, all your times, discerningly, by being as aware as possible, as Jesus was, of what is going on around you, and in you, and:
- in nature,
- in relationships,
- in the local and wider community and their issues,
- in politics, and in other nations,
- in local, national and global church life,
- what is going on? what am I learning …?
Let us be aware, observant, alert – and make our findings the subject of our conversations and prayers and, at times, our actions. We all need to keep equipping ourselves for our life-long ministries.