Many of us have heard the Christmas narrative hundreds of times—which is sure to make any story feel vague and distant, full of otherworldly characters. Here, Kate Creech, third-year MA in Counseling Psychology student, offers a reflection on the story of Mary. As a very real, very human character—a teenager whose world was turned upside down—what might Mary’s struggles and questions reveal about the challenges in our own stories?
I can picture her. A teenage girl, probably scared out of her mind from an encounter with an angel, asked by God to bear cultural shame and possibly death for becoming pregnant outside of her marriage bed with Joseph. Mary, the virgin. To her community, the whore. Did all of this flash through her mind even as she uttered her words of obedience?
I’ve been wondering how Mary was able to lay down centuries of tradition and law to embrace a new faith that was thrust on her. Something had to have shifted. God had never worked that way before. How did her faith change? Have to change, with the intrusion of God made flesh on her life? As she looked around the desolate place where her son was about to be born did she wonder, “why Lord do you enter in like this? Is this what healing looks like?” Did she ever let herself feel anger or bitterness towards the God who would ask her to bear a son who she would later watch be horrifically tortured and killed? Yes, there was resurrection, yes there was beauty, but it does not erase the cost, the trauma, and the terror Mary might have experienced.
I realize I’m placing my own story and cultural lens over her life, but in this season I feel like I need her to be more human than ever before. I’d like to think she struggled with the same questions I do. The human ones that we don’t admit how often they come to mind. The scary “how could you, Lord’s,” and “why God’s,” and “how could a loving God…?” Job-sized Laments.
“In this season I feel like I need her to be more human than ever before.”
Even in the midst of the questions, we are all in some way being asked to be healers, advocates, and witnesses to suffering; to lean into life also means bearing our own stories of trauma and the dissonance that comes with them. When my stories threaten to overwhelm me and I want to push God away, there is a part of me that also clings to him. My heart knows of his goodness. I want to believe the Angel of the Lord really did see Mary’s terrified face when he told her not to be afraid and that he sees my own terror, too. I need to believe my questions matter even when I don’t receive a reply.
I’m a determined woman, so I’ll keep on asking until I get an answer. I imagine that Mary, for all she endured and witnessed, probably was as well.
Mary’s Song in the Gospel of Luke reflects something of the world-turning power of the Advent story. She praises the inversion of power that comes with incarnation, the disruption of familiar assumptions about scarcity and abundance. In this, we’re reminded that that which the world has cursed and forgotten might be the very place where God comes in and changes everything.
“My soul glorifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
holy is his name.
His 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.
He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever,
just as he promised our ancestors.”