Thought for the Day by Clive Barrett (St Michael’s)
Most highly favoured Who?
The Angel Gabriel from heaven came,
His wings as drifted snow, his eyes as flame.
“All hail,” said he, “Thou lowly maiden, Mary,
Most highly favoured lady.” Gloria!
I once lived on St Anne’s Road, the St Michael’s / St Chad’s boundary. Legendary Anne, and her husband Joachim, were Mary’s parents. They’re not in the Bible, but neither are ox, ass, nor “three” Magi. Imagination is good, until it takes over. Some people imagined Mary as super-pure. Thinking sinful nature transferred with semen (Augustine), they argued Mary was conceived without her parents having sex.
For Roman Catholics, 8 December marks the “Immaculate Conception” of Mary. For Anglicans, it’s just her Conception. Today celebrates her parents having sex!
Protestant reaction to the whitewashing of super-pure Mary was to airbrush her out of worship entirely. Many Christmas carols refer to the state of her body-parts – womb and virginity – but few mention Mary by name.
But the “normalness” of Mary makes Christmas work. The wonder of Incarnation is this coming together of amazing, Almighty, eternal, universal God – big in every conceivable (!) way and more – with fragile, vulnerable humanity in weak, new-born Jesus, born of Mary. Mary brings humanity into Incarnation. It matters she’s one of us, immersed in human messiness. Mary roots the story with her radical questioning of Gabriel at the Annunciation (“How can this be?”), her singing “Cast down the mighty from their thrones”, her free co-operation with the divine to become our God-bearer.
We need the biblical, human Mary. Neither whitewashed nor airbrushed. Let’s reclaim Mary, celebrate her life, her raw humanity from her parents’ conception of her, to her conception of her son, giving birth, being mother. It’s only thanks to Mary, “most highly favoured lady”, that we have Christmas at all.