In ten years of ministry and nearly 40 years of church attendance (with a loving reminder that we Millennials are, in fact, middle aged), I’ve heard plenty of angles on the Christmas story. The funny. The saccharine. The mysterious. Preached by folks of a variety of races, ages, theological frameworks, and gender expressions. Many of them excellent and thought-provoking. But not nearly enough of them rightly acknowledge that Mary is the most punk rock figure, possibly in all of scripture, certainly in the Nativity. Nor is there sufficient due celebration given to all we learn about Mary and all we learn about God from a singular truth: Mary consents.
We have let our popular imagination run wild creating a Mary who is mild and meek, tender, bearing sweetly and stoically her role in keeping the silent night silent. Mary is fragile yes, but she is, to borrow a phrase, not fragile like a flower. She is fragile like a bomb. From her first questioning of Gabriel’s news, through the punk anthem that is the Magnificat, Mary’s words ring out as deeply, gloriously radical.
From her first questioning of Gabriel’s news, through the punk anthem that is the Magnificat, Mary’s words ring out as deeply, gloriously radical.
Mary embodies the reality that the nativity story is a political one. In the reign of “son of the divine” Caesar, she would’ve been well aware of the violent entwining of the political and religious that shaped the social order of her world. And yes, a nonviolent savior, born to someone on the margins, is the perfect living counterpoint to the abuse of faith for political gain. But even more so, the conscious choice of a young woman living under structural injustice and violent imperialism to joyfully consent to participating in the most unlikely of miracles is an act of unbelievably powerful resistance. You’d better believe the political is personal. It clearly was for Mary. There, in that land, then, in that time, as well as here and now, politics is life and death for those on the fringes and under the destructive forces of empire. This is the world that the newly expectant Mary knows. It is the world in which she chooses to say yes.
Mary embodies the reality that the nativity story is a political one.
Later, in response to Elizabeth’s acknowledgement of the truth Mary is already holding in her heart, it all spills forth. She speaks – she sings! – a manifesto, a pronouncement on the character and constancy of God’s covenantal love, attuned to the political context of her age. The Magnificat is a song of wisdom and knowing, of prophecy and promises kept. It should rock us back on our heels every single time we hear it.
So yes, Mary knew, this world she was raised in, the political and social unrest that was the fabric of her existence. A young woman of color, a woman of deep and lived faith, a woman of no particular position or power, and a woman with a voice that carried. Mary’s song demonstrates at least one more thing crucial for this story to have several millennia worth of staying power. Mary knew the God to whom she offered her “yes”.
We know Mary knew her Hebrew scriptures. Her song, the Magnificat, is practically a one-to-one homage to Hannah’s song in the second chapter of first Samuel, “My heart exults in the Lord, my strength is exalted in my God.” Mary didn’t just know the sacred stories in a vague “I occasionally paid attention in of Sunday school” kind of way. She knew the stories of her people like she knew her own mind. She knew them in her bones. They shaped her daily life. And those stories meant she knew who and what she was saying yes to when God came calling.
She knew the stories of her people like she knew her own mind. She knew them in her bones. They shaped her daily life.
That might be the most radical thing of all in this string of extraordinary ideas: Mary consents. If she had been saying yes out of ignorance, or given no agency in the matter, that would reveal a God who colonizes the body of a woman, a God fixated on exerting power. This God, however, announces a series of promises and in the pause that follows, Mary affirms her desire to participate in this miracle. She says yes. Yes, knowing the shape of things to come. Yes to the risk of loving someone you know will live an extraordinary and harrowing and beautiful and heartbreaking life. Yes to the audacious and amazing grace of agreeing to give birth to the one she will eventually watch die on the cross. Whether she knew the precise details is irrelevant. In those simple words, “Let it be…” and with all that follows, Mary is giving all who would follow a better glimpse of who God is.
That might be the most radical thing of all in this string of extraordinary ideas: Mary consents.
She is perhaps the most precious and prominent example of how God chooses to reveal Godself: through human partners. God doesn’t need Mary’s body as just an empty vessel, a mere implement, to accomplish something. God is God. God chooses to partner with a voice like Mary’s, a mind like Mary’s, a whole person like Mary, to speak the truth of God’s justice which is indistinguishable from God’s love.
God chooses to partner with a voice like Mary’s, a mind like Mary’s, a whole person like Mary, to speak the truth of God’s justice which is indistinguishable from God’s love.
So Mary prophesies. She joins a great lineage of folks who have heard God’s voice so clearly that they learn to trust their own, and declares boldly for the world to celebrate – THIS is who God is.
And in this moment Mary sets a whole new life in motion. She shows us the way to be what each of is called to be – a theotokos, a God bearer, living faith out loud with a clarion call that rings across the ages. Mary is the punk rock icon of the season we didn’t know we needed. She is here to show us how to live into the risky and radical love of saying yes to God.
Rev. Dr. Laurie Lyter Bright is a pastor, perpetual student, mom of two wild ragamuffins (Tillie age 4, Sonora age 3), wife to Jesse, and an amateur farmer with more enthusiasm than skill living in Neenah, Wisconsin. Her flock expands to 11 chickens, 2 goats, and a dog (Angus MacDonald, Boy Detective), with a promise to only add one new species per year. Laurie’s writing has been published in academic journal and book form, and her dissertation (“The Body and the Word: The Intersection of Religion and Rape Culture”) was completed in 2021. She collects books, stamps in her passport, and friends she meets on airplanes and in other countries.