As an evangelical protestant I never know what to do with the Virgin Mary, even this time of the year when her story is so much at the center of our story. Oh, I have a great appreciation for her. I have even added praying the Rosary to my personal spiritual practice of disciplines, so at least several times a week I recite, “Hail Mary, full of Grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.”
Still, as I set up the manger scenes and read the Christmas story to my grandkids I don’t know exactly how to describe her. My wonderful Catholic friends call her easily mater Theou, the Mother of God. I believe that is true in some sense and yet my desire to keep Jesus fully God, there before time began, makes it hard for me to wrap my little head around that name, Mother of God. Then a few weeks ago I came across another designation for this blessed woman, theotokos, the God bearer. The God bearer, the one who carried God to us. Now that’s a name I can grasp.
I sat down early this morning and wrote a blog that began with those two paragraphs. I went on to talk about our responsibility to be theotokos, God bearers; to those people we come in contact with. It was a fine little blog. And then I turned on the news and began following with horror the all too familiar unfolding of the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Somehow my little blogging seem so irrelevant so I took it down and deleted it. Except for the first two paragraphs.
I have been singing this Christmas season that Mark Lowry song that has become a classic, Mary Did You Know? Remember those words?
Mary did you know that your baby boy would someday walk on water?
Mary did you know that your baby boy would save our sons and daughters?
Did you know that your baby boy has come to make you new?
This child that you’ve delivered, will soon deliver you.
There were other things I wonder if she knew. Did she know that He would suffer the way He did? Did she know about the beating? Did she ever imagine the cross? Mary, did you know that you would outlive your precious little baby and watch them carry His lifeless body from the top of a hill to a hole in the ground? Did you know the price you would pay to be theotokos?
This morning as I sat in front of the TV and wept and prayed for those broken families in Newtown, for those frightened, helpless children, for those unimaginably wounded mothers, I began to think of Mary, the God bearer, theotokos. She may not have known then but she knows now. She knows the pain of being a mother that lost her child. And perhaps, in some sense, just as her Son carried the pain of the whole world, she carried the pain of a thousand generations of wounded mothers. Perhaps she was not only theotokos then and there but she remains the God bearer now for those families that face a Christmas season that we cannot fathom.
Two things seem to bring some comfort in those moments when the loss is so devastating that we cannot breath. One is some meaning or purpose. “My son gave his life in the military protecting our freedom.” “My daughter died on a mission field doing what she loved.” It doesn’t ease the sadness but somehow I think it helps with the pain to know there was some reason, some rhyme to this madness. Try as I might, I can find no meaning, no purpose to bring any kind of solace to the senseless act today. There is nothing that I or anyone can say that will help us to understand this morning in Connecticut.
But the other thing that helps in some small measure I believe is to know that I am not alone in my grief; that someone, somewhere, has been through this before and knows what I am going through. I know the Scripture says that Jesus was “tempted in every way like we are.” And that “He was acquainted with all our grief.” But it doesn’t feel like Jesus knew about this kind of loss. I am pretty sure that even God doesn’t understand this pain. Enter Mary, theotokos. Is it possible that God in His Wisdom said, “I’ll start the whole story with a young mother that knows the pain of all mothers, everywhere. She will be the God bearer?” Is it possible that on a Christmas Eve 2000 years ago God foresaw the blinding tragedy in a small school in New England and said, “They will need someone to carry God to them. They will need theotokos?”
And so I rewrote my blog. And I wept and prayed for 20 young mothers (and fathers and brothers and sisters) that I have never met and never will meet. I prayed that God would send someone to them to comfort them, to carry God to them and them to Him. I prayed for theotokos. And I will be honest, I prayed to the Mother of God.
Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, mother of God, PRAY FOR US sinners both now and in the hour of our death.