There's something about Mary that captivates me. Something about her has long captivated the church, too, leading many to overestimate her virtue throughout the centuries. She has gone from a pregnant peasant girl to a sinless, perpetually virgin saint.

But we shouldn't let her saintliness make us forget her realness. She was a teenage girl who gave birth to a baby on a dirty stable floor. She was a mother who ran through Jerusalem looking for her little boy when he was lost. She was a woman who had enough influence over Jesus to convince him to turn water into wine at a wedding. Mary was a real woman with a real story.

There are many stories about Mary in the Bible, but, for me, the one that reveals her character the most is the call of God on her life and her response, found in the first chapter of Luke's Gospel. Luke tells us that God sent an angel to Mary, a young girl in Nazareth who was betrothed to Joseph. The angel said she had found favour with God, and that she would give birth to the Son of the Most High.

The angel's presence and words frightened the young girl, and yet, despite her fear, she replied, “I am the Lord's servant. May your word to me be fulfilled” (Luke 1:38). Mary said yes to God's strange request. She said yes to the danger of being an unwed mother. She said yes to the unknown.

A few verses later, Luke records Mary's words after visiting her cousin, Elizabeth. Known as the Magnificat, it is Mary's continued response to God. It is a subversive—“He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty” (Luke 1:53)—and bold prayer in the face of uncertainty and fear. It is a prayer that transforms Mary from a peasant girl into the mother of God. It is a prayer that begins to reveal the incarnation— the meeting of heaven and earth, that Jesus is both truly God and truly man. The Magnificat is Mary's song, but it is not focused on Mary. Instead it is focused on the might, holiness and mercy of God.

Despite how she is sometimes viewed, Mary wasn't perfect or sinless. I'm sure she had her doubts. I'm sure she didn't always understand what was happening. But perhaps that's the point. Mary's story tells us that we don't need to be a saint or a virgin mother to be God's image bearer. We just need to obey. To say yes. To speak into the universe, with fearful trepidation, “Let's do this, God. I don't understand what's happening, but I trust that you are at work.”

Maybe Mary found favour with God because she knew and understood that God was at work in the world— even in the things she didn't understand and in the things that were impossibly hard to imagine.

As we approach the coming season, I hope that we are marked by Mary's faith. Not a sinless Mary, but a real Mary. When Mary's realness comes through, her act of obedience and her subversive prayer mean more to us. When we recognize ourselves in Mary, in her imperfection and fear as she delivered the Son of God, then we enter the Christmas story in a new and a powerful way.

This Christmas, may we be reminded that God seeks us out where we are, as we are. We don't have to have all of our stuff together to be used by God. Instead, God seeks us out when we are suffering; when we are cowards; when we are unfaithful; when we are arrogant; when we are lost and broken; when we feel forgotten, bored, insignificant and tired; when we are wounded, and when we are the ones who are wounding.

God is seeking us out that we might say—I am the Lord's servant. May your word to me be fulfilled (see Luke 1:38). That we might say—my soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour (see Luke 1:46-47).

Lieutenant Kristen Jackson-Dockeray is the divisional youth secretary in the British Columbia Division.


On Sunday, January 8, 2017, Roy Isherwood said:

Thank you Dr. Burke for your reply. I was delighted to see that you had taken the time to respond to my letter. I am taking seriously your comments and the historical context from which the phrase arises. However, I still find it difficult to to refer to Mary in this way, because out of it arises a lot of other doctrinal issues. Those being the perpetual virginity of Mary and her immaculate conception. It also seems to have taken a lot of focus away from our Saviour in certain Christian circles. I also believe from what I have read that referring to Mary in this way has led to a lot of misunderstanding on the part of Muslims. It is one of the issues and complaints that Muhmmad had with Christians of his day. He believed that they were worshiping more than one god. Should we not be sensitive to our Muslim brothers if we hope to share with them the Gospel?
Also, my concern was not the article in itself as it was well written with a very good message. I was concerned about this being official SA doctrine. If it is I would find it very difficult to accept. It just doesn't ring true.

Thank you again for your response.

On Friday, January 6, 2017, Donald Burke said:

Dear Roy,
I have read the article and would offer the following observations.
Referring to Mary as the "mother of God" is a practice that goes back to the early centuries of the Church. While on the surface it appears to be a title focused on Mary, in fact it was a title that was intended to affirm the full divinity of Christ. That is, if Mary is not the Mother of God then this implies that Jesus was not born both as a full and complete human being and was not fully and completely divine. To say that Mary is the Mother of God was understood to affirm that the one born from her womb was indeed the Son of God. When understood in this way, we may hesitate to use the title with reference to Mary, but we should be careful to not disparage a longstanding way of affirming the divinity of Christ.
I recognize that the expression may be jarring to our Protestant ears; but in the context of the article Kristen wrote, I think that her intent was honorable. The overall emphasis of the article is on Mary as a model for us, maintaining her full humanity. At least, that's how I read it.
I hope this is helpful.

On Wednesday, January 4, 2017, Roy Isherwood said:

The Mary I Never Knew

After reading this article I was quite shocked at the theological message it presents. In the first paragraph the author mentions the way that Mary's image,over the centuries, has been elevated,"from a peasant girl to a sinless, perpetually virgin saint". She then goes on to speak about Mary's "realness" and points out the many virtues Mary displays as a mother and obedient child of God. However, later in the article she states that her prayer,"transforms Mary from a peasant girl into the mother of God". Is this the new "theology" of The Salvation Army?

In the narrative poem,"The Sicilian's Tale" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow,the poet has King Robert of Sicily saying,"Tis well that such seditious words are sung only by priests and in the Latin tongue" after listening to the Magnificat. Now the words of the writer of this article are hardly seditious but they are controversial. As a result, I thought that I would do a small informal survey in my corps. I asked 3 or 4 people what they thought of the article. To my surprise no one had read it. I then asked them if they read the Salvationist. The impression I got was that they browse through it but don't read everything. They might read an article here or there. As my wife said," I scan the articles".So then King Robert's words might be changed slightly for this article to read something like,"tis well that not everyone reads the Salvationist!!

I did a little research on the internet and found several articles on this subject of Mary being the mother of God. They were written by Roman Catholic authors, of course, and they supported this idea. They presented some lengthy arguments for the position that they have taken, but none of it convinced me to agree with their stance on the subject. However, I have the highest respect for Mary (and Joseph) and make no hesitation in using her as a role model of godliness and obedience to God. Yet I stop short at putting her on an unattainable pedestal of purity and godliness and having no intimacy with her husband.

I would really welcome comments from some astute theologians such as Maj. Bruce Power and Dr. Donald Burke. It's my observation that we don't have a lot to say about theology in The Army. However, we need to be informed and ready to explain where we stand when confronted by beliefs that appear at least to contradict the Bible.

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