When we talk about our spiritual lives, language of birth often crops up. Our physical experiences of birth, life, and death are always the context of our pursuit of a God-centered life. One of my favorite local preachers, the Rev. Lynice Pinkard identified one of the problems this language presents. “We have a hard time knowing the difference between birth pangs and death throes”. Indeed, the pain we experience in our life could be leading to death or new life. In my own thinking, I assume that our suffering leads to both because birth and death are intimately linked. Heaven knows that when a parent views their new child for the first time they simultaneously feel the joy of birth and they experience the instant death of their life before that child. Everything is completely changed.
Because the Bible is mostly silent about the life of Jesus between birth and adulthood (the brief incident in the Temple notwithstanding), we don’t think very much about Mary as an actual mother. We imagine how scared she must have been to be visited by an angel. Her shock when she understood the message of Gabriel. Her challenging pregnancy and delivery in a stable. (with or without a side trip to Egypt)
But what was it like to be the mother of Jesus, a younger brother whose “father” was not the man to whom she was married. There are a number of books that imagine Jesus (Yeshua) as a child and adolescent. Some are based on painstaking cultural research such as Rabbi Jesus by Bruce Chilton. My personal favorite, however, is an insane piece of comedy writing entitled, Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore, one of the few books that has literally made me bend over laughing. But even in this book, Mary is only a supporting character.
I suspect Mary was just as confused about whether she was having birth pangs or death throes. I’m sure that she could not have imagined the ending of her son’s life. Imagining her grief at the loss of her son always comforts me because it reminds me that no matter how faithful or faith-filled you may be, tragedy will come. And yet, God is still present.
This Advent, consider what may be preventing you from being a “mother of God”? What do you need to let go of in order to make room for the birth of the holy in your life? What needs to die in you so that you might fully live the promise of God within you?