A MOTHER'S PRAYER
By Ralphetta Aker McClary, Ruling Elder, Washington Shores Presbytery and, Member, Anti-Racism Committee (ARC)
Growing up in the church, I always looked forward to Christmas and the celebration of the Birth of Jesus. In Sunday school, we learned of the angels’ proclamations, the journey to Bethlehem, there being NO room in the Inn, the Virgin Birth in a manger with all the animals, the coming of the Wise Men and presentation of gifts and the escape to Egypt. As I matured, so has my understanding of the importance of Advent.
Today, we rush through this season and often overlook the story of Mary and her faith, love and hope. This Advent season, we should pause and meet Mary again, as she expectantly waits and prepares for the celebration of the Nativity of Christ at Christmas. Her pronouncement of liberation and justice for her and our broken world, ended the silence of oppression, and ushered in a season of Holy Change, grounded in faith and rooted in prayer. With the Mother of Jesus our Anti-racism statement, joins Mary by ending the silence of our time.
In every depiction of this great story, we find Mary in the Nativity of Christ kneeling by the cradle of her new baby boy, in a humble and submissive state. Yet, the angel’s declaration in Luke 1:28-30 “You have found favor with God”, informs us that Mary was a woman after God’s own heart, who was obedient to the teaching of her Lord Yahweh. In kneeling, Mary demonstrates that which she already knows, that the child she has delivered is deserving of respect and loyalty, for her son Jesus is the promised King.
How can I make such a profound statement of Mary’s knowledge of her son? Her own words in Luke 1:46-55, historically titled “The Magnificat” or “Mary’s Song” demonstrates she was a woman of God who voices her faith in Yahweh the God of her ancestry. Few of us know more than the opening verses Luke 1:46-48 ~
“46 And Mary said:
“My soul glorifies the Lord
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,”
This opening phrase is pleasant to our ears and portrays Mary as a meek and mild mother, obedient to God’s direction. Mary is the humble girl for whom God the Almighty is doing great things, God is holy and will bless those who fear him.
“49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me--
holy is his name.
50 His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.”
A favored woman of God! Then comes this her pronouncement of God’s plan to be carried out through her son. In Luke 1:51-55, she states:
“51 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
53 He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful
55 to Abraham and his descendants forever,
just as he promised our ancestors.”
As I read these words again, I see Mary in a new light. Less of a scared, obedient, teenager and more like a woman~~ a mother; one with a deep understanding of God’s love. One who knew the directive of Micah 6:8 and who profoundly understood the teaching of Isaiah 53:1-12. Another look at this passage reveals Mary, a mother of faith intent on reorienting and dismantling unjust systems.
This is a Mary for our 21st Century world. She is a mother who, even before the manger, knew the pain of loss and the sacrifice she would face. She is a mother who was in prayer for her son before His birth and even in the manger, still on her knees. I recall the old Negro spiritual~~”My mother prayed for me, got down on her knees and prayed for me. I’m so glad she prayed, I’m so glad she prayed for me.” Mary prayed for Jesus; in the same way, Jesus prayed for the world.
Mary knew the work assigned to her Son. She knew He would scatter those who are proud in their minds, speak to bring down rulers lift the humble, and teach us to fill the hungry with GOOD THINGS and the rich, He sent them away empty. Mary’s words are the longest words spoken by a woman in the New Testament. The words of Mary’s Magnificat rebuke the arrogance of the proud, who think that power is their sovereign right. Mary is a mother who demonstrates loyal and steadfast love, both in her words and actions.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor and theologian who was executed by the Nazis, called the Magnificat, “the most passionate, the wildest, one might even say the most revolutionary hymn ever sung.” The poor and oppressed people of color, and all who are followers of Christ should reclaim Mary’s Song and see Mary not as a silent figure in a nativity scene, but as a voice for those who are vulnerable – physically (to include skin color), economically, and socially (to include class and gender).
Mary’s prayer/mantra is a demonstration of courage. While she was poor, unmarried, pregnant, and likely a young woman of color, she shared her own story, in a society that devalued women. Mary is the embodiment of God showing up, right here, in the midst of real people in the real world. Hers is not some ancient irrelevant story. Mary disrupts our business-as-usual. God seems especially concerned for the oppressed while too many wrestles with the fact that God loves everyone equally. When we share the vantage point of black, indigenous, people of color, many of the myths that perpetuate a system that plunders the poor who are disproportionately people of color are exposed.
In our statement on Racial Injustice, we affirm that “racism” is a sin and we expound on the belief that Jesus has destroyed the myths and idols of systemic racism and oppression so that we are freed to love and serve one another with no-strings attached; to love with the love we have all been freely given. This is the hope Mary was expressing; a hope that declares that the Spirit of God is living among us.
This Advent season, we can wait with hope on the promise of the coming Christ child and know the fulfillment of His kingdom on earth as we await His second coming. Mary’s words give us hope—in them we hear a witness to faith, see a demonstration of love and hope for what is and is to come. In her words we are able to find God in a place where God may seem to be absent. We, along with the mothers of Emmitt Till, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Abrery, and countless others, including Jesus, who have been unjustly killed, can stand and lift our voices with Mary, for in this Advent season, there is faith, there is love, and there is eternal hope.