My mother is one of those rare natural aristocrats. We had very little money to spend on clothes when we were growing up. Dad worked as a pastor . . . and in my experience no one does that for money. Mother would shop the used clothes stores with care, make do, recombine old outfits, and create wonders out of nothing. She had, Dad would tell us, “class.” This way of carrying oneself shows no matter what a person is wearing. I once was involved in the purchase of the Single Most Hideous Piece of Jewelry Ever Created Since Time Began. What mother hasn’t received an unwanted present like that? We called this necklace, huge, silver, ungainly, and cheap “The Empress Carlota” after a wonderful, even more terrible, piece of jewelry on the old Dick VanDyke Show. No one could have looked good in that thing. Mother did. She wore it with black and somehow transformed it. Mother could give anything style.She always wanted Daniel and me to call her “mother.” We resisted. Our friends would think us stuck up. We preferred the more democratic Mom. I see now pretty clearly that we were wrong. My mother was worthy of the full title.Christmas always reminds me of my mother, because it is a story that contains a woman who was both a lady and a mother. In a world where the Dutch murder infants, celebrating Herod and not Christ, it is good to remember the gentle spirit of Mary. We need not be afraid that in remembering her and following her example, that we shall somehow forget her Son. If we attend to her story with care, we shall find that it is one great sign pointing to the Christ.The life of Mary speaks to us of her Son, by her humility and faithful life. She is not His equal, no human being could even approach Him without His grace.Cultures too full of chivalry and overly devoted to the ideal of womanhood may at times have forgotten her humanity. They forgot that the great wonder of the her words was in the simple acceptance of His will. She was made great by her submission. Her very humanity, the “lowliness of her estate,” became the place where God could become man.Today a culture drunk on abortion and self-glorification has gone to the other extreme. All around us are empty churches, broken marriage vows, governments with no conscience, and ugliness called art. What is the result?Our own importance is secure in our eyes. Nothing could be in greater contrast to the lady of Christmas. There exists in Mary both strength and submission. It is a forgotten combination. Who learns today to say, “Be it done unto me according to thy word?” Mary received great glory from a great submission. She was willing to be merely the handmaiden of the Lord. She took the title of a servant and this humility transformed that term into a glorious badge of honor. Mary learned that in the hierarchy of heaven that to play one’s role, even the role of slave, is to be exalted.We have clamoring voices on all sides of us demanding the destruction of this model of womanhood. The joyful submission of wife to husband is viewed as slavery. Submission to some men has been, of course, worse than slavery. Submission to a man who loves his wife as Christ loves the Church is to find great honor. Mary teaches us that in spiritual submission there is great power and joy.No one confuses the role of Joseph with that of Mary in the Christmas story. Joseph is the head of the house, of David’s royal line. But it is hard sometimes to even remember Joseph, it is the pregnant woman on the donkey who draws our eye. She stands, in every creche, nearest the Holy Child. As the father of four children, present at each of their births, I can promise you that there isn’t a less important figure than the father at the moment of delivery! It is the mother, who has born this burden for nine months, who is the focus of all the energy in the delivery room. In God’s economy men are often the Joseph’s, standing beside Mary as she delivers to the world God’s son.It is no wonder that God reserved pastoral ministry for men. It is too easy to forget them in the really important moments of life. When push comes to shove, every child screams for mother. Unless educated out of it, we carry this double standard to every part of our lives. Mother’s Day is after all a much bigger holiday than Father’s Day!The minister carries the Word of God to us. He, like Joseph, transports Christ to the right moment in space and time. We are able to receive grace because of that work. We hear the Word of God and are transformed. The minister seems important, but it is Word that takes the center place as He is birthed in our spirits. In that sense, the congregation, that like Mary, receives is more important than the pastor who gives.Mary does not start in the prominent role. She is at home, touched by an angel, with no witnesses to that fact. It is Joseph, after divine intervention, who decides her fate. She will not be put away. She will not be shamed. But it is Mary that receives the angelic hail. It is she who is declared by Elizabeth to be the mother of our Lord. Her submission is her strength.In truth, of course, Mary is the model for us all. As C.S. Lewis points out, before the majesty of God we are all feminine. Mortal men seem so small, because He alone is the true Father, to which any mortal man is but a pale image. He is the One who makes the decisions and who is the ultimate fount of all true authority. His is the role of actor and Sovereign Lord. We are His consort and Bride. He will ravish us with His love. Mary is the model for what it means to be part of the Bride of Christ. She is the first Christian.God demands from us all worship. Like a loving husband, He will stand for no rivals. We give Him all glory and all praise. But just as a noble husband, having received love delights in honoring those who have faithfully served him, God delights in honoring those who give themselves to Him. For Mary, who submitted to His will when no one else knew what He was about to do, He has delighted to proscribe great honors. In this dark age, it is good to remember that God blessed the lady and destroyed the ruler who killed babies.But it is, after all, merely a reflected glory that Mary has gained. She is great, because the Father God is great. She is great, because her Son is great. This the only real glory any human can have.The Christmas lady was victorious in humility. Mary was greater than Augustus, because of her submission to God’s plan. The simplest Dutch Christian girl is greater than the vile government that seems so great, because she has embraced God.Mary, the Christmas lady, reminds me of my mother who had class with little. She reminds me of my wife who has kept her purity unstained. She reminds me of my precious daughters: gifts of God to bless, protect, and serve. In all the ladies of my life, little Christmas ladies, I can clearly see a type, numerous reflected images service to God Almighty. We are all becoming images of His Glory, as we faithfully serve.In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.Amen.
Essay / Culture