This is from a sermon I prepared for the third week of Advent 2009. I thought I'd serialize it here.
Part of what’s so amazing about Christmas is its modesty. We sing songs about heaven and nature singing, about herald angels and jubilant shepherds, but we also sing songs about little towns and silent nights. So while any day of the week we could take to the streets singing loudly “How Great Is Our God” and “Holy Holy Holy Lord God Almighty,” and we would be perfectly justified in doing so, it's also important to notice the little things, the subtle movements of God that sound best when whispered: Emmanuel—God with us.
God’s ministry to and through Mary, the mother of Jesus, is not always whispered. Sometimes it’s shouted, trumpeted. A few years ago our neighbor church down the street erected a thirty-five foot metallic statue of Mary in their back yard. People would come from miles to venerate it, to pray together next to it, to drink juice and eat picnic lunches in its shadow. It’s called “Our Lady of the Millennium,” and it’s far from modest. It crisscrosses the country on the back of a flat-bed truck, making visitations, and it makes the papers wherever it goes.
I mention this not to poke fun at people’s tendencies toward bombast, but as a caveat to my own comments. While the Mary we remember here we’ll remember as modest, she’s also unusually strong and resilient, like steel; she’s remarkably larger than life and casts a long shadow on the church, for very good reasons; she conducts herself, in any estimation but especially given her historical context, in ways that can best be described as heroic. And so this Mary we remember here as quiet and modest we should also remember as one of the greats in our Christian history; as we consider what it means to be a Christian today, we would do well to read up on Mary and consider how we might be like her.
I’d argue, in fact, that in many ways contemporary Christians are like Mary, most notably in this: as people who have embraced the call of the gospel, who have heard the message of love and justice and reconciliation that God offers us and have moved toward it, have surrendered ourselves to it, we are carrying love.
The apostle John makes it explicit to us that when we’re talking about God, we’re talking about love. If someone asks you to describe God, you could do worse than simply quoting John: “God is love.” Often we think of God and other qualities come to mind: severity and judgment when we’re feeling guilty, perhaps, or benign and disinterested, when we find ourselves disinterested in God. But John tells us what the entirety of the Bible shows us: God may show himself to be many things, but at the heart of it, God is love. And we can take comfort in that.