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I believe.

December 13, 2011

To Izaac, Zoe and Tricy,

So as we enter more deeply into this season of advent I wanted to look closer at this section of the creed because it clearly states what it is we are remembering and celebrating in this season: the incarnation. By the way, the incarnation simply means “enfleshment” or taking on of flesh…  of “taking on carne” which in latin (and Tricy’s native Spanish!) means “meat.” It is all about the invisible God who made heaven and earth, who exists from all eternity past taking on human flesh and subjecting himself to all the challenges we face of getting tired, getting hungry, getting thirsty and experiencing all the different types of temptation we face. It is a mind blowing thought to think that God was fully one of us!

“I believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ… who for us and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, and was made man.”

This mystery we celebrate during advent is crystallized in that short phrase: “incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary and was made man.” There are three obvious players in this scene: Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and Mary. Can you imagine what that must have been like for God the Father and God the Son and God the Holy Spirit to be in be in conversation about this possibility? Can you just picture them deciding on this, resolving that God the Son would temporarily leave his eternal kingdom that is filled with beauty and joy and delights we can only speculate about and come to earth as a man, part of his very own creation? Imagine yourself writing a story or drawing a picture and then deciding you were going to fully enter your creation. Think about all the things you would have to give up to do that.

However, once the decision had been made, Jesus’ role seems mostly passive so its really up to the Holy Spirit and Mary to pull this off. And initially all Mary has to do is surrender to it. So the Holy Spirit is active in this creation in the same way She was active at the original creation. Remember that story where the Holy Spirit is brooding over the chaotic waters and bringing forth life. (The Creed later speaks of the Holy Spirit as the “Lord, the giver of life.”) In a way this is the same story. The Holy Spirit is brooding over Mary bringing life in her womb where Jesus will take shape as a human baby surrounded by a sack full of water. We don’t need to get into all the biology of this beautiful moment but its enough to say that the Holy Spirit is brooding over the waters again and bringing forth life.

So after this initial time of all these things happening to Mary, she then becomes the most active player in the story by carrying the very life of God – God himself! – in her body for nine months and experiencing all the joys and challenges of a normal pregnancy: excitement, nausea, a growing belly, bigger appetite, questions and fears of what it will be like to actually give birth…

5 Comments leave one →
  1. December 13, 2011 4:32 pm

    Yes, to the amazing story of the incarnation of God in Jesus!

    You led with this:

    “This mystery we celebrate during advent is crystallized in that short phrase: “incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary and was made man.” There are three obvious players in this scene: Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and Mary.”

    When I read that I see Mary as an equal and active participant in this “incarnation”.

    I invite you to consider this line more closely –

    “And initially ALL Mary has to do is surrender to it.”

    For me there are two huge parts to this short sentence that can be quickly passed by as an offhand remark when first read.

    “all Mary has to do” – It is no small thing for a woman to give her body to another – and the first time is unique and filled with not knowing and I hope love…and sometimes it is forced upon a woman. Our bodies are our temples – one does not allow others to enter this sacred ground lightly. Surrender evokes desecration for me.

    “surrender to it” – I don’t believe Mary surrendered to “it”. That is a passive action in this sentence and it makes the Holy Spirit a thing and makes Mary’s action passive. A woman surrenders to rape when she realizes resistance is futile. Surrender is an act of domination, In war one surrenders your army to the enemy when you know you cannot win…you give up as if you have no choice. It is significant that in war, the army “rapes” and pillages the country.

    Instead, I believe Mary believed the Holy Spirit’s words. Although, this was out of her normal life experience – she believed this was the Holy Spirit and that she had been chosen by God to carry and give birth to the “Savior”. She accepted God’s will for her and gave herself and her body to serve God, the Holy Spirit, and Jesus, the child that was to be.

    Mary was not passive – not just a vessel. She was chosen by God and she “accepted” and “gave” herself to the task freely. She was an active participant from the beginning of Jesus’s life until his death on this Earth. It is our loss that more is not known of Mary’s mothering of Jesus and her feminine voice.

    And I also do not think Jesus was “passive” at any time. I think he “actively chose” this life on Earth and embraced his humanity. Being fully alive as a human being is an amazing thing – even with our flaws.

    There are times in my life when God has invited me to what I need to do – or what God would have me to do, but even then – I choose to give myself to whatever He has asked of me…even when I don’t like it…I know I always have a choice. God will not “force” me to surrender to Him.

    My story is that Mary – actively said “Yes” to what the Holy Spirit invited her into…that is “the gift” of Mary’s choice for me.

    • December 14, 2011 10:31 am

      Thanks for the comment. I think your comments are important for many reasons especially as it provides a female perspective on the topic.

      My point was to emphasize exactly what you noted: Mary was NOT passive in this. She had an active role in choosing and as noted above she carried the child for nine months. I wanted to point out the various roles and who was most active at various points along the way. Of course all three were active throughout but the act of saying “Yes” to something is less intensely active than carrying a child for 9 months. So she went from less to more in that sense of her role in the story but ended up as the MOST active… carrying the baby with all the changes that meant physically and emotionally etc as noted in what I wrote. Perhaps I didn’t note it enough but that was my point exactly… she was very involved perhaps even the most involved character in the whole story….

      We also agree that the Holy Spirit is not an “it,” some impersonal force. The Holy Spirit is God and an equal person of our Trinitarian God. I have never thought or taught otherwise. The “it” I referred to was “being impregnated.” I was not referring to the person of God.

      I also don’t have the same issues with the word “surrender” that you do. I do not see that as a negative word whereas it seems you do. I can understand why you do when thought of from the angles and illustrations you brought up. However I see surrender as something we all do everyday as we make decisions. We surrender to one option over another. This is especially true for those of us who follow the One who said “not my will but yours be done.” Jesus life was full of surrender to his Father especially in light of passages like John 5 where he says “I only do what I see the Father doing.” He was taking his cues from Another all the time and it has more to do with cooperation than coercion. Paul talks of this as well in his Epistles when he says “Submit to one another.” (Ephesians 4) Submission and surrender are normal parts ( or should be) of the Christian life of us to God and to one another. So surrender does not imply force necessarily. It does involve a choice, an acceptance, and cooperation and that was what I meant to highlight.

      So I see your critiques but as I reflect on them I see that we agree more than we disagree and perhaps there are some semantic differences but not much more than that.

      Hope you have a wonderful Advent!


      • December 15, 2011 6:44 pm

        Hi Kevin – Yes, I think we agree more than we disagree. It was important to me to explicitly articulate the feminine and Mary’s active participation by choice in the incarnation in what you had shared. Thanks for engaging. Elaine H.

  2. Tracy permalink
    December 13, 2011 7:12 pm

    I understand you may have differing views or even opinions on this topic. However this is a blog post that my husband, the father of my children, is writing to his kids. Please don’t confuse this with a public forum that is up for a big debate. It is meant for the kids eyes.

  3. December 14, 2011 2:37 am

    Tracy – This blog is a public forum. I did not intent this as a debate. It is however open to receive comments. It was not my intent to offend you or Kevin. I am only expressing that I noticed and felt the important role of Mary in the birth of Jesus was minimized. Jesus honored his mother and the women in his life. I celebrate that God has given us free will to choose our paths. I have to believe God would have offered the same choice to Mary.

    As a mother and grandmother, I did not write anything that I would not have said or have said to my own children and grandchildren.

    Help me understand how what I commented is offensive to you.

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