The Twelve Days: 2 - Mary
Mary kneels in awe and thanksgiving, contemplating the mystery before her. She invites us to share her sense of wonder as we encounter the Word made flesh and ask ourselves what this birth means for every one of us in the secret desires and fears that we hold in our hearts this Christmas.
A newborn child is a sign of hope and an invitation to enter into a new relationship of love. But the intensity of that love is a challenge as well as a joy, as a mother contemplates all that this child must face in the years ahead. Mary’s love for her son would lead her to walk through the valley of death beside him, a place where no mother ever wants to go. From her, we can learn the meaning of love in its abandonment and courage, its trust and vulnerability, its hope and perseverance. Mary’s faith transports her beyond the platitudes and consolations of domesticated religion to a space of divine mystery and intimacy, where she must walk the rocky path of love with nothing but hope to guide her.
As we gaze on this beautiful carving, we are drawn to the serenity of Mary’s smile and to the enigmatic distance in her gaze. Yet perhaps the artist’s vision was too idealised, for it is as if time and nature have conspired to add some missing dimension. Mary’s face is stained, as if a grimy tear had been rubbed away on that long journey to Bethlehem. Her hands are rugged and scratched, suggesting manual labour and the daily struggle that poverty entails.
Shepherds as well as kings would come to visit this mother and her child, for the peace he offers is for all of us, rich and poor alike. In Mary’s Magnificat she proclaims a new world in which the hungry are filled with good things while the rich are sent empty away. That world is born among us on Christmas night, turning all our worldly values inside out. The fullness of life is offered to each of us, if we turn away from wealth and power to discover and to share the love of God that gazes out at us from the squalor and straw of the Christmas crib. This Queen of Heaven with her mud-stained face and pock-marked hands can show us what that means, if we learn from her courage, her love and her trust.
Image credit: Marcin Mazur/Clifton Diocese