according to your word

‘According to your word.’  We live by that, not always knowingly of course, but often, according to the word of another, often those with authority, or those we find ourselves unable to influence. Sometimes through gritted teeth – if you say so. Let it be to me according to your word.  This is the story of Mary. I know, it is Christmas eve and there is only one more sleep until the day itself – forgive me for not getting overly exited just yet, this morning as we are still on Advent Four. I know its messy, but the Christmas story is anything but clean, well, it ought not be. Men ought to be silent on such matters, for we know not the birth pains. The story of Mary her pain and suffering unfolds itself before us once again. We see her clothed in blue, (no passports here) the sanitised sanctified image of a virgin, perfect, undefiled. I find myself having to squint at the image of first century Palestine through the lens of the gospel writer to see what we might actually be being offered. In so many places around the world the image is clear if we are willing to turn aside and see. Women finding themselves pregnant on the wrong side of a border, in a refugee camp with few supplies and a distant medical centre. If only Mary had the blue passport. (Okay I’ll digress to say it was at its best ill timed news, fodder to the comment and opinion piece writers – not to mention sermon writers. At its worst a mockery to the state we’re in.) I recall hoping around this time last year that 2017 would be the annus mirabilis antithesis to the so called annus horribilis that 2016 was for so many. I find myself rewinding and again hoping the same for next year. And I see Mary all around us. Mary, the young woman who until recently worked 105 hours a week caring for others to support her daughter, her husband and to pay his child support allowance. Mary, a woman frustrated by her own medical condition. Mary, a woman reliant on meagre transport; living too far from the job she dare not give up. Mary, a woman who at every turn finds another ‘no-room at the inn’ so desperate she has to beg her way to a night in a bed. Mary, a woman frightened of what the future might hold if she acknowledges the pain inside herself. Mary, a woman who can’t afford to allow others to help her in case the authorities take away the little she has. I don’t read that in the Gospel story you say. No, but it’s there in the background, in the hebrew scriptures, you can read their stories and see it here in our midst, for nothing much changes. The fear, the un-knowing, the giving up into the hands of the other. Mary the servant, left by the angel to consider her future. How did Mary manage it? Facing an imminent accommodation crises, no health service, no documents, the colour of which makes no odds for those born on the wrong side of a line on a map. What is that about but fear? Still? In all these images I see Mary. Like the girl on the street who smiled a smile which still carries me on and lightens my heart. Resilience beyond understanding. Dare we turn aside for a moment and see the face of those who have nothing but a smile to offer? Are we fearful that they will ask too much of us as too much was asked of Mary and all those others who bring children into the world unprepared and unsupported. Mary the one who in this sanitised, often romanticised and certainly not first hand account appears to have said yes to the impossible. Giving up all she had as a servant to her master. “Let it be to me according to your word” Obedience then to the will of the other, and the sword that will pierce her own heart as we will hear Simeon declare when we finally arrive at the end of the Christmas season on the second of February for the Presentation at the temple. Candlemas. The presentation of the child that she struggled for. It wasn’t meant to be easy, it’s not meant to be easy. It’s not romantic, or the victorian postcard sepia image of a frosty toy shop window, the child; nose pressed against the glass. It’s each single moment everyday and yet forever, difficult but straight forward, dirty, but miraculously clean. It is to be a mother. And she gave birth and bore a son and she named him Jesus.