God’s soul-piercing call

We can be like Mary: willing, even when fearful

Anna Gerber dressed as Mary for a church Christmas program in 2019. — Sherah-Leigh Gerber Anna Gerber dressed as Mary for a church Christmas program in 2019. — Sherah-Leigh Gerber

“Our class still gets to do the nativity scene,” my son shared over breakfast.

“I’m going to be a wise man,” he declared proudly. “We each got to choose what part we wanted. All the girls wanted to be Mary.”

My son’s pageant excitement sparked my own imagination. Perhaps to a 7-year-old girl, being Mary was appealing. But to a middle-aged woman and mother, the idea holds much less attraction. Being stigmatized within my community for my assent to a call from God and traveling 90 miles in the latter part of pregnancy sounds unpleasant, to say the least.

But the most haunting consideration, in my estimation, are the words of Simeon at the time of Jesus’ temple dedication: “And a sword will pierce your own soul” (Luke 2:35).

In Mary’s defense, by the time she’s dedicating Jesus at the temple, it is too late. She has already said yes. She’s birthed the baby. She’s all in, like it or not. Would it have been different if the angel Gabriel had included this small detail in the annunciation?

Every time angels show up, there is the admonition to “fear not!” — which leads me to believe an angel’s appearance might not be so much comforting and exciting as shocking and terrifying.

When God’s call is revealed in our lives, most often it is overwhelming. God asks of us things we cannot do on our own. God invites us to be challenged, to be vulnerable, to rely on the Spirit’s guidance.

When God invites us to participate in the kingdom, it requires giving what we are and who we are. It requires our very selves.

Just like Mary. She gives her body and her reputation. She risks her betrothal and her future by saying yes to the divine invitation.

And that “yes” changes the trajectory of her life.

When Joseph and Mary arrived at the Temple and dedicate Jesus, did her ponderings from those first nights of motherhood come back? As Jesus grew, how often did she wonder: How can this be?

And yet, it was. It was through so many small things. So many tasks and moments contributed to Mary’s participation in this big thing. How many dishes did she wash? Tunics did she mend? Loaves of bread did she bake?

How many conversations did she have — about the mundane and the significant? How many nights did she cry herself to sleep with worry?

How many times did Joseph wrap his arms around her as they prayed together over their child’s life and ministry?

We all can be like Mary: willing, even when fearful. Willing to persevere with purpose, even through painful circumstances. Willing to be faithful in the small things as part of our participation in something beyond ourselves.

Our journey is one of endurance, for we are part of a people of promise. We have received a vision of what can be and carry the hope of what is to come.

When we submit to God’s invitation, our souls are pierced. To live out our faith means to know and love God’s created ones. It requires suffering with others. We cannot share Good News and be unaffected by the realities of a broken world. And, in those moments, a prophetic vision can feel like powerlessness. How can this be?

As we sit with the vision, we realize that this gift of prophetic seeing allows for preparation and for possibility. We can be present with hope. Like Mary, we can tend to the small things before us, knowing that this is part of the big thing God is doing.

An ordained minister and spiritual director, Sherah-Leigh Gerber resides in northeast Ohio with her family. She writes at somecomfortandjoy.com

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