Mary

Mighty Stirring: Not the Salvation We Choose

Mighty Stirring: Not the Salvation We Choose

Stir Up Sunday should be featured on an episode of The Great British Baking Show: Masterclass (please tell me you’ve seen these; Aaron and I are obsessed).

On the last Sunday of the church year traditional liturgy rises in a cognate with Psalm 80:2: “Excita, quæsumus, Domine…,” “Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord…” While hailing the divine, this liturgical invocation has also summoned many a British homemaker, cook, and baker to stir up their Christmas pudding so that it has time to mature before the big day.

I find the tradition charming and have embraced the fun injunction this Advent season through Sunday bakeathons.

But that phrase, excita , has stuck with me. Three out of the four Advent Sundays also begin with excita, calling congregations deep into the active wait for Christ.

When the invitation is made to God, however, as it is in today’s psalm, the question haunts me. What does it mean to say, “Stir up thy might, O God”?

What does God’s might look like? What am I really asking?

See the Signs: An Invitation to Anticipation

See the Signs: An Invitation to Anticipation

Advent begins today with what could be a rather ominous gospel reading.

We hear Jesus talking about the apocalyptic coming of the Son of Humanity—his own glorified return at the end of this age. The End is always tinged in mysterious light; it has been a source of anxiety for Christians since the beginning. “When will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?” (Luke 21:7). We worry about burning skies and brimstone, persecutions and purgatory—pretty much everything that is not found in this text.

In fact, the Teacher answers the anxiety of his disciples not with a series of warning signals, but a serious invitation to anticipation. To be clear, Jesus does not trivialize the disciples’ fears. He does not shame them for being confused or afraid. Indeed, the End could be scary for those not expecting it to come. But that is just it: Jesus gives us a heads up and a hand up—an invitation to anticipation.

Ordinary Mary

Ordinary Mary

The very first sermon I ever preached was called “Ordinary Mary.” It explored the Annunciation of Mary, when God asked an ordinary girl to play an extraordinary part in healing the world (Luke 1:26-56). As a fourteen-year-old young woman, I was fascinated with this God who would invite people like me into such plans.

It was and is still important to me today to emphasize the human-ness of Mary, her ordinariness. Her story bears much hope and power, but only if she is not immaculately conceived, “born [especially] pure,” or whatever else nonsense folks have put on her over the centuries of church argument.

Put plainly, they have been trying to figure out what to do with a woman so intimately involved in the redemption of the world.

Mary being a woman is not enough for some theologies. Their deficient doctrines of original sin gets in the way; Mary has to be immaculately conceived in order to be holy enough to get pregnant with God. But not only does this not have to be true, it misses the point of the incarnation. God became flesh and dwelt among us. The scripture does not say God became “perfected flesh” or “oddly pure” flesh. The Word became flesh, period, of a woman who just so happened to get one every month.

Mary’s story bears its intriguing and liberating lesson if Mary is just Mary—a human female chosen to be the mother of God, chosen to birth Jesus into the world.