Fourth Sunday of Advent

Photo by Vickyvs on Flickr creative commons license

Photo by VickyvS on Flickr, used by permission creative commons license

Contributed by Virginia Holmstrom. This is the fourth in a series of blog posts for Advent. Scripture readings for the fourth Sunday of Advent are Isaiah 7:10-16; Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19; Romans 1:1-7; Matthew 1:18-25.

I ponder Mary. She’s present in every Sunday school Christmas pageant I’ve ever seen, cuddling a plastic baby doll, standing awkwardly beside the 4th grade boy assigned to be her husband Joseph, who looks as equally embarrassed to even remotely suggest to the audience that they begat anything together.

I ponder Mary the mother of Jesus in her youth. Did she cry herself to sleep with the shame of pregnancy before marriage? Was it her parents that sent her away in haste to stay with her relative in Judea? What were the realities of first century traditions and customs that muffled the heralding words of the angel spoken in a dream?

I ponder Mary and the Marys of today.

Miriam, a young teen in a village in Romania, is ready to embark on wedded life, too. Her father found for her a good Jewish husband, a hardworking man who farms his father’s land. On the day that Miriam is wed, she knows she will no longer go to school because she will devote every moment of every day to her responsibilities of caring for her husband and her in-laws, and the first of many babies to come.

Maryam, a 13-year old girl carrying a much too heavy basket of grain through the market place in Ethiopia on a hot, sunny morning, is pulled aside by an older boy she recognizes from school. He grabs her headscarf and forcibly drags her to the backside of the long row of vendors’ tents where he rapes her. And then, as custom dictates, he claims her in marriage and she has no say in the matter. She bears a child nine months later.

Maria, an El Salvadorian teen, belly swollen in her last trimester, fretfully dozes on a worn blanket under the cold desert sky, exhausted, hungry, and parched with thirst, praying that tomorrow she’ll finally reach the promised land beyond the border. There will be no inn to receive her, no midwife present to cut and tie the cord. There will be no visitors arriving to honor her baby with gifts and adoration.

Her name is Mary, and she carries a child that carries the promise that “God is with us.”

Prayer: O God who is with us, help us to see neighbors and strangers as you see them—each one a promise, each one made in your image according to your likeness. Gracious God, in these final Advent hours prepare our hearts to receive anew your gift to humankind: the baby Jesus—the Christ, our Savior. Lead us to the manger to kneel in wonder and awe at the magnificence of your presence born to a young woman named Mary. Allelujah! Amen.

Virginia Holmstrom -colorVirginia R. Holmstrom serves as executive director of American Baptist Women’s Ministries.

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