Over the years we’ve enjoyed welcoming Mount Street infant school to St Nick’s for their Christmas carol concerts. We are inspired and moved as each year group presents their own unique version of the Christmas story in readings and song.
However, one of the songs has stuck in my mind in much the same way as a piece of discarded chewing gum can sometimes get stuck on your shoe. (I don’t mean to be harsh, and I am directing my remarks at the song itself, not at the children or the school.)
I took against the song because (like many others) it presented the Blessed Virgin Mary as two things that she most certainly was not. Our Lady was not an example of what mainstream society looks for in a mother. Neither was she a passive bystander in someone else’s drama.
We know for sure that Mary got pregnant and married in the ‘wrong’ order. We know, also, that she took some persuading to agree to what God had asked her to do, and that her manifesto once she had agreed praised God’s revolutionary transformation of the political and economic structures of society. We know that the Holy Family were refugees, and that the only people who recognised Mary’s baby for who he really was were those whom mainstream society despises and ignores. We know that on occasions she questioned and challenged her Son’s ministry and that he rebuked her for it. This is not an idealised picture of suburban middle class family life.
Thank God for that! Few of us, if any, live in families that meet the standards of the lifestyle magazines. We struggle to make ends meet, we fall out over each other’s decisions, we face obstacles and challenges to our safety and security, and we have to accept the friends and support that we’re offered because that’s usually all there is. All of this was true of the Holy Family too.
I’m uncomfortably conscious of the vast number of people who are excluded from what ‘Christmas’ means in our society. I want to remind us all, on this weekend when we reflect on the Blessed Virgin Mary, that the real Christmas is for those people. It’s for shepherds on a freezing hillside, and everyone who has to work through the night on Christmas Eve. It’s for Magi far from home, and all migrants who’ve set off with little more than hope to guide them. It’s for the millions of young women who become mothers without the resources and support that they need.
The Mary we find in our Bibles, and in the deep traditions of the Church, is nowhere close to the saccharine sentimentality of the song I mentioned earlier. She is an inspiration that reminds us that God comes closest to those who need him most.
May God bless you all,