Rev. Dr. Scott Herr

Let It Be                                                                                                          Please Read:

Christmas Eve Meditation by the Rev. Scott Herr                                         Luke 1-2

The American Church in Paris – December 24, 2017                                               

            Like some of you, I grew up singing the Beatles’ song, Let It Be. It came to Paul McCartney in a dream just before the Beatles broke up. He would be the first to say it was not about the Virgin Mary, but that his mother in a dream told him not to worry about the band’s breakup, but just to “let it be.”[1] A lot of fans, though, including myself, connect this song with Mary, Mother of Jesus. After hearing the Angel Gabriel’s announcement that she is to give birth to the Messiah, Mary’s faithful response is, “Let it be with me according to your word.”

            This is the night we celebrate the birth of our savior, Christ the Lord. But because of the women on the cover of Time magazine awarded Person of the Year, the #MeToo movement, the African-American women who surprisingly tipped the scales in the Alabama Senate vote, and the fact that in many cathedrals around the world you will see a prominent image of the Virgin Mary with arms lifted up either in a posture of wondering praise or yielding openness to God, I invite you to reflect with me on Mary. It’s not just that when God has to get something important done God calls on a woman! He called on Mary. Why did Mary find favor with God, why is she blessed among all women, and what is her importance for us on this holy night?

            First of all, the good news is that Mary found favor with God because of God’s amazing grace. God shows a preferential love for the poor and forgotten ones. In Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus, there’s a Who’s Who of some of the most dubious Biblical characters. In the genealogy of Jesus you have moral outsiders, adulteresses, incestuous relationships and prostitutes… You have cultural, racial and gender outcasts.[2] The Law of Moses excluded such people from the presence of God, and yet they are all publicly acknowledged as maternal ancestors of Jesus. God’s choice of Mary as “theotokos,” bearer of God, is declarative of God’s preference for outsiders!

            This summer I walked the Camino Santiago, a pilgrimage of the Roman Catholic tradition for over 1,000 years. The closer I got to Santiago, the more images of Mary I saw. Mary is revered by Roman Catholics, sometimes to the point where Protestants become uncomfortable. The role of Mary has been argued in the Roman tradition by the Dominicans and the Franciscans. The Dominicans felt it was not the perfectedness, but rather the ordinariness of Mary that God saw and loved. In other words, Mary represents all of humanity. We are all “virgins,” in the sense of being inexperienced with God, but “nothing is impossible with God.”

            Many of us wrestle with how God is present in our lives, as well as what is God’s will for our lives. We feel our lives are insignificant, so why would God care about us? But the gospel for us in the story of Mary is that God chooses the most unlikely people to reveal God’s surprising presence and purpose to save. Mary, after all, was probably a teenager, probably not very well off, from Nazareth, a place from which no one expected anything good to come! And that is precisely why God chose Mary!

            Secondly, Mary is blessed among women because she is the first human to receive the Christ child, literally to welcome God in her womb. Mary is the creative partner with God in the birth of the Christ Child... We have this in common with her: she heard the promise of the Christ child without having seen him, or even having known him. It was only through the word of a messenger that she had to base her decision about how to respond to God’s call…

            Mary is important for us because she is the first disciple of Jesus to say yes to God. She is the “servant of the Lord” who desires that God’s will come to bear fruit in and through her life, and it does. But Mary is not a passive participant. She wasn’t forced into anything. Luke writes that Mary “pondered” the angel’s message. This word is interesting in the Greek, “διελογιζω,” meaning Mary considered the message. She took time to work out the logic, to reason her decision... I’ll never forget Thorwald Lorenzen, a German theologian I knew in Zürich, once saying bluntly, God does not rape us! God never assaults us, even with truth! We celebrate tonight that God comes to us gently, in vulnerability, as a being you could snuff out with a quick squeeze of your hand. The Almighty, Creator of the Universe comes to us as a babe. So Mary ponders in her heart, and obeys God with absolute freedom when she offers herself as a servant. She embraces her identity as the Mother of God. It was her calling, but it was her choice.

            Thirdly, you must hear the good news of Mary’s story again, for God seeks to come into your life…You too are highly favored! You too are called by God. Do you believe that? The Christmas story is not just about God coming to Mary, but about God through Mary coming as savior for the whole world, with glad tidings of great joy for you and me. Theologians talk about the “scandal of particularity.” We are offended by the idea that the omnipotent, transcendent, omniscient Creator God enters into the particularities of our existence. The fact of God’s entry into the womb of the Virgin Mary forever changes our understanding of how God comes into our world today: God enters even into the mundaneness and brokenness of our lives.

            That’s why the name given Mary to name her child, Immanuel, is so important for us this night: God with us! That’s the mystery of the gospel... And perhaps there is a violation here… We are invited to ponder how God’s call defies all that we deem possible – transforming us “virgins” who on our own are unable to bear God to the world, into creative partners who receive God’s Word and bear the fruit of faith in our lives, reflecting the good news for our world that, with God, truly “nothing is impossible.”

            Finally, Mary was present at Jesus’ birth, and Mary was present at Jesus’ death. My friend Rabbi Tom Cohen reminded me Mary’s name in the Hebrew is the same as Miriam, Moses’ sister. The name means “sea of bitterness.” Like Mary, we are called to be present, to give witness to God’s coming into the suffering of our world. At the very end of the gospel, it is Jesus from the cross who says to John looking at Mary, “Behold, your Mother.” I believe Jesus was saying this not only to John, but to all disciples of Jesus.

            It seems to me that if we are to experience the good news of Christmas amidst all of the ambiguities, perplexities and suffering of our world, we ought to consider how Mary hears the good news, ponders, and humbly yields herself to God. Then as we light a candle, may we remember to ponder God’s call for us to be light in the darkness, to be healers for the wounded, to be reconcilers for the estranged, and to offer humble service to those who are broken and searching for new life. And if you find yourself humming “Let it be, let it be” over the holidays, remember: like Mary, you too can be a bearer of God’s hope, peace, love and joy for the world. Mary’s prayer can be your prayer too, “Let it be with me according to your word!”  

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] Jeff McLeod, “A Lesson on Text Criticism and the Beatles’ Let it Be,” Catholic Stand, 30 July 2013, Accessed December 14, 2017.

[2] Timothy Keller, Hidden Christmas: The Surprising Truth Behind the Birth of Christ (Viking, 2016), 32-34.