Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Out of Murky Waters
Readings: Micah 5:1-4a or Romans 8:28-30; Psalms 13:6ab, 6c; Matthew 1:1-16, 18-23 or 1:18-23
Recently, while on retreat, I found myself sitting on a bench by a pond in the Botanic Gardens. Several photographers came by, one after another. They all looked quite professional, with bulky camera bags slung over their shoulders and carrying sophisticated-looking equipment, including telephoto lenses and tripods. As they passed, each of them took some time to carefully photograph something in the pond. When they had gone, I walked over for a closer look. It turned out to be a flower, a lily of some sort, I think. It was very pretty. Quite a contrast to the murky waters out of which it grew.
This is the image that comes to mind as we celebrate Mary's birthday today. Most of us, especially those who are Catholic, will need little reminder about who Mary is and her importance in our life of faith. Her appearances in the scriptures are as few as they are significant. In particular, it is her yes at the Annunciation (Luke 1:26ff.) that allows the Divine Word to take flesh and dwell among us. All this we know. Yet, our readings for this feast focus not so much on the beauty and purity of Mary as they do upon the shadowy background with which she is associated and out of which was born for us the great Saviour who is Christ the Lord.
Consider the long genealogy in the gospel. No doubt, we will recognize the names of many heroic and saintly figures of the OT, names such as Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, Ruth and David and Solomon. But this family history is far from pristine. It also includes, for example, those who, prompted by jealousy, sold their own brother into slavery. It includes the one who murdered a loyal general in order to conceal his own adultery. It includes kings who became idolaters and even a prostitute. No, the waters of the pond that is the genealogy of Christ are far from clear. And yet, out of these murky waters, blooming like a lily that attracts many to gaze in wonder at her beauty, we find Mary and her Son.
This marvellous sight speaks to us of the power of God who, as Paul reminds us in the letter to the Romans, is able to make all things work for good for those who love him, God who is able to bring light out of darkness and beauty out of disfigurement, who is able to write straight with crooked lines. It is this powerful compassion of God that we celebrate today, as we remember the birth of the one whom Wordsworth called our tainted nature's solitary boast.
I find this a most consoling thought. For doesn't the chequered past of Christ's family remind us too of the often shadowy aspects of our own lives: the ongoing tensions in our world and our communities, the deep dark secrets hidden in our respective family closets, our own ongoing struggles with sinful tendencies...? Our celebration today offers us reassurance that the pain and embarrassment that these might cause us need not lead us to despair. It reminds us not to give up but to keep on struggling, to keep on hoping, to keep on trusting in the one who delights in making lilies grow out of murky waters...
How might we continue to do this today?