In the last week of advent, in preparation for Christmas day, the church’s year thinks of Mary. The church’s prayer for this week goes as follows:
God our Redeemer,
Who prepared the Blessed Virgin Mary to be the mother of your Son:
Grant that, as she looked for the coming as our saviour,
So we may be ready to greet him when he comes again as our judge;
Who is alive and reigns with you,
In the unity of the holy spirit,
One God now and for ever.
Last week, just before students left, I showed the BBC film ‘Nativity’. It is a modern retelling of the nativity story based on the gospels with no significant variance. It uses wise imagination and modern techniques to piece the various parts of the story together. The essential theme of the story is the impact on the life of Mary, shown as a delightful, humble, devout 16-year-old daughter of working parents, who becomes betrothed to Joseph, an equally humble and strong carpenter. Following Luke’s account, the film shows the Angel Gabriel visiting Mary one night, and the moment the Son of God is conceived. The acting is excellent. The drama also shows how Mary recalls what this night visitor said to her, that her cousin Elizabeth, said to be barren, is also now pregnant. This information too is a gift from God to help Mary recall accurately and believe the dream she is remembering so well. Mary goes off to visit her cousin and sees that this is true. The deliberations of the Wise Men in a far off country, the complex lives of a community under occupation, the power mad Herod, and the towering Roman soldiers are all depicted with an authenticity.
Central however, is the impact on the life of Mary. With informed imagination the film shows the reaction of Joseph when she returns after three months with Elizabeth, and by now clearly pregnant. She is rejected by her parents, is not believed by anyone, stoned by the locals when she goes out with her mother, and refused refuge in the local synagogue. Mary accepts this loneliness with a resigned determination: “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour for He has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.” (Luke 1:46-48)
The relationship with Joseph is guided by Mary’s unwavering commitment, Joseph’s character and guidance from God, and the basic need for safety felt by her parents. The film concludes with their arrival in Bethlehem where Joseph has had to go for a Roman census. Even there no-one will take them in; Joseph’s family refusing to accept her. Mary goes into labour and they find an animal’s stall. Joseph, not knowing what to do, finds a local ‘woman of the street’. Mary delivers the Son of God, and as she reaches up, Joseph arrives to take her hand and in so doing accept, understand and care for Jesus. The final scene is of the Son of God, a tiny baby, loved by his earthly parents and worshipped by both the Wise Men and shepherds.
This Christmas is one of anxiety, separation and loneliness for many people. So may we be encouraged by the example of Mary who kept going despite adversity on so many levels. She trusted God. Our prayer is that the hope undergirding this remarkable story is a comfort for everyone.
“A saviour is born. Glory to God in the highest.” (Luke 2: 10-14)