A World of Terror Needs the Mary of Advent

Mary, the mother of Jesus. In the Christian tradition, my tradition, she is rightly honored as the theotokos, the bearer of God. Unfortunately, Mary is far too often white-washed into an American picture of a submissive woman, a passive agent in the Christmas story otherwise dominated by men and single-mindedly focused on a male child. However, Mary should be seen as one of the ultimate heroes of our Christian faith.

It was Mary,  knowing the possible consequences of her suspicious pregnancy (The Virgin Mary on Trial), who said “Yes” to God’s outrageous and dangerous plan of salvation. May we have her courageous obedience.

It was Mary who bore a child whose status, even as an infant, caused her to flee to Egypt as a refugee. It was Mary who braved and survived the brutal slaughter and savage man(child)-hunt of a megalomaniac “king.” May we have her brave endurance.

It was Mary who stood up in a world of injustice and loudly declared that the Lord was going to topple the powers that be, exalt the lowly, send the rich away and fill the hungry. Her Magnificat, the first and oldest Advent hymn, is a political and social subversive celebration that the justice of God was now powerfully breaking into the evil world of injustice. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer recognized, her hymn is “the most passionate, most vehement, one might say, most revolutionary Advent hymn ever sung. It is not the gentle, sweet, dreamy Mary that we so often see portrayed in pictures, but the passionate, powerful, proud, enthusiastic Mary, who speaks here. None of the sweet, sugary, or childish tones that we find so often in our Christmas hymns, but a hard, strong, uncompromising song of bringing down rulers from their thrones and humbling the lords of this world, of God’s power and of the powerlessness of men.” May we have her subversive orientation to the work of God’s Kingdom coming through Christ and the Holy Spirit.

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A World of Terror Needs the Original Ending of Mark’s Gospel

Have you ever noticed that your Bibles have a note in them that tells you that the Gospel of Mark originally ended after verse 8 in chapter 16, even though it continues on for a few paragraphs?

Among people who read and study the Bible, the original ending of Mark’s Gospel is famous for it’s unusual and unsatisfying nature. There are no appearances of the resurrected Jesus. There are no moments of rejoicing. There is no reconciliation between Jesus and the disciples. There is no conclusion to the heartbreaking relationship of betrayal between Jesus and Peter.

There is only fear. Only confusion. And only vague instructions.

Why are there extra verses in our Bibles after the original ending? Somewhere along the way, a reader of Mark’s Gospel decided to try and give Mark an ending that wrapped the book up like a nicely decorated present with a bow on top. Mark’s Gospel got an upgrade and from then on it looked much more like the other three Gospels. The longer ending gives it a much happier, confident, and triumphant conclusion. The disciples finally understand and are given detailed instructions for the future.

What if Mark ended his Gospel the way he did on purpose? What if faith, the active attempt to follow Jesus in our world, often looks more like the ending of Mark’s Gospel than the ending of the other three Gospels?

The recent terrorist attacks in Paris, and elsewhere, have once again left the world reeling with fear and confusion. As a Christian, I find myself with the same emotions. We often assume, or are told, that being a Christian means we should always have a feeling of confidence, an unending supply of easy answers, and an obvious plan for the future.
But I have none of that. All I have are a few basic instructions that dangle in front of me like a compass meant to guide one through a fog:
Love (even your enemies).
Support the suffering.

I’m actually thankful for Mark’s short and confusing ending. The life of a Christian is not always similar to the disciples at the end of Matthew or Luke – with an easy faith, with clear proofs in front of them, with the future mapped out. Instead, life sometimes surrounds us with fear and confusion and we barely know the next step to take.

A world reeling from the recent terror attacks needs the original ending of Mark’s Gospel.

A church reeling from the recent terror attacks needs to know that it is okay to be afraid and confused. But – we have an option. An invitation.

Go following the living Christ. Take the next step. Sometimes, we only know the first step to take. Take it. Trust that the living Christ will meet you there and take you forward. Trust that despite the horrendous evil and suffering in the world and in our own lives – Jesus is alive, on the move, and continuing to bring God’s Kingdom to earth as it is in heaven.