Dr Di Rayson captures our collective weariness and longing as we begin our Advent journey in 2020.
On the eighteenth day of Advent, 2020, Gemma Bell recounts her journey with an unexpected pregnancy and unexpectedly finding her worth.
Partnership with the Divine
In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”
Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”
“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”
The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month.For no word from God will ever fail.”
“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.
The young unmarried Mary is a woman that can help all of us understand God’s favour towards the small and what is possible when we take another look at life with Kingdom potential. What do we know of Mary? Scholars suggest marriageable age for women in first century Palestine was 12-13 years old. While Joseph was the descendant of David, Mary’s family pedigree is not mentioned. She’s not recommended in any particular way that would deem her worthy or deserving of divine encounter. Now she is facing pregnancy as an unwed woman. We all recognise what that will do for her status within the community.
Around 22 years ago I sat in a doctor’s clinic while he confirmed I was pregnant. Not married, no stability, the doctor pointing me towards family planning options. I was clearly not fit to be a mother. I left his office and sat on the roadside curb thinking, “surely life has more meaning than this?” I can’t help wondering how Mary faced her unplanned pregnancy living under Roman occupation and facing a marriage she had no say in. Did she contemplate life’s worth? Maybe she did. Or maybe the worth of a woman as informed by society, in particular a young unwed mother in first century Palestine, made longing for a better life seem a time-wasting fantasy.
After my daughter was born, I sat in the hospital bed listening to social services question the young mother next to me. “Where will your son sleep? Who else lives there? What will you do when you need to go out?” To me it was clear: “they are going to take her baby away and are coming for mine next.” I hid with my baby in the bathroom until they left. “Surely life has more meaning than this.”
We build an understanding of who we are and our worth based on how others treat us. So when Mary is approached by Gabriel who informs her of God’s plan her initial response is “How can this be?” Her response not only identifies the impossibility of conceiving as a virgin, it echoes the question asked by all of us who have accepted our place in this world as creatures of lesser worth. Fortunately, that is not all she does. Mary takes another look at herself, at the promise of a Kingdom under the reign of God and what part she can play in that. Here we are, 2020 years later, celebrating the gift of God coming into the world in a partnership of the divine and humanity. Mary’s commitment of herself to a partnership with the divine was vital to Jesus accomplishing his mission!
Today my baby is 21. The “yes” to parenthood is a commitment of love beyond words. This love is not only for those of the same bloodline. Jesus challenges us by asking “who is my mother, who are my brothers…?” (Matthew 12). When my baby was 8 years old our family moved into a refuge for young people experiencing homelessness, living alongside folk from backgrounds of abuse and rejection. These folks are Jesus’ mother, Jesus’ brothers. We are, too, in our longing to follow Jesus. As we walk in his steps, we speak the words Mary spoke: “Let it be to me as you have said”.
God has favoured Mary. This lowly child with no status in their society has the highest honour: a central role in the salvation of our world. That is Good News to all of us. God has the final say on our worth!
Gemma Bell is a Team Leader for Fusion Mornington Peninsula. For the past 13 years she and her family (husband Stuart and daughter Jade) have lived onsite at Fusion’s accommodation service for young people experiencing homelessness; creating a home for those most vulnerable in the local community. Living within such a home has shaped Gemma to recognise the value of all peoples, especially those experiencing marginalisation. As such Gemma works to help others to participate in the gift of presence and mutuality within our neighbourhoods.