Theotokos for Protestants

Scriptures: Luke 1:46b-55

Let us pray:

By the indwelling of the Holy Spirit within us, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable to you O Lord our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.

We finish Advent with this familiar text from Luke’s Gospel.  Mary’s song proclaims that God is lifting up the lowly while scattering the proud, and feeding the hungry while sending the rich away with empty hands.  How does this change the way you think about God’s coming reign of justice and favor?  How does this change the way you live in the world today?

Mary sings her song of revolution, her echo of God’s liberation as the world she and Elizabeth inhabit marches on to the drum beats of Roman soldiers always present, always pervasive, in every community and market square to remind locals who’s in charge.  I’ve noticed over the last year our society seems to be marching to its own drum beat as well, but I don’t think it is the drum beat of the Little Drummer Boy.  Quite the opposite, in fact.

Therefore, in this season of waiting for Christ to be born, it would be well that we listen to Mary a little more carefully.  The kingdom of which Christ is the king and the State of the Union of which Mary sings are one and the same – a heavenly one that exists now but is not yet fully realized.  Perhaps Mary’s song of liberation and revolution is one we need to take closer to heart and allow to govern our own witness and action in this world of which we are a part.

One of our Presbytery’s own pastors wrote a reflection this week for the presbytery’s weblog which I would like to quote:  Beth Neel, of Westminster Presbyterian in Portland, writes,

“I think Christmas is, more than anything else, about hope.  It’s the hope that God is still at work.  It’s the hope that the life of a baby will change the world.  It’s the hope that God makes promises and fulfills them and we are better for that.

So what do I hope for?  That we’ll figure out a way to prevent cancer and treat it more effectively.  That we’ll learn how to be there for each other, and that we’ll get better at all the mental illness stuff.  That we will never forget those who live in poverty, and that we will work tirelessly to make the deep changes necessary for poverty to be alleviated.  That humane and thoughtful people will make the rules, with a real sense of liberty and justice for all.”[1]

I am reminded that Mary is not all meek and lowly virgin, that she is also, in our higher church traditions, crowned a queen.  As Theotokos, or, Mother of God, she has become for some a very strong symbol, if not the symbol of standing up for what is right, of standing at the apex of the crossroads between the heavenly kingdom and our earthly one.  Some higher church traditions pray to her to mediate on their behalf before God, as if Jesus might be too kingly and too mighty and too demanding a mediator.  Mary has been portrayed as perhaps more loving and submissive because of her “yes” at the annunciation, but I submit she is more than that.

It is not easy for us protestant churches sometimes to grasp at the awesomeness of Mary’s role as the Mother of God, at the level of devotion so many of our sisters and brothers of the faith render unto her.  Perhaps

“…today it is time to recognize that this prophetic woman also says no to all that negates God’s purposes in human history. First, Mary celebrates the greatness of God, and then she proclaims God’s liberating compassion for the poor. Mary sings the joy that she is feeling and sings blessing for the oppressed, whether that oppression comes from being underprivileged or over-privileged.

…For the people in our pews, whatever their circumstances, Mary’s new song announces the reality of “both/and.” Just as she embodies the polarity of being virgin and mother, she shows us how we can be people both of the heart and of the head, both mystical and resistant, both contemplative and justice oriented, both spiritually alive and socially active.”[2]

Trisha Lyons Senterfitt, Associate Pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Atlanta, Georgia, writes,

“On my first trip to the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers, Georgia, I met Theotokos, the God–bearer, depicted in a magnificent rose window above the altar. I was shocked by the size of Mary’s womb. Mary sits in this glorious stained–glass circle with outstretched arms and a womb so large it contains Jesus standing as a grown man, with his arms open wide and enough room left over for God’s re-birthing of all creation.

Every time I sit in that dark sacred womb-like monastery sanctuary, being rocked back and forth by the sound of the monks chanting the Magnificat as evening falls, I am in awe of the Theotokos in the pregnant circle over the altar. The circle reminds me that Christ will come into the broken places in us and into the world where healing is needed. The circle reminds me that we are all pregnant with the possibility of new life, becoming more than we are, for God is with us and God is in us. Because our memories can be very short, we need Mary’s song to remind us of God’s twofold promise to deliver God’s people and to lift up the poor. Mary sings because she has new life in her. Are we ready to join in singing with her? O come, let us adore him and follow him into new life.”[3]

May all glory be unto the One who lived and died and rose again for us, even Him who is the Christ.  Amen?  May it be so.

Questions for Reflection

Mary’s song proclaims that God is lifting up the lowly while scattering the proud, and feeding the hungry while sending the rich away with empty hands.  How does this change the way you think about God’s coming reign of justice and favor?  How does this change the way you live?

Household Prayer: Morning

Mary sings because she has new life in her, the promise of your salvation.  Fill me with hope this day as I lift my life to you and seek to do your will.  Look with favor on our world and all who are in need, that your love may be magnified as I follow humbly in your way.  Amen.

Household Prayer: Evening

Lord, as I come to you seeking rest this night, I pray that all may find a home in you, be disturbed by no one, and be free of the afflictions of the evil one, for you, O God, are mighty to save.  Amen.

[1] Beth Neel, “About that Hope Thing.”  Cascades Blog. Accessed 12/21/2017.

[2] Trisha Lyons Senterfitt, “Pastoral Perspective, Luke 1:47-55” in Feasting on the Word – Year A, ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010). Accordance edition hyper-texted and formatted by OakTree Software, Inc. Version 2.0

[3] Ibid.


About Scottrick

Parent ~ Pastor ~ Poet ~ Author
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