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Tuesday, December 23, 2008


Protestants are weird. I think so, even though I am one (albeit sometimes begrudgingly). During the season of Advent, a recent trend I've noticed among Protestant churches is to focus on the aspects of Mary that made her historically unremarkable rather than those things that made her so very, very remarkable. Since we dare not saying anything resembling Hail Mary, we speak not of the fact that she was, undeniably, a vessel filled with God's grace. We do not mention that she was blessed, and that Jesus, the fruit of her womb, is to be blessed. The intercession of the saints as implied by the final lines of the Ave Maria is another matter - it is not surprising to me that Catholics and Protestants should disagree on this matter.

What does surprise me is the fact that every Protestant service I've attended during Advent the past few years, whether a church service or an Evangelical musical/theatrical event, has chosen to focus on the most normal aspects of the blessed virgin who was chosen by God to be the mother of Christ. Her pain in childbirth is a popular focus, or that the circumstances of her labor and delivery were far from ideal, making her physical situation that much worse. Of course, I've never heard of a woman whose childbirth experience was free of discomfort (even before the fall labor cannot have been comfortable; God tells Eve that He will multiply her pains in childbirth, not create them where there were none before). And while birth in a barn is indeed unusual, sanitation was likely not the strong point of any culture 2000 years ago. Protestants make much of Mary's emotional distress, creating a great conflict and even misery within her and pretending we can know this was a historical reality - lest we come near to the Catholic belief of Immaculate Conception, I suppose. The Bible, of course, tells us a story of a soul magnifying the Lord and a spirit rejoicing in the might and mercy of the Lord. A humble woman filled with amazement and joy that God had seen fit for her to be the mother of the Messiah.

In speaking of the unremarkable things about Mary, I think it should be in this context: How strange that God chose the humble and ordinary as His entrance point into the universe - and in doing so, made it extraordinary. We don't need to make much of the mundane or pretend it was incredible; it was the very normalcy of it that should make our heads spin.

Why do Protestants feel the need to focus on the unremarkable rather than the remarkable? Why must words be changed, history perhaps even altered - to make people feel more comfortable? Are we afraid of this great mystery, afraid of things we cannot explain or understand in human terms?

I find myself wondering... what's so wrong with saying simply,

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee;
blessed art thou among women,
and blessed is the fruit of thy womb,
for thou hast borne Christ the Savior,
the Deliverer of our souls.


  1. Amen. I've noticed that trend, too, and wondered at it. Heaven forbid we actually note the utter amazement of Mary saying "be it unto me according to thy word". I actually think that the Catholic doctrine of the immaculate conception means that we lose that incredible "yes" that Mary said to God. I want to be like Mary - a sinner like me who was, regardless, full of grace.

  2. I'm so glad you wrote this. I had noticed this in the lessons I heard this advent and it was bugging me but I hadn't been able to put words to it yet. I think it is parallel to the way Easter has become about "arguing people into the kingdom" or a step-by-step walk through "A Case for Easter". Yes, it is good to know historical details, but I want to celebrate what the event means!

  3. Thanks for your comments! Em, I have a feeling Catholics would disagree with you that Mary's immaculate conception takes away from her "yes." Jesus was without sin, yet we know He asked for "this cup" to be taken away. In the end He said "Not my will, but Thine..." just as Mary could have thought, "Oh Lord, I'm not up to this task," but was able to say, "May it be unto me as You have said." Right? Does that make sense? Maybe a Catholic will weigh in on this...

  4. Sarah, you might be interested in a book about Mary that my dad co-authored with a Catholic. I think i've got a copy at home in MA so I'll lend it to you sometime if you want


    Trying to get the link to work.