“And Mary said, ‘My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.'” – Luke 1: 46 -48
Years ago I appeared in one congregation’s home-grown musical rendition of the “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever,” based on the book by Barbara Robinson (no relation)—a story of how the neighborhood terrors, the horrible Herdsmen kids, end up being the unlikely stars of the Christmas pageant.
I guess, in my case, it was typecasting. I played the minister at the church where this mess was unfolding. In my big scene the outraged mother of an absolutely picture-perfect young lady came to see me. She had expected her daughter would be cast as Mary. Instead, the cigar-smoking, shin-kicking, profanity-tossing youngest Herdsman daughter, Imogene, has been chosen to be the virgin mother.
In the play, I listen to the mother’s protest of the choice of impossible Imogene. I don’t remember my exact lines, but they were something on the order of Isaiah’s words, “Gosh, gee I guess sometimes God’s ways are not our ways.”
It’s difficult to break Mary out of the idealized images of centuries, but I imagine that part of what she meant when she praised God for looking “with favor on the lowliness of his servant” is that she, too, was a most unlikely choice for her big part.
It’s not at all difficult, in fact, to imagine people taking considerable offense at the idea that God would choose a young, unwed and, in all likelihood, poor girl to be the mother of God. Of herself, Mary used the word, “Lowly.” Other possibilities might be “unlikely,” “improbable,” or “impossible.” Thanks God for choosing impossible, improbable me.
There’s good news here. If we know ourselves at all, we know how unlikely and impossible we are as choices for doing God’s work in the world, or to be God’s messengers, or to give birth to hope. But this is how God works, choosing people not because they deserve it or look the part, but because God likes to surprise us.
At the climax of the show, it is not only Jesus who is born, but Imogene too. Holding a plastic baby Jesus, Imogene’s sullen face turns tender and radiant. Imogene is, for once, calm and still at the strange wonder of it all. And so are we.
We thank you, Holy One, that your ways are not our ways, and that you in your wisdom choose us, as unlikely as that may seem.
Tony Robinson, a United Church of Christ minister, is a speaker, teacher, and writer. He is the author of many books, including What’s Theology Got to Do With It: Convictions, Vitality and the Church. You can read Tony’s “Weekly Meditation” and “What’s Tony Thinking?” at his website, www.anthonybrobinson.com.