Putting Mary Away

Then Joseph, her husband, being a just man,and not willing to make her a publick example, was minded to put her away privily. --St. Matthew 1:19

"Mama," one of the twins asked yesterday, "are we gonna keep Christmas on?"

"Yes, for a little while," I answered, chuckling at her four year-old manner of expression.

"No, we haffa put it away!" she insisted.

For Jasiel, now that all the presents are opened, Christmas is over and must be put away. But I'm not ready yet. Indeed, I prefer the slower pace associated with the liturgical calendar--the Christmas season lasts until Epiphany. I'm reminded that it's our consumer-driven culture which rushes through every holiday, always looking forward to the next big holiday cash-cow.

But I want to pause here. I want to wait. I want to wonder.

My eyes, this year, have been continually drawn back to the Nativity scene displayed atop my piano--and especially to Mary, cradling the Son of God in her arms. This year, I don't want to put her away after Christmas is over. I want to keep her out in plain sight.

This strikes me as unseemly.

For most of my life, I only acknowledged Mary at Christmas. And even then it was done sparingly. Talking about Mary too much was---for a Protestant--unseemly. Like Joseph, we were minded to put her away privily.

It was an intentional, quiet neglect. We often told the story of Christ's birth through the eyes of the Wise Men or perhaps the angels. We even sang songs about how "ox and cow before Him bow"--but we never sang songs about Mary. We made sure to keep her in the background. She was never a central character in our Nativity plays.

We were minded to put her away privily.

Mary smacked of controversy. We dared not tread too close to talking about her for fear of what it might lead to: honoring her. There was, in my mind, a mutual exclusivity about where honor belonged. All glory belonged to God alone. To grant honor elsewhere was a form of idolatry, I thought.

But this was all before I came to see Mary like the moon--reflecting the glory of the Son. This was before Mary brought me back to Christ. To honor Mary, then, is not to rob Christ of His glory. Indeed, honoring Mary brings a grander fullness, an inclusion, a redounding of glory. Glory upon glory, as it were.

G.K. Chesterton writes about how illogical it is to withhold honor from Mary given the common, natural course of human life: You cannot visit the child without visiting the mother; you cannot in common human life approach the child except through the mother. (Through the Year with Mary, pg. 115).

St. John of the Cross also hinted at our proclivity for denying Mary even the most basic of human necessities--shelter while giving birth: The Virgin, weighed/ With the Word of God, / Comes down the road: / If only you'll shelter her. (Through the Year with Mary, pg. 117)

It is shocking for me to realize my own complicity in denying Mary honor, shelter. How easily I have put her away, out of my own life. How casually I have referred to her--as "just Jesus' mother."

This defamation of Mary (is not withholding due honor a kind of defamation?)--seems relatively modern; an unintended consequence of the Reformation. For even that great Swiss Reformer, Ulrich Zwingli, spoke highly of Mary:

I firmly believe that Mary, according to the words of the Gospel, as a pure Virgin brought forth for us the Son of God and in childbirth and after childbirth remained a pure, intact Virgin. The more the honor and love of Christ increases among men, so much more the esteem and honor of Mary should grow. (Through the Year With Mary, pg. 46 emphasis mine)

I cannot prevent the defamation of Mary everywhere. But I can, perhaps, accord her a special love within my own heart. I can call her blessed among women. I can refer to her with that ancient title, Theotokos--God bearer. I can ask her to be my Mother and seek her intercession.

I will be minded not to put her away, privily or otherwise.

This year, I won't be packing Mary away with the other Christmas decorations--out of sight, out of mind. This year, Mary will remain in plain sight.

I will be minded to honor her.