Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Baptism and the Example of Mary

First published in Huffington Post Religion - 12/17/2012

I recently came across someone who pointed out that we have created for ourselves a “culture of celebrity” unlike at any other time. The impact is a societal “addiction to the extraordinary." We measure our sense of success and meaning and self-worth against our celebrity artists, actors, musicians and world leaders. It’s almost like, if our video clip hasn’t gone viral catching the attention of the entire world, then somehow that means we have little value to offer. I’m guessing this leaves not a few us feeling like our rather ordinary lives don’t count for much.

Not only are we left feeling this way, I’m also guessing that for lots of people this is the very thing that stops us from responding to God’s leading in ordinary ways in the first place. If it isn’t “extraordinary” by the measures set by a culture of celebrity, why do it.

When was the last time we lifted up a faithful mother or father; or a good son or daughter; or a committed worker who has given his or her life to one company over a long period of time?
In Advent we take time to reflect on the Annunciation to Mary. This is a good thing. As we do, it’s important not to see Mary as we do other celebrities around us. Mary received the announcement that she had been chosen by God to give birth to the Christ. In this season of waiting, we become present to the long waiting of a people who have long expected the coming of One who will set the world right.

Mary’s response communicates much to a people addicted to the extraordinary. Her response is simple and faithful, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me according to your word.” Mary was first an ordinary servant, and second humble and submissive to God’s purpose. She was a willing vessel waiting for God’s purposes.

In Advent this year we witnessed in worship an adult baptism. Andrew had long been committed to Christ in his own way and in recent years he awoke to something vital the Spirit was doing in his life. It occurs to me that Advent is a great time for baptisms. Something simple and powerful is signaled when a person is baptized in a context where a community gathers aware of Jesus’ first coming and yet feeling also the longing for his second coming when all the world will one day be set right. And wondering in that space what we are to do.

One aspect in particular reminds me of Mary. For baptism is less something we do and more something God does. We are imitators of Mary in the sense that we respond in baptism as a beginning point and say with our whole bodies that we are the Lord’s servants, that every part of us is humble and submissive to the purposes of God.

I’m convinced that those two ordinary acts –- humility and servanthood -– are what advance God’s purposes in the world more than anything else.

Baptism in Advent reminds us that Mary was not a unique human being who was uniquely chosen, and who we must simply watch and celebrate. Mary is all of us. We are all visited by God. We are all overshadowed by the Holy Spirit. We are all parents giving birth to God’s purposes in the world.

That certainly runs counter to our culture of celebrity and may provide the grace for a people addicted to the extraordinary to embrace ordinary ways to follow the leading of God.

-- Dr. Michael T. Dunn (@dunnmichael)