If you’re a member of the social media site, Facebook, you may have noticed a video pop up on your feed over the month titled, “Year in Review. Facebook took your photos and posts to capture 2016 in a nutshell for every one of its users.
As I reviewed these videos, it was clear that many of you were blessed with a good 2016, but then I came across this brave post: “My Facebook video of 2016 was basically ‘this year was rough’ in a pretty font.” It’s a brave post because everyone seems so happy on social media. Everyone seems so blessed, and it’s not always easy to reveal the hidden truth that it perhaps it was a rough year, and that maybe you didn’t feel particularly blessed.
But then it got me wondering: What if Mary, the Mother of Jesus, the woman who sang of God’s praises, the one who claimed her own status as “blessed,” had had a Facebook account? Her profile would have looked something like this:
Relationship Status: Engaged (to Joseph)
Work and Education: Nothing
Places You’ve Lived: Nazareth
Birthyear: Sometime in the days of King Herod of Judea?
Religious Views: Jewish
Family and Relationships: fiance Joseph, cousin Elizabeth, cousin Zechariah, soon-to-be-nephew John, soon-to-be son Jesus
In a nutshell, she was poor, young, unmarried, pregnant…and blessed. After all, it’s the essence of her song: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior..Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed.” And it got me wondering further: if Mary could claim that she was blessed, might she assist others whose years feel lacking in understand their own status as being blessed?
Now, if you do use Facebook or some other form of social media, you know that adding a hashtag (a pound sign) in front of a post allows it to be found in searches, similar to the way an index at the back of a book works. So I did a search for “blessed” this week to determine what, exactly, makes us feel blessed.
Most people feel blessed by family, especially on Thanksgiving. Well, other than Elizabeth and Zechariah, and Joseph, Mary doesn’t have much family that was worth recording. Other people are blessed by their pets. “The donkey!” you might say, but there’s no donkey in the Christmas story! And even if there were a donkey, it certainly wasn’t a pet! Vacations also make many of us feel blessed. Mary probably didn’t even know what a vacation was. Olympian Usain Bolt was blessed to have been named Athlete of the Year for the 6th time by the International Association of Athletics Federation. Mary had done nothing to win any award.Shape magazine promises you’ll feel #blessed with the right holiday gifts, while Cosmopolitan Australia feels blessed that McDonald’s now serves waffle fries. (Now, it’s just starting to sound silly.)
According to these posts, being blessed today implies a certain amount of comfort or just being sort-of…happy. Of course, this definition is complicated by its use in the South, where every native (or anyone who’s lived here long enough) knows that “Bless your heart,” isn’t a compliment or a true wish for happiness, but an expression of pity, as in: “You poor thing. I hope you get better, but I’m not going to do anything to really help you get better.”
It seems that little word “blessed” is thrown around even more at this time of the year as we nostalgically review our 2016 years and all that it held, and as we look for the “good stuff” in it–signs, perhaps, that God was on our sign through thick and thin, and that we must have done something right. The problem, though, or at least the rub of this use of the word, is that there are plenty of times we don’t feel blessed, right, especially when we compare ourselves to all those sugar-coated Facebook lives. We may start to wonder, “Why can’t I be that happy”? “Where did I mess up?” “Why can’t I find happiness and blessing like everyone else?” “Why does my life not feel all shiny and sparkly, especially during what’s supposed to be the most joyous time of the year?
But then, as we scroll we come across Mary’s profile. It’s different from the others. There are a few pictures of her engagement to Joseph, though she looks a little unsure about the whole thing. Other than that, though, and her bold proclamation that she’s blessed, there’s nothing that really stands out there. And the simplicity of it all pierces through the glitz and glimmer of the hectic holiday season, in a welcoming kind of way. Here is a woman who, on the surface, has no reason to feel blessed, at least not according to our standards. Sure she’s engaged, but she’s also pregnant, and, because of when she lived, once that gets out for the world wide web to see, she’ll surely be shunned from now on. She certainly doesn’t have a life of comfort or prosperity that you associate with being blessed–as you follow her for the months of her pregnancy, you learn that she gave birth in a barn, for heaven’s sake! She doesn’t appear surrounded by loved ones or friends, or piles of gifts waiting to be opened. Yet, somehow, she praises God and insists on being “blessed.” “How is that possible?” many of us wonder, imagining being in her shoes.
“Okay, so she’s giving birth to Jesus” you might say, which is true, and which kinda sorta sounds like a big deal. But even that news carries some weight that would not have make her feel all warm and fuzzy inside. She’ll worry when her son refuses to follow her home from the temple, she’ll feel deserted when he leaves home to go about his mission, she’ll witness his suffering and grieve the death of her only son. And how, exactly, is she blessed?
Well, she posts this song, a song that speaks of God’s mercy from generation to generation, a song that speaks of God remembering God’s mercy. Wait. God remembers that God is merciful? God remembers mercy so that God will be merciful in the future? That sure sounds good, but what if you don’t feel blessed, or happy, or particularly joyous this year? Well, maybe Mary didn’t feel that way, either. Maybe being blessed has more to do with God than us, and maybe we’re given both hearts minds so that when our hearts don’t feel a certain way, our minds can believe it, and when our minds can’t believe something, our hearts can feel it.
Mary is blessed because God remembers God’s mercy, not because of anything she’s acquired or achieved. And one way God reacts with mercy is by choosing and claiming precisely the people that the world would never choose–people like Mary, people like you and me, perhaps especially when we’ve had difficult years.
In God’s choosing her to bear Jesus, Mary certainly had a unique opportunity to experience God’s mercy, but then again so do we. Does God not choose us to bear Jesus to the world? Not with a literal birth, of course, but to bear Jesus in our words and actions? And ss such, we can not stand with Mary this Advent, as full or as sparse as our metaphorical profiles may be, as joyous or as grieved as we may be, as satisfied or as dissatisfied with life as we may be, as happy or as sad as we may be, and boldly proclaim with her that we too are blessed–not because of anything we’ve done, but because we have a God who remembers God’s mercy and acts accordingly? I think that’s enough. I think it’s enough to make us blessed, and therefore to ease our anxieties of whether we’ve done enough to win God’s favor or whether we appear blessed when compared to so many others.
2016 may have been phenomenal for you…or, if may have been rather heavy with all sorts of burdens. Being blessed, though, means that we’ve been chosen by God in our baptisms, regardless of how blessed we look or feel, even, to bear God’s redeeming word (Jesus) to the world.
Being blessed means we recognize that this work is in line with all of God’s other acts of mercy. I can’t think of any better way to be blessed. Blessings to you this Christmas.