Episode #11: Shame and Glory — In the moment, which we now call “the Annunciation,” Mary said “yes” to both shame and glory, writes poet Luci Shaw. I don’t think Mary is alone in being invited into God’s glory at the cost of her own shame.
“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”
The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail.”
“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.
Luke 1:34-38 (NIV)
In this moment, which we now call “the Annunciation,” Mary said “yes” to both shame and glory, writes poet Luci Shaw.
Shame and Glory
I imagine that Mary did not feel any shame in saying “yes” to the Spirit. There was no shame before God in bearing Jesus, no shame within her soul as she responded to God. And yet she risked public shame as an unwed mother. She risked the shame of Joseph’s rejection of her. And even once Joseph stayed with her, she risked the shame that she would be cast out of her family, out of her religious community, out of her town.
I don’t think Mary is alone in being invited into God’s glory at the cost of her own shame. She gets to bear witness to the love of the universe. She also suffers for it. There are a host of other Biblical figures who endured public shame for the sake of knowing God. Even now, when we say yes to God, when we receive the work that God is doing in our lives, we often face public shame.
Sometimes that shame comes in the explicit forms of judgment, criticism, and rejection. Often it is more polite. But when we say yes to God’s invitation to bear love in this world, we are a little bit like Mary, willing to endure misunderstanding at best and abuse at worst. We are a little bit like Mary, invited to participate in God’s love for the whole world.
A Small Taste
Because of having a child with Down syndrome, we’ve tasted this shame and glory a little bit. We feel no shame in having Penny as our daughter. And yet there is a public perception and experience of shame associated with having a child with a disability. On a personal level, when Marilee and William were little, I got comments about how “brave” we were to have more children, as if we would have tried to avoid having Penny in our lives if we could. Most media outlets use words like “suffer” and “burden” to describe life with Down syndrome, even when they are describing people with Down syndrome as they thrive in the world.
And one of the few slurs still tolerated (even among people who care about political correctness) is the word “retarded.” There is a public assumption that as parents we should be ashamed of our daughter, when in fact we could not feel more proud.
I could list her accomplishments and explain why I feel proud of her. But pride is not the point. Receiving Penny into our lives didn’t just bring pride. Saying yes to this child God gave us brought blessing. In opening our hearts to the unexpected work God was doing in our daughter, we began to enter into a broader understanding of God’s love for us and for those around us.
Mary endured shame when she said yes to God. But God’s blessing fell upon Mary too, as the God-bearer, the Mother of God. And as we look ahead to the celebration of his birth, once again I am grateful that she bore the public shame for the blessing that went forth to us all.
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