O Virgo virginum, quomodo fiet istud? Quia nec primam similem visa es nec habere sequentem. Filiae Ierusalem, quid me admiramini? Divinum est mysterium hoc quod cernitis.
O Virgin of virgins, how shall this be? For neither before was any like thee, nor shall there be after. Daughters of Jerusalem, why marvel ye at me? That which ye behold is a divine mystery.
Why marvel ye at me?
Today, in the Byzantine Rite, is the Sunday before the Nativity and the Gospel assigned is that of the Genealogy of Jesus from Matthew. It’s rough going for the Deacon reading because it’s one hard name after another. I’m sure it’s equally fun in languages other than English. In his sermon after, our Archdeacon touched on a lot of points but one struck me as the answer to “Why marvel ye at me?” From Solomon’s adulterous parentage to slavery in Babylon, from Gentile blood to Egyptian poverty, the ancestry of Jesus has something to scandalize nearly every portion of the Roman world, and he was conceived out of wedlock!
Mary, in Orthodoxy, is sinless, but not without scandal. The family tree of Jesus is of royal lineage, but he’s not a direct heir to the throne. He is of the House of David but only via cadency, He’s less royalty and more like all the folks who can claim Queen Victoria as a member of their family tree. Mary is indeed a Marvel: fulfilling the prophecy without coming close to fulfilling the expectations. She is – just as her son is – exactly what was promised and not at all what anyone was looking for.
She, devoid of human value and without connections or power – and still the subject of gossip in the Talmud – is exactly perfect as the mother of the God who needs his diapers changed.
Her son will die a state-sponsored death as a condemned revolutionary, betrayed into the hands of a colonial power by his own people. But that – as with Mary – is God showing us that nothing is out of his hands. The worse things we as humans can do to ourselves or others can, in his hands, become the salvation of the whole world.
Bread containing the dead skin flakes and sweat of you and me – both of us sinners – becomes the flesh of the God who needed his diapers changed by his sinless mother who was a scandal in her town. God takes what we have. Our cultural failures, our sins, our loss, our personal fouls and parking tickets, offered to God, become what saves us.
And sinners become divine.