Mary, Mary, ordinary: service plans and monologues for Advent and Christmas, page 1 of 2
The idea of planning our Advent and Christmas messages around Mary had its genesis at a worship conference at Redeemer University College, Ancaster, Ontario. Keynote speakers Richard Middleton and Sylvia Keesmaat of the Institute for Christian Studies in Toronto unpacked Mary’s Song, also called the Magnificat. Ron VandenBurg, a member of our worship committee at Jubilee Fellowship Christian Reformed Church, returned to us full of excitement, suggesting this as our focus. I prepared service suggestions and Ron prepared monologues for each of the Sundays in Advent from The Song of Mary by John McNeil and The Message by Eugene Peterson (see credits at the end of each monologue). The bulletin art was created by artist George Langbroek, a member of our congregation.
As I began to read whatever I could about Mary, I became focused on a simple fact: God used a teenaged girl to bring Jesus into the world to redeem humanity. Surely that is an important entry point into the story of Christ’s birth.
Historically, church leaders and artists have not helped us see Mary in her adolescent humanity. Heavenly traits and holy halos have been added to her in theological treatises and works of art alike. Over the centuries the Mary of Scripture has been lost under layers of veneer. Our goal was to strip that veneer away, to see the Christmas story from the perspective of the very ordinary girl that Mary was.
Our strategy was simple. Each service, entitled “Thirteen and . . .”, would feature a monologue presented by Mary. A teenaged girl (a different one each time) would come up the aisle dressed as Mary and dramatically recite a monologue. As she left, I would pick up my sermon where she left off. On the Sunday after Christmas, a woman representing Mary at an older age would present the monologue. Each worship service would include an instrumental or sung version of the Magnificat.
To avoid the pitfall of “psychologizing” Mary and making her the focus, we reminded each other that the sermons had to focus on what God was doing by using Mary. That helped us set the direction for the whole series.
The congregation expressed appreciation that the momentum of this season did not abruptly cease when the last carols were sung on Christmas Day. (Note: For reasons of space, and because in 2002 the second Sunday of Christmas falls on Epiphany (January 6), RW did not include the plans for the seventh service in this series. For that service, entitled “Thirteen and Braced for Pain,” we included a monologue by an older Mary again, adapted with permission from Marla Ehlers from her Holy Week drama “We Were There”; RW 58, p. 8.)
For two months I immersed myself in Mary’s story. We met with the young women of our church and asked if they would be willing to help by presenting one of the monologues, lighting the Advent candles, or singing or playing one of the many versions of Mary’s Song. Under Ron’s direction, our actresses brought the monologues to life in a wonderful way. Soloists, duos, and trios sang different settings of the Magnificat. At times they sang the first stanza and the congregation
FIRST SUNDAY IN ADVENT
THIRTEEN AND VERY PREGNANT
Seven-year-old Nicole, my niece’s daughter, watched her uncle kissing his new bride at their wedding last year. “If they keep kissing like that,” she said, “they’re going to have a baby.” She knew what most of us know about conception and pregnancy. It takes two. That’s just plain common sense.
Plenty of folks—nonbelievers and believers alike—ridicule the notion of a virgin birth. It makes no common sense. It is unscientific and anti-intellectual. It mistakenly translates the Greek parthenon, which can mean “young woman” as well as “virgin.”
Rather than focusing on teenage pregnancy and its attendant problems, I demonstrated that God’s Word insists on a virgin birth: the break in the pattern of listing fathers in Christ’s genealogy (Matt. 1:16); the angel’s news that the child is conceived by the Holy Spirit (Matt. 1:18, 20); Matthew’s observation that Joseph had no union with Mary until she gave birth (1:25); and Mary’s exclamation “But I’ve never known a man” (Luke 1:34).
The virgin birth highlights three things:
- God’s sovereignty, in that Mary is passive while God is active.
- God’s solution, as we see God bridging the gap between the human and the divine.
- God’s sacred mystery, confronting us with a biblical reality that we cannot explain, only humbly accept and believe.
Songs Before and After the Greeting
“Hark, the Glad Sound! The Savior Comes” PsH 335, RL 251
“Song of Mary” SFL 125, SNC 10
Psalm 40: “Wait for the Lord” SNC 96
Song of Response
“Emmanuel” SNC 117
Right now I am very alone.
At first I felt a little skeptical, like Sarah when the angel told Abraham she would have a baby. Wondered what on earth was going on. [Chuckles]
A girl of thirteen should answer back to an angel? I have to admit I was a bit proud of having been chosen by God for such a special task . . . for all of, maybe, five minutes.
“Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. Let it happen to me just as you say.”
[Pauses, looks to congregation] Then I told my mother, “I have seen an angel! He had a message for me.”
Mother was more concerned with preparing dinner for the men. “Mary,” she said, “bring me some oil. Bring the flour.” She was too busy then to hear about an angel’s message.
She did stop to listen when I told her about the baby.
“Mother, it is not going to be Joseph’s baby.” [Realizes what she is saying, breaks off]
And that’s when I began to realize that while I might be blessed among women, it was a very mixed blessing.
My mother lives in disgrace. My father wants to know who the father is. “I’ll beat him within an inch of his life,” he screams.
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SECOND SUNDAY OF ADVENT
THIRTEEN AND GREATLY TROUBLED
Again I told them about the angel. They called me blasphemous. How could I tell them that the Lord Almighty was responsible?
What am I to say to Joseph? How am I to keep my belly hidden?
[Voices of townspeople speak into an off-stage mike. Mary reacts to their harsh words and quickly exits down the center aisle. “She won’t say who the father is!” “I bet it’s Jacob—he’s had his eyes on her. He laid more than eyes on her!” “That adulteress! She should be stoned!” “Her mother says she’s hearing voices in her head. But it took more than voices to do that.” “Maybe she and Joseph just anticipated the marriage day. I wouldn’t blame him. She should be stoned. . . .” “It’s broken her father’s heart. She should be stoned.”]
—Adapted from The Song of Mary by John McNeil. Used by permission. For the original play, visit the website www.carey.ac.nz/drama/Christmas/magnificat.html. This is part of Dramatrix, a great resource for a variety of Christian plays and skits organized by category, theme, and Scripture reference: www.carey.ac.nz/drama.
A pregnant teenager has every reason in the world to feel upset and confused. Especially, as in Mary’s case, when she knows that she has never had sex. Yet it was not her circumstances that “greatly troubled” Mary. Rather, it was the words of the angel’s greeting that started an inner dialogue in Mary’s head. From the angel’s greeting she learned three things.
- From the word Xaire she learned that God delighted in her. Most people would think of an encounter with God as something fearful; instead an angel greets Mary cheerfully.
- From the words You who are highly favored she learned about God’s gracious love for her. Teenagers don’t think of themselves as particularly lovable. Her troubling inner dialogue now probably sounded like this: “I’m not worthy; I’m highly favored. Which do I believe?”
- From the words The Lord is with you she learned that God was present. Around her. Beside her. Actually growing inside her. More internal dialogue: “I’m not that interesting, yet God wants to keep me company.
The angel’s message revealed God’s purpose for Mary: “You will bear the Son of God.”
This is remarkable. And greatly troubling. God chose to use an ordinary teenager with very little claim to fame. And God chooses to use us too.
Songs Before and After the Greeting
“Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus” PsH 329, PH 1, RL 183, SFL 122, TH 196, TWC 135
“My Soul Gives Glory to My God” Book of Praise 123 (Presbyterian Church of Canada)
Psalm 42: “As a Deer in Want of Water” SNC 97
Song of Response
“My Song Forever Shall Record” PsH 593, PH 209, RL 113, TH 99
Joseph came to talk to me today. Now I am very much alone.
He looked so sad, not angry as I thought he might be. Sad. For himself. For me. For the baby. We were betrothed.
He was struggling. Wanting not to believe the voices in the marketplace. Wanting to believe me. Oh, how I need him to believe me!
But he said that he could only believe his own eyes.
I feel utterly abandoned. Even by God. I cannot understand why God has supposedly chosen me for the highest honor ever bestowed on a woman but has allowed my family and friends to totally reject me. If it were not for the evidence growing daily inside me, I would doubt the whole thing. The baby and I are in grave danger.
My father sold some of our animals recently, and the rumor is spreading that the money was used to buy Joseph’s silence.
When I mentioned that my cousin Elizabeth is also having a baby, my father thought it would be wise—and safer—for me to visit her. I can assist her during her own preparations—after all, she is not exactly young.
The angel himself told me that Elizabeth was pregnant! I hope she will believe me.
—Adapted from The Song of Mary by John McNeil. Used by permission
THIRD SUNDAY OF ADVENT
THIRTEEN AND DEEPLY TRUSTING
The Beatles song “Let It Be” took its inspiration from this passage. Remember?
But Mary didn’t say, “Let it be.” What Mary actually said to the angel was this: “May it be to me as you have said.” The Beatles song takes this to mean that we should let life happen. Mary means, let God’s will be done.
That’s the thing about teenagers. So greatly troubled one moment, so incredibly trusting the next.
Mary’s cousin Elizabeth saw and celebrated Mary’s trust and named it. “Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished.” Faith is believing in God’s promises.
Avoid the temptation to exalt Mary and make her an example of what it is to be a real believer by focusing on the references to the Holy Spirit in this passage (vv. 35, 41). After all, the Holy Spirit, who did the impossible by opening the wombs of a virgin and a childless woman, is also the one who gives the kind of trusting faith that we see in Mary.
Songs Before and After the Greeting
“We Will Glorify” Maranatha! Praise Chorus Book 3 224
Psalm 80: “Restore Us, Lord” SNC 21
“Blessed Are You” (from the musical The Holy Child by Emma Lou Diemer; Sacred Music Press)
“My Soul Proclaims with Wonder” SNC 102
Psalm 80: “Restore Us, Lord” SNC 100
Song of Response
“Hark! A Thrilling Voice Is Sounding” PsH 332
She looked at me and said, “Mary! What a blessing to see you, my dear!”
How ready I was to hear those words.
I had traveled with a caravan down to Judea. My father supplied me with a donkey. You can imagine Elizabeth’s surprise when I arrived.
[Reflects] She called me a blessing. What a change from what the people back home were saying!
“And you, also, Elizabeth. Adonai sar shalom. Blessing be yours, and God’s peace within your walls.”
Elizabeth couldn’t wait to tell me her news. A woman at her age, barren for years, now pregnant in her sixth month.
She was surprised to hear that I already knew. Who would have thought that an angel would have spread such wonderful gossip!
I was surprised to hear that Elizabeth’s husband, Zechariah, had met Gabriel too.
I told her, “Gabriel came to tell me that I am also to be a mother. Elizabeth, I am to bear the Messiah.”
Then Elizabeth winced. I quickly came close to support her. She said she’d just felt the strongest kick ever.
And then something amazing happened. Elizabeth became filled with the Spirit of God. She said, “Mary, my dear, you are blessed among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! How fortunate I am to have the mother of my Lord come to me. The babe that kicks within me is leaping for joy to hear your voice.”
First, the angel called me blessed, and now Elizabeth. Even her unborn baby knew!
Looking at the beautiful smile on her face, I remembered Gabriel’s words, “For nothing is impossible with God.”
—Adapted from The Song of Mary by John McNeil. Used by permission.
FOURTH SUNDAY OF ADVENT
THIRTEEN AND VERY JOYFUL
Finally we come to Mary’s Song, the inspiration for this series.
We have a question for Mary. How was she able to glorify and rejoice in God? Her fiancé was thinking divorce. Her family was thinking disown. Her community was thinking stone. Her situation could not have been more difficult.
Her status could not have been humbler. An ordinary teenage girl—no resumé, no royal lineage, no special skills. A teenage girl sent away to live with a relative in another city like so many pregnant teens. How could she say, “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God”?
The answer is contained in last week’s Scripture reading and today’s text.
- She believed that what the Lord had said to her would be accomplished (v. 45). She chose to believe what the angel had said and be “certain of what she did not see” (Heb. 11:1).
- She knew God as “my Savior.” In fact, she had the Savior of the world within her. Where Christ is, light is, and darkness gives way. Where Christ is, hope is, and despair gives way.
- She understood that the Lord of the universe was “mindful” of her state. How wonderful to realize that God remembers us and looks upon us with loving interest, as he remembered Noah in a tiny bobbing cork on the water, Joseph in a deep well, and Israel in a faraway foreign land.
God’s mindfulness allows those who sow in tears to reap songs of joy.
Songs Before and After the Greeting
“Hark the Glad Sound! The Savior Comes” PsH 335, RL 251
“Awake, Awake, and Greet the New Morn” SNC 91
“Tell Out, My Soul” PsH 478, RL 182, TH 26, TWC 350
Song of Response
“How Majestic Is Your Name” Maranatha! Praise Chorus Book 3 217
[Performed with enthusiasm and excitement! Mary rushes to the stage with a great smile and turns to the audience with arms raised in praise.]
I’m bursting with God-news;
I’m dancing the song of my Savior God.
God took one good look at me, and look what happened—
I’m the most fortunate woman on earth! [Turns in a circle with laughter and joy]
What God has done for me will never be forgotten, the God whose very name is holy, set apart from all others.
[Her enthusiasm carries her as she demonstrates the active verbs of the text]
His mercy flows in wave after wave
on those who are in awe before him.
He bared his arm and showed his strength,
scattered the bluffing braggarts.
He knocked tyrants off their high horses,
pulled victims out of the mud.
The starving poor sat down to a banquet;
the callous rich were left out in the cold.
He embraced his chosen child, Israel;
He remembered and piled on the mercies, piled them high.
It’s exactly what he promised,
beginning with Abraham and right up to now!
—Luke 1:46-55 from Eugene Peterson’s The Message. Used by permission.