For 2,000 years Christians have had a problem with Mary, the mother of Jesus. Even the Evangelists provide differing views, from a nagging, hovering parent (John) to humble and devoted servant of God (Luke). Historically, Protestantism has virtually ignored her (find a Presbyterian or Lutheran church named after her), while elements of Roman Catholicism have elevated her virtually to deity (some medieval theologians began speaking of a Quaternity instead of a Trinity).
On the other hand, Anglicanism and Eastern Orthodoxy have had a more nuanced view of Mary. In Orthodoxy she is called theotokos, the God-bearer, she who faithfully bore the Son of God. In Anglicanism Mary is held as the exemplar of Christian servanthood, as she willingly followed God’s request of her delivered by the archangel Gabriel (Luke). Indeed, Luke emphasizes Mary’s archetypal role in the words of her sister Elizabeth, “blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken by the Lord." Note that Mary is blessed not because she is the mother of Jesus, but because she believed in the promises of God.
In modern times Mary has been seen by feminist theologians as the model of womanhood, her identity given to her in history not by a man but by God. This is in stark contrast to the more conservative branding, found in Protestantism and Catholicism, in which Mary is the example of powerless humility—she who “knows her place”—she who gives up all power and authority to be nothing but a servant—that is, her humility prevents her from access to any positions of authority in the Church. Of course, this position ignores the evidence that in the years immediately following the Resurrection of Jesus it was Mary who became the prime mover in reviving the closest followers of Jesus who had been scattered and disheartened: she may have been the first among the apostles until her frailty or death made room for Peter to take the leadership of the apostolic band.
The Gospel reading for the Fourth Sunday in Advent is the story of the Annunciation (Luke 1, 26-38), the announcement by an angel of an imminent radical change in the life of a Palestinian peasant woman. It is a passage worth contemplating—reading again and again, and sitting with in silence—at any time of the year as each of us deals with the chances and changes of our own lives.