Revd Alyson Tyler
When I was a child I was terrified of the dark, and consoled only by either the presence of my mother, or her sweater or a scarf to cuddle.
When my own children were babies I noticed the same thing about them, they were also scared of the dark and needed me or an item of my clothing to comfort them. As an adult I am still afraid of the dark, but it’s a different kind of darkness that scares me now. The darkness of violence, of ignorance and intolerance, the darkness of abuse, insult, unkindness and lack of concern, the darkness of the blame and entitlement cultures all these and more, scare me now. I still wish my mother could sort them out for me, but sadly human resources are somewhat inadequate here- a whole culture shift would only begin to touch the surface of our limitless human capacity for generating darkness for each other.
Christians traditionally had a day and night cycle of prayer, firstly to ensure that that God was worshipped continually, and secondly to reassure those early Christians that they were not alone in the dark. It’s also the origin of fire worship as a provider of warmth and light in dark places and dark times. So here we are in Autumn, as evening draws in praying for light in the darkness. Today we remember the birth of Mary, the mother of Jesus, who like anyone who has been a mother or had the responsibility of mothering will have been crucially intimate in her relationship with her son Jesus, protecting him from early risks and comforting him if was hurt or afraid. He was after all fully human and would most likely have experienced both pain and fear as we all do. And thinking right back into history the mothering relationship has often been made holy, the ancients worshipped the goddess in many different forms, from virgin, to mother to crone or old woman, and there is a long tradition of understanding the earth as our mother. A pagan friend of mine says that might be why we humans now treat the earth so badly, because we have lost respect for our mothers.
There is a joking Jewish tradition to the effect that because God could not be everywhere, “He made mothers”, which may possibly account for the long OT tradition of God as our mother; existing alongside that of God as Father e.g. God in Hosea 11 teaching Ephraim to walk, healing and feeding them, leading them with bands of love and kindness, all traditional motherly behaviour. And Deuteronomy goes as far as an image of the God who gives birth in Ch 32 ‘You were unmindful of the Rock that bore you; you forgot the God who gave you birth.”
Again our reading this evening from Isaiah 66:shows us God as a comforting mother As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you. Likewise, Psalm 131 So the OT shows us both the motherliness of God and the fatherliness. Likewise, Jesus in the NT calls God his Father and teaches us when we pray to say ‘Our Father’ - but he also says in both Matthew and Luke, in very motherly mode. “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!
Partly for linguistic reasons, (pronouns)it is not necessary to spend too much time thinking about images of God as either male or female, Father or Mother, because God is both and neither, and the roles that any person can exercise are roles that are open to God as creator of all of them, and of more besides. And this is both a great joy and a great comfort – a joy because of the universality of God’s capacity to love us and to know us, all are welcome, all are one in Christ and it’s a great comfort because there are so many imaging possibilities, ways of seeing God. It is this openness of God that makes faith possible at all for many who come to faith having had difficult or abusive family relationships, there is no compulsion to define or imagine God in anyway (not mother Father, old or young etc) other than as unconditionally loving and holy – For God is love and as St John says ‘God is light and in Him is no darkness at all.’ We need not be afraid of the dark because the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.
There is consolation in knowing that great comfort, described so well in Psalm 131, that total relaxation of the weaned child, who as they fall asleep in your arms, somehow get heavier, relaxing into God, and again in Isaiah we understand that we can receive that comfort and joyous nurture from God, we can access that solace in the dark places of our lives, because God will deliver, in every sense of the word. It is an invitation to pray, an invitation to open ourselves to God’s love and light, and to trust that like Mary, when we are in a dark place and scared, God, like the best of parents will be there with us to comfort, restore and refresh us and to sustain us through it.
We live in interesting and difficult times, but Mary Joseph and the Child Jesus did too. Mary trusted in God enough to say Yes when the angel asked her to give birth to son of God, Joseph trusted both Mary and the angels sent by God, in his dreams to make it possible, and Jesus trusted God enough to go through his life and ministry facing an uncertain future and an unjust and cruel death. Aa we seek that same trust let us pray Loving God ,Mother and Father of us all, teach us to trust you in dark and fearful times so that you can lead us into light. Amen