December 13th 2020

Secret escapes. Secret Santa. Secret diary. Secret Service. Secrets and lies. Secrets! Secrets! Secrets! Some secrets might be because a fun experience like a surprise party for someone is being organised, or a special guest is coming to pay a surprise visit on someone, or some such thing like this. But not all secrets are fun and for too many people secrets are things that must be strictly kept for fear of the repercussions that may ensue were the secret exposed.

Mary had a secret, although it wasn’t a secret for long. She was an unmarried young lady, betrothed to a man called Joseph. A young woman who, following a conversation with an angel found herself pregnant and no matter how important this child was to become, Mary’s first thoughts must have been of fear and panic. For who would believe such a wild and far-fetched story? She would be called a liar. She would be ridiculed. And potentially she would be thrown out of the family, tossed aside because she had brought great dishonour to the family name.

Mary’s little secret was about to become a huge problem, for it was going to be a source of shame for her, her family, and for Joseph too. Joseph could have made things unbearable for Mary had he wished. He had a right, not only to break the engagement but also to make a public spectacle of her presumed infidelity and indiscretion, even to have her stoned. But being a righteous man, he had no desire to end her life, or even to draw attention to her shame and thought to break with her quietly and in private, that was until God’s messenger spoke to him in a dream, changing his mind, and well, we know how that story ended.

We don’t hear much else about Mary and Joseph until the impending birth of Jesus, but we can imagine that the ensuing months could not have been easy for them. How widely did they share the truth of this miraculous experience? And, if, and when they did, were they believed? I expect that either way, there would have been significant social consequences for both their families. Something we are not told about in the bible, but something worth considering just the same.

I was once working with a first year class in my then local High School round about Christmas and we were sharing the story of the nativity with them. They quickly got very involved and started asking questions, mostly, it should be said, by boys who were trying to act smart. Their questions weren’t so silly though and highlighted areas we tend to gloss over in our traditional telling of the story.

One young lad’s question was more a statement of incredulity. He was astounded that Joseph would even consider marrying Mary if she was having someone else’s child. Why would he do that, he asked? In fact, many of the young people, averaging between 12 and 13 years of age, picked up on the social dimensions of the story and that’s what got them thinking and wondering.

They understood immediately how difficult it would be for Mary and how she might be treated. They quickly identified the shame involved and were puzzled that more wasn’t said about it. At the end of the lesson I’m not sure who learnt the most that day, the young people who went away reflecting on the puzzle of God at work, or myself who left realising that there is always more to a story than meets the eye.

Mary’s secret was not only life changing, it changed the world and the way many of us see it. Suddenly, in the birth of Jesus, we saw the revelation of God, and as the years went on, Jesus brought us ever closer to God who had been so distant in the past.

Mary’s faith has been celebrated ever since. Her faith was no secret, and neither should ours be, although too often it seems as though it is. Ah, you may say, ‘We are Scottish, we don’t talk about such thing. Faith is a private matter.’ But if faith is a private matter, how can we be surprised when others don’t seem to know about it. Our relationship with God is personal, just as Mary and Joseph’s were, but where would we be today had they kept quiet about their experience of God? Not sitting here, that’s for sure.

And really, that’s all that we are being called to do – just as Mary and Joseph did, our mission is to share our experience of God so far. God doesn’t expect the impossible from us. We don’t need to worry about what we shall say or how we shall say it. If in our daily lives we are focussed on the things of God, then quite naturally people start to ask questions, and when they do, we tell them.

Our faith is no secret, and we have nothing to be ashamed of. If we believe that Jesus is the Way the Truth and Life Abundant, then shame and secret-keeping are not part of what it means to follow him.

When we accept the truth of God’s love, when we tell the truth about our lives and our experience, we are set free from the confines of secret-keeping and shame and are free to follow Jesus unashamedly. Free to live whole-heartedly. Free to forgive, free to serve, free to be co-workers in the building of God’s kingdom here on earth.

So may we step forward in faith with confidence, willing to share what Jesus means to us most especially at this time of year. AMEN

Click on the link to listen to “Mary did you know?”

Mary did you know?