Here's an article I wrote for Slate.com for Christmas Eve this year....You may have more in common with the Mother of God than you think.
If card manufacturers still think of Mary as a fair-skinned beauty queen, many Christians, especially Catholics, don't even think of her as human: Mary exists on a more exalted plane. For Catholics she is the "Blessed Mother," the "Blessed Virgin Mary," and, according to the Council of Ephesus, which convened in 431 A.D., the "Mother of God." (The dogma-making council reasoned that if Jesus was fully human and fully divine—the two natures inseparable—Mary had to be mother of both, hence Theotokos, or "Mother of God," literally "God-bearer.")
Though I believe in all these titles, such lofty theological images can obscure Mary's earthy humanity and distance her from us. And that's lamentable. The human Mary has a lot to teach Christians—actually, everyone: men and women, from the devout believer to the doubtful seeker to the disbelieving atheist.
Just look at her story as recounted in the Gospel of Luke. Even if you doubt that the narrative is told accurately, you have to admit that buried within this supposedly pious and saccharine Bible tale is the vivid image of a strong, resilient, and self-possessed woman.
To begin with, the first time Mary opens her mouth in the New Testament, it is to question God. "How can this be, since I am a virgin?" she asks, after the angel tells her that she will give birth (a reasonable enough question). Her response to something surprising in her life—and that's quite an understatement—is to question. To doubt. Here is one moment where her entirely human life intersects our own.
Who hasn't wanted to ask in the face of a life-altering change, "How can this be?" Holy confusion is a natural part of the life of any believer—indeed, any person. Ironically, earlier in Luke's Gospel, Zechariah, the soon-to-be father of John the Baptist, doesn't fare as well with his question. When he doubts that his elderly wife will conceive a son, a manifestly testy angel strikes him dumb. When Mary airs her confusion, the angel politely furnishes her with an explanation—albeit a confusing one. It's a striking example of biblical favoritism for women.
Where else does Mary's human life intersect with your own, with your friends, with family members, with parishioners? Read the rest here in "Hail Mary," on Slate.