By LORRAINE V. MURRAY, Commentary | Published December 11, 2008
It’s a simple question, but it can drive me to distraction. “Are you ready for Christmas?”
Even if the big day is merely hours away, the answer for me usually is a big fat no. If being ready means trimming the tree, baking cookies, hanging stockings, stringing lights, wrapping gifts and sending cards, and doing it all with great wittiness and cheer, then it is likely I will still not be ready even a week after Christmas.
There are, of course, women of the Martha Stewart stripe who would answer this question differently. I picture them, glue guns at the ready, trimming hand-sewn stockings, crafting their own Christmas centerpieces and somehow transforming dried pasta into garlands.
And all this before Santa has uttered even his first “Ho, Ho.”
There was a lady named Martha in the New Testament, and I suspect she is the prototype for the modern-day followers of Martha Stewart. In one scene, Jesus had visited the home of two sisters, and one of them, Martha, was running around frantically trying to get everything just so.
It’s easy to imagine her today, checking the roast, stirring the potatoes and setting the perfect table. Meanwhile, her sister, Mary, was sitting there with the guest, quietly listening to him and enjoying his company.
At some point, Martha had more than enough. She went to Jesus and complained about her sister, no doubt expecting him to scold the quiet little Mary. Instead, he turned the tables on Martha, calling her “troubled and worried” about many things and saying that her sister was enjoying “the better part.”
It is clear that if the world contained only Mary types, Advent would be very different.
Mary would probably not send out cards, wrap gifts or string garlands. Instead, you’d find her at church most days, sitting quietly in the adoration chapel.
The Marthas, however, seem to be the ones calling the shots as far as our secular world is concerned. You see them gracing the covers of women’s magazines, smiling blissfully in their hand-knitted sweaters and brandishing trays of freshly baked gingerbread cookies.
It would be easy to believe we can do without Marthas, but if you have ever attended one of their dinner parties, you know you’d miss them. They make the most elaborate meals, the most luscious desserts, and even their table decorations can be quite captivating.
Perhaps the real point of the Mary-Martha biblical story is that our world needs both sisters, but we also need balance.
Jesus surely appreciated Martha’s hospitality and cooking, and he wasn’t chiding her for her energetic efforts. She just needed an attitude check because somewhere in the midst of being a hostess, she had lost her cheeriness.
And instead of really enjoying her guest, as her sister was, she became anxious and troubled.
It is a good Advent practice to ask ourselves about the ways we act like Mary and Martha as we prepare to welcome Jesus on Christmas Day.
Some of us, whether we are men or women, are naturally of the Martha bent. You’ll know you’re a Martha type if you have a checklist of fun things to do when you’re on vacation, and you must accomplish these things in order to consider the trip worthwhile.
You’ll know you’re a Mary type if your idea of a vacation is sitting on the beach and looking at the waves.
During Advent, the Martha types need to temper the frantic rushing around by adding serene moments of prayer and reflection.
They might also ask: “Have I lost my joy? Am I doing so much that I feel worried and anxious?”
If so, it’s time for Martha types to pare back on the to-do list and get others to pitch in.
The contemplative Mary types need some balance too, which they can achieve by finding people who are worried and troubled about many things. The Mary types might think of ways to help Martha get through Advent with sanity intact.
And as Christmas Day draws ever nearer, both Mary and Martha need to keep their attention fixed on Jesus. After all, he truly is “the better part” of this, and every, season.
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