November 29, 2018

You may already be familiar with the term “Faustian Bargain” but in case you are not, the Encyclopedia Britannica offers the following definition:

Faustian Bargain
A pact whereby a person trades something of supreme moral or spiritual importance, such as personal values or the soul, for some worldly or material benefit, such as knowledge, power, or riches. The term refers to the legend of Faust (or Faustus, or Doctor Faustus), a character in German folklore and literature, who agrees to surrender his soul to an evil spirit (in some treatments, Mephistopheles, or Mephisto, a representative of Satan) after a certain period of time in exchange for otherwise unattainable knowledge and magical powers that give him access to all the world’s pleasures. A Faustian bargain is made with a power that the bargainer recognizes as evil or amoral. Faustian bargains are by their nature tragic or self-defeating for the person who makes them, because what is surrendered is ultimately far more valuable than what is obtained, whether or not the bargainer appreciates that fact.

You also might know that it was the German author, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, through his novel Faust, who called this term into being. In the novel Dr. Faust, a successful but dissatisfied scholar, sells his soul to the devil in exchange for unlimited pleasure. This deal seemingly goes in Faust’s favor until his death approaches and then, filled with regret, he pleads to be released from his bargain.

What you may not remember (I did not) is that his pleadings are unsuccessful until Mary (the Mother of Jesus) and three other women intercede on his behalf and he is delivered to heaven.

We Protestants have historically frowned on praying to Mary, but I think Goethe is telling us something important. Putting his message personally, if ever I find myself in a lonely and treacherous place, I want Mary to be on my side. I think she would be a formidable advocate, a powerful voice and a reliable friend. I don’t see anything wrong with wanting as many good people as possible to be on my side, and the side of those I love, when the chips are down.

The witness of Advent and Christmas is that Mary is a both very good person and a very good person to turn to in time of trouble. The Gospels don’t tell us much about her background or give us much insight into her interior life. They simply tell us that she was given a demanding role and fulfilled it with courage and grace. They tell us that she, like her son, had to face uncertainty and adversity and that her faith was the source of her strength.

I like the way she, in the gospel of Luke, deals with the angel who informed her of her role in God’s plan to save us all – “Let it be to me according to your word.” Hers was a quiet “Got it. Anything else you need from me?” We can only hope there is a way her quiet resolve can speak both to us and for us in those moments we need it the most.

Advent Best,

Jim H.

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