During Advent 2007 I’ve been reflecting on the opening of Luke’s gospel, especially the narratives recounting Mary’s role in the gift of Messiah. Here are the bottom line realities that nourish and challenge my Christmas faith, which you can read about in the reflections below.
- Mary was surprised to be shown such incredible favor and then continually surprised at how the grace of God worked through her and the Messiah. So, Lord, help me never to get over the wonder of amazing grace, never to yawn at your including me, never to think that I’ve got you and your way figured out, nailed down, inoculated against surprised.
- Mary was drawn in, enthralled by the wonder of it all, eager to engage in this drama that seemed to be gathering her up and taking her where she did not know. So, Lord, keep me alert to how your grace makes its inroads in my life and relationships. Keep me asking for deeper understanding, and taking you at your word when your explanations only raise other questions.
- Mary was willing to be in the flow of these God-happenings, though she could never have guessed all it would entail. So, Lord, with Mary I want to say, whatever you say, whatever—let it be!
How surprised Mary was! One day—I imagine it to be morning, but maybe it was at night, just before sleeping—an angel appears. I resist the temptation to mythologize the story by assuming that angel-appearances were to be expected, since this is the Bible. No, Mary had never seen an angel, and wasn’t sure about the protocol when she did. She was surprised, as all of us would be. But Mary’s surprise turned to wonder and then modest discomfort, humility born of a deep internal reality check. The angel told her she had been “graced,” highly favored, and that the Lord was with her (1:25). It perplexed and troubled Mary. She didn’t know what to make of it. Among the reasons, I think, was realistic awareness—she was no one special, would never have expected this, and now that it was happening to her she doesn’t know what it means. In one way she was right, she was nobody special, according to all the canons used to measure “special.” Yet, the grace of God was extended to her. As the story that unfolds will make clear, it is especially to people like Mary, unsuspecting, undemanding, unworthy, that this unexpected gift, this grace comes. Why her? What now? I doubt Mary ever got over the wonder and the surprise, the shock at finding and feeling grace reaching out and embracing her.
How intrigued and enthralled and engaged Mary became in what God’s grace proposed. The angel tells her some of what this grace will mean—conception of a son—Jesus-Savior, her son, but also the Most High’s son, King with never-ending throne and reign. Talk about mind-blowing. Talk about impossible! Revelation raises as many questions as it answers. Mary wants to know how this could be. She knows enough biology and has enough integrity to wonder if she really understands the message. How? This was a different kind of question than her uncle Zechariah had asked (see 1:18). He wanted “proof,” a sign that would guarantee what he had been told. She wanted understanding and insight. She wanted to know more—how could such a thing happen to her, under the circumstances?
Revelation raises as many questions as it answers. The angel tells her how. The Holy Spirit will come, power from on high, and the result—what is begotten—will be … . I doubt this helped much in the moment, except that it let Mary know that this would be entirely a God-thing. How? Well, … God! With God things that seem impossible have been known to happen. With God even the inconceivable … . She can check out Elizabeth. And, she did. She followed the path God opened to another place where grace had gone and the inconceivable was even then happening.
How willing Mary was. “Let it be to me according to your word, O Lord. Even when I would have said it’s impossible, even when your kind explanations are hard to fathom, I am in your hands, a servant, at your disposal. Thy will be done on earth with me and through me, now and always!”