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 humility. The angel told her she had been “graced,” highly favored, and that the Lord was with her (Luke 1:25). This perplexed and troubled Mary. Among the reasons, I think, was realistic self-awareness—she was no one special, would never have expected this, and now that it was happening to her she doesn’t know its meaning. In one way she was right, she was nobody special, according to all the ways “special” was commonly understood. Yet, the grace of God was extended to her in some extraordinary way. As the unfolding story 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, even the shock, of this grace reaching out and embracing her.
How intrigued and drawn in Mary became in response to God’s gracious announcement. The angel tells her some of what this grace will mean—conception of a son, Jesus-Savior, hers but also the Most High’s son, to be King with never-ending throne and reign. Talk about mind-blowing! Revelation often raises as many questions as it answers. Mary wants to know how this could be. She knows enough biology and has enough integrity to be baffled by this message. How? This was a different kind of question than her uncle Zechariah had asked (see 1:18). He wanted a “sign,” proof positive 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?
The angel reveals how: The Holy Spirit will come upon you, power from on high will overshadow you and, as a result, what is begotten will be called “Son of God,” (Luke 1:35). I doubt this helped much in the moment, except that it let Mary know this was entirely a God-thing. So, again, how? Well, … God! Because with God, you see, impossible things have been known to happen, even inconceivable things! Elizabeth can show and tell you! And soon Mary went to visit Elizabeth and found that God’s grace was even then bringing forth what had been totally inconceivable (see Luke 1:39-45).
How willing Mary was. “Let it be to me according to your word, O Lord,” (Luke 1:38). In the face of the “impossible,” when the Angel’s kind explanations only deepened the mystery, Mary declares herself to be the Lord’s servant, and first expresses the prayer her son would one day teach us all: “Thy will be done on earth (as in the heavens) with me and through me, now and always!”
Now, with a view to application during these Advent-days and on into a new year:
- 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, Loving Lord, help us never to get over the wonder of amazing grace, never to yawn at your including us, never to think we’ve got you and your way figured out and nailed down, and never beyond the surprises of grace.
- 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, Loving Lord, keep us alert to how your grace makes inroads in our lives and relationships. Keep us asking for deeper understanding, and taking you at your word when your explanations deepen the mystery.
- Mary was willing to remain in the flow of these God-happenings, though she did not comprehend all it would entail.
- So, Loving Lord, with Mary we say, whatever YOU say, whatever—Let it be, for we are your servants!