In yesterday’s reflection, we consider Zechariah’s hesitant and doubtful response to the angel’s news that Elizabeth, his elderly wife, would bear a son. Today’s Scripture passage portrays a different response to God’s surprises.
Once again, our passage is full of surprises. No doubt Mary was startled by the angel’s visit since this sort of thing is pretty rare. Luke tells us that when Gabriel said, “Greetings, favored woman! The Lord is with you!” Mary was “confused and disturbed” (1:29). The angel went on to tell Mary that she was going to give birth to a son. Now this was surprising since Mary had not been sexually intimate with a man. But there was still more. Mary’s son would be called “the Son of the Most High” (1:32). He would be the long-awaited Messiah whose kingdom will never end (1:33).
But there was one more giant surprise yet to come. Mary asked, “But how can this happen? I am a virgin.” She was probably expecting to hear that her fiancé, Joseph, would be the father of her child once they were fully married. The angel had different news. By the power of God, Mary would become pregnant while still a virgin. As wonderful as this sounds from our point of view, to Mary this was mixed news indeed. To be the mother of the Messiah, amazingly good! To become pregnant outside of marriage, amazingly bad! Women could be disowned by their families for this, or even stoned to death. Joseph, unless he believed her astounding story, would no doubt reject Mary as his wife. The angel’s surprise was a mixed blessing, filled with great and terrible tidings.
So how did Mary respond? She said to the angel: “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true” (1:38). As I read this, I hear echoes of the King James Version, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.” Be it unto me according to thy word! What a stirring response! This reminds me of the prayer Mary’s son would utter one day in the Garden of Gethsemane when faced with the choice to give up his life or not: “Not my will, but yours, be done” (22:42).
Mary exemplifies the kind of response to God’s surprises that I would like in my own life. Though God completely spun her life around, though he called her to something simultaneously wonderful and daunting, though Mary knew that her life would never be what she expected it to be, she nevertheless offered herself to God in faithful, free submission. Thus, she models the heart of worship, the giving of ourselves to the one who has given everything to us. Mary’s example challenges and encourages us to have the courage to say to the Lord: “Be it unto me according to thy word!”
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: Have you ever responded to the Lord in a way rather like that of Mary? What would help you respond to God’s surprises with such faith? Is God calling you to something in your life right now, something that deserves a Mary-like response?
PRAYER: Dear Lord, how thankful I am for Mary. To be sure, I am thankful for her uniquely astounding role as the one who bore the Savior, the very Word of God. But today, I am grateful for her model of faith. Though what she heard from the angel would turn her life upside down, she nevertheless was able to accept your will for her life.
In this season of Advent, help me, dear Lord, to be like Mary. May I be like Mary when I’m confronted with something big and overwhelming. But may I also be like Mary each and every moment of each and every day, offering myself to you with trust and obedience.
O Lord, may it be unto me according to thy word! Amen.