The angel Gabriel appeared to her and said, “Greetings, favoured woman! The Lord is with you!” Confused, Mary tried to think what the angel could mean. “Don’t be afraid, Mary,” the angel told her, “for you have found favour with God! God is calling you and has a plan for you. He has a specific job that he wants you to do.” Mary asked the angel, “But how can this happen? I am young, female and unqualified in so many ways.” The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. You need not do this alone but rather God himself will equip you and give you the ability to do so. You do not need to do this in your own strength, but in the strength of the one who made you and loves you. Look at the others around you, others who have each been specially called despite their weaknesses and through whom I am working. For the word of God will never fail.” Mary responded, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” And then the angel left her.
~Paraphrase of Luke 1:28-38
I’ve been challenged recently on the role that Mary played in Jesus’ coming as a baby. How much choice and control did Mary have over the role that she would play? Was she simply told what was going to happen and not really given much option other than to go along with it? Or could the message the angel delivered be considered more of an offer or invitation, something that she had the freedom to either accept or decline?
Two and a half years ago I had a very clear experience where God told me that he wanted me to know him more. It was a statement, not a question, but I still had to make the decision myself of whether or not I wanted to know God more. It was as if God had put an offer or opportunity into my hands, but in order to take it up I had to turn back to him, say yes, and ask him to make it a reality, that I wanted him to show and teach me more about him. Had I turned back to him and said no, or not turned back at all, the opportunity that was placed into my hands that day would not have come to fruition, at least not at that time or in the way that it ultimately did.
On that day, more than 2000 years ago, God was calling Mary to be the mother to Jesus, to give birth to him and to raise him. God knew that she was a young and unwed girl but God had still chosen her as the one to be offered the opportunity. I am sensing that God is calling me to something too. He knows that I’m a young female, that I struggle with anxiety and have other weaknesses, but God has still chosen me to be offered the opportunity.
Mary’s initial response was “But how can this happen? I am a virgin.” Mary was aware of her weaknesses and how unqualified they made her for what was being suggested. Many many times I’ve told God that I’m the wrong person for what he is suggesting, that I’m not capable enough, that there are people more competent than me. I have questioned how God expects it to be possible given who I am.
The angel’s response to Mary’s initial reaction was the reassurance that “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.” That was how God planned to make it possible. It wasn’t going to be all up to Mary, but God was going to help her. How often I forget this, that God isn’t going to abandon me once I say yes, rather it will be through him that the yes will be made a reality.
It is interesting to see how Mary responds after the angel has left her (Luke 1:46-56), not just that it is with a song of praise but more specifically in relation to what she is praising God for. Mary praises God for having seen her and called her but the remainder of her song is about looking back. Mary finds certainty, comfort and reason for praise in all that God has already done. It is not her own past, present or future on which she focuses or relies, but it is in the past actions and promises of God in which she rejoices, “For the word of God will never fail” (v. 37).
Mary chose to say yes to God. I doubt she fully understood what it was that she was saying yes to, only that God was asking whether she was willing to be part of something important. God was aware of all of Mary’s weaknesses and insufficiencies, the least of these that she was an unwed teenage girl, but did not see these as disqualifications. It would be through God that it would be possible, Mary’s role was simply to be prepared to say yes.