Did Mary Want to Be Mary?
Thirteen-year-old Mary, standing by the spring of Nazareth and listening to the sound of water bubbling forth from the rock, heard the words of the messenger, and she tried desperately to take it all in. Would she really be the mother of the Messiah? She was to be pregnant, though out of wedlock. What would her family think? What would Joseph do? She asked Gabriel, “Tell me once more, how will this thing be?”
Yet, with her head spinning, filled with questions, uncertain what it all meant, Mary’s response to Gabriel was simple and profound. She did not need to understand fully. She simply said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).
Mary said, “Yes,” despite knowing that, according to the law, young women who were legally engaged but found to be pregnant by someone other than their betrothed were to be stoned to death. (See Deuteronomy 22:23-24.) She said, “Yes,” despite knowing that some women died in childbirth. She said, “Yes,” despite knowing that it would mean the end of the dreams she had for her wedding day, and it would likely lead to Joseph calling off the marriage. She said, “Yes,” despite knowing that she might be an unwed mother with child.
Protestants have long reacted to what they perceive as an overemphasis on Mary within Roman Catholicism. We hear Roman Catholics refer to Mary as the “Queen of Heaven” and we chafe a bit. We’ve reacted by downplaying Mary and minimizing the role she played in God’s plan.
However, it is important to stop and recognize that, aside from Jesus himself, no other human being played so crucial a role in the salvation of the human race as Mary. The redemption of humanity, and God’s plans to step into our world, all hinged upon what Mary would say to Gabriel, the messenger.
Her assent set in motion the mystery of the Incarnation. As a consequence of her willingness, Mary’s own body knit together the Messiah. It was her blood that carried nutrients to the child. It was her tender words, spoken and sung as mothers do to the children in their wombs, that quieted and comforted him. For nine months, divinity resided within her womb. No one before or since has had such intimate union with God. An ancient Christian hymn captures Mary’s role in our salvation when it says, “He whom the entire universe could not contain was contained within your womb.” The early church called her Theotokos—the one who gives birth to God—as a way of capturing both the identity of her son and the importance of her role in this story.
When Mary finally gave birth to Jesus and suckled him, the Son of God was fed and sustained by the milk from her breasts. She tenderly held him. She changed his diapers and bathed him and sang him to sleep. She taught him and instilled in him faith in his heavenly Father. She feared for him, cried for him, and, more than anything, loved him. And, thirty-three years after his birth, she stood by and wept as her son died on a Roman cross.
These are deep, profound thoughts, and we have only begun to explore them. For while this part of the story is Mary’s, we find ourselves in the story too. Writing in a blog for The Christian Century a few years ago, Christian Coon told the story of a children’s Christmas pageant at the church where he was pastor. Dozens of children had come for the chance to sing and dance and dress up as wise men and shepherds, as sheep, donkeys, and camels. None of the boys were fighting over the chance to play Joseph, because he didn’t get any lines. But then the director asked, “Now, who wants to be Mary?”
Hands shot up and eyes danced as all the little girls jumped up and down. Every one of them wanted to be Mary. Hers was the starring role!
But then Coon asked this question: “Do you think Mary wanted to be Mary?” What do you think? Knowing the scandal and potential punishment for conception outside of wedlock, knowing that her hopes and dreams for a traditional wedding would come to an end, do you think Mary wanted to be Mary? Yet, with heart pounding, with uncertainty, fear, and confusion, Mary’s response was clear: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord.”
As we consider that moment of decision for Mary, we see in her a witness and an example of how we are meant to live. Her mission reminds us that God’s call is sometimes difficult. It may lead us to set aside our own plans. It may mean giving up hopes and dreams we have cherished for a lifetime. It may mean risks. It may be frightening.
Sometimes God asks us to be with people we don’t want to be with, to go to places we don’t want to go to, and to do things we don’t want to do. This is part of what Mary’s story teaches us. Mary is twice said to be favored by God, and yet God’s favor meant not a life of bliss, but a life of risk. It must have been hard to imagine that this was what it meant to be favored by God.
Knowing how Mary responded to God’s request, we are inspired, with her, to say, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”
As we prepare our hearts for Christmas, we remember the little town of Nazareth and God’s choice of a young woman from this humble village through whom he would do his greatest work. This season brings us an invitation as surely as Gabriel brought Mary an invitation. Part of the invitation of Advent, the season leading up to Christmas, is to offer ourselves wholly to God just as Mary did. Christmas is not about how much you buy or what you eat or whom you visit. It is about your willingness to say, with Mary, “Here am I, Lord. Use me according to your will.”
This article is excerpted from Adam Hamilton's new book, The Journey: Walking the Road to Bethlehem ©2011 Abingdon Press. The Journey Advent Calendar app is now available in the iTunes store and Android Market.