Most of life is lived in the mundane. For the most part our everyday lives are the same, going about our business and dealing with the daily grind. Occasionally the monotony is broken up with holidays, seeing old friends, vacations, or the rare surprise. We are common ordinary people. So, we can especially relate to Mary, at the conception of Jesus, because she is quite plain. Mary is in junior high. She wears consignment store clothing. She can’t read because girls of her day rarely did. Her parents make all the decisions that affect her life, including the one that she should be married to an older man named Joseph. We don’t know if she even liked him. She lives in a small town that most people can’t point to on a map.
One night, into the bedroom of this young girl comes the brightly beaming divine messenger Gabriel whose name means, “God has shown himself mighty” (Luke 1:26-38). Mary stands there in her flannel nightgown, her life very quickly moving from the ordinary to extraordinary. The juxtaposition could not be more pronounced: mighty angel and a plain teen-ager; messenger of the Most High God and a girl barely past puberty; holy angelic light in a simple candlelit bedroom; awesome power and complete vulnerability.
Mary, compared to Gabriel, is defenseless, fragile, and overwhelmed. She is in over her head. That is why we can relate to her. We can get our human arms around Mary. She’s like us. She has faced life with little power to make it turn out the way she planned. Forces beyond her have rearranged her life and altered it forever. She is the Matron Saint of the Ordinary. We can totally understand why Mary responds the way she does.
Mary’s initial reaction was to be greatly troubled. She was disturbed and shaking in her ratty old slippers. The angel confidently told Mary that she had found favor with God. In other words Mary was quite literally “graced” by God. The situation was not that Mary had some extreme spirituality but that God simply chose her to be the mother of Jesus. And Mary needed to come to grips with what was happening to her. This was not what she was looking for. Becoming pregnant with the Savior of the world was not an answer to prayer for Mary. This was not on her agenda.
Mary immediately sensed the crazy disconnect between what was being told to her and who she was. After all, she was a plain ordinary girl from the hick town of Nazareth and she was being told that she would raise a king. Maybe somebody in heaven screwed up. Maybe Gabriel got the wrong girl. Maybe his Google map popped up the wrong town to visit. Relating to Mary, we can totally understand that she would question how in the world all this was going to happen. Not only is Mary ordinary and far from royalty, but she is also very much a virgin. None of this made any sense.
But the angel lets Mary know that God specializes in the impossible. We do not always get straightforward answers to our questions about God, but Mary asked a question and got a straight answer: she really can be pregnant with Jesus because the Holy Spirit will come upon her, will overshadow her with power. If the story were to end here it would be a great story. But to me the most astonishing part of this narrative is Mary’s response to what was happening to her.
Mary believed the message, and having believed submitted herself completely to God’s will for her life. I think we would totally understand if Mary simply said in her ordinary way that she was not prepared for this. We would completely get it if Mary pushed back on what the angel said to her. We could relate if Mary just dismissed it all, like Scrooge in the Christmas Carol, with the angel and his message being all humbug as if it were just “an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato. There’s more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are!”
But Mary not only believes, she humbly submits herself to what is happening. And this is what we need to relate to most about Mary – not her being just a plain ordinary person in a non-descript village, but stepping up to the calling she received. We, too, have received a calling in our lives. We, too, have been given the power of the Holy Spirit. We, too, are ordinary people who have been given a very extraordinary task.
Mary responded to God’s revelation with faith, choosing to fully participate in what God was doing. “I am the Lord’s servant” is to be our confession, as well. “May it be to me as you have said” is to be our cry, along with Mary. The message we proclaim is that Jesus saves – he delivers from sin and Satan and will restore all things.
None of us needs to be extraordinary in order to be used of God. We just need a simple faith that God will do exactly what he said he will do. The church has a beautiful message of grace not only for this season, but all through the year. Let us embrace it, embody it, and share it.