In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”
Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David,and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”
“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”
The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So, the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail.”
“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her. (New International Version)
It is good that the Daily Lectionary has us considering these verses of Scripture outside of the Advent season. In this time of year, in which we focus on the Spirit, we need to remember that these stories, and our faith, are meant to be held throughout the entire year.
Most of life is lived in the mundane, even in times of uncertainty. For the most part, our everyday lives involve going about our business and dealing with the daily grind. That’s because we are common ordinary people. So, we can especially relate to Mary because she is rather plain.
To put Mary’s life in our contemporary vernacular, at the time of this encounter with the angel, she is of junior high age but has never attended school. She wears mostly clothes from Goodwill, and occasionally can get some from Wal-Mart. She cannot 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. Mary lives in a small town that most people cannot even 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.” Mary stands there in her ratty old flannel nightgown, her life very quickly moving from the ordinary to the extraordinary.
The juxtaposition could not be more pronounced: a mighty angel and a plain teen-ager; a messenger of the Most High God and a girl barely past puberty; a holy angelic light which beams in a simple candlelit bedroom; an awesome power encountering complete vulnerability.
Mary, compared to Gabriel, is defenseless, fragile, and overwhelmed. She’s in way over her head. That’s why we can relate to her. We can get our human arms around Mary. She is 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.
Mary is the Matron Saint of the Ordinary. We can totally understand why Mary responds the way she does. Mary’s initial reaction to the angel Gabriel was to be greatly troubled. She was disturbed and shaking in her hand-me-down slippers.
The angel confidently told Mary that she had found favor with God. This scenario didn’t happen because Mary had some extreme spirituality. Instead, God simply chose her to be the mother of Jesus.
Mary needed to come to grips with what was happening to her. This was well beyond anything she could have expected. Becoming pregnant with the Savior of the world was not even remotely on her radar.
She 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 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 sent Gabriel on a wild goose chase.
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. Nothing about any of this made any sense.
But, then again, this is the very sort of thing that the wild and seemingly reckless Holy Spirit would do.
The angel let Mary know that God specializes in the impossible. There is nothing outside of God’s power. There’s nowhere we can go, no place on earth, no situation whatsoever, that is beyond God’s ability and reach to affect divine power.
We very rarely get straightforward answers to our questions about God. Yet, 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 there it would be a great story. However, the Spirit’s work goes well beyond effecting the miraculous. The Spirit also brings about faith.
Mary believed the message and submitted herself completely to God’s will. We may completely understand if Mary simply said in her plain ordinary way that she was not prepared for this. We would totally “get it” if Mary pushed back on what the angel said to her. We could relate if Mary just dismissed the angel’s presence as a hallucination from using some bad chickpeas to make the hummus.
Yet, Mary not only believed; she also humbly submitted herself to what was happening. And this is what I believe 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.
Our response today can be the same as Mary all those centuries earlier: “I am the Lord’s servant; may it be to me as you have said.”
The Church is pregnant with possibilities because of the Holy Spirit.
We know the end of Mary’s story. She gave birth to Jesus and raised him in her plain ordinary way. She watched him grow up and embark on a ministry to proclaim that the kingdom of God is near. Mary didn’t always understand what Jesus said or what he was doing. And she experienced every mother’s nightmare in seeing her beloved son killed in a terribly gruesome manner right in front of her eyes.
Yet, just as the Holy Spirit was with the birth of Jesus, so the Spirit was with Jesus at his resurrection from the dead. Jesus lived an ordinary life in a very extraordinary way. Furthermore, today Jesus invites us to do the same.
Because Christ accomplished his mission of saving people from their sins and establishing a kingdom that will never end, he has given us the same Holy Spirit to follow him forever and call other people to follow him, too.
To trust and obey is God’s only way to live into the life of Jesus. The Christian life may often be difficult, but it isn’t complicated. It’s rather simple, just like Mary.
Mary responded to God’s revelation with faith, choosing to fully participate in what God was doing. “I am the Lord’s servant” is our confession, as well. Along with Mary we declare, “May it be to me as you have said.”
Good and gracious God, thank you for giving us your Son, the Lord Jesus. Draw us into the mystery of your love. Join our voices with the heavenly host, that we may sing your glory on high. Give us a place amongst all of your saints so that we may experience your Word made flesh, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, in the splendor of eternal light, God forever and ever. Amen.