Startling News, Audacious Courage

“Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”  Mary the mother of Jesus, to the angel announcing the coming birth of Jesus, as recorded in Luke 1:38

One of my heroes in the Gospel narratives is Mary, the mother of Jesus.  Her fortitude in dealing with the negativity and pressure of having the baby Jesus out of wedlock in that culture is inspiring.  Her ability to live on the run with an infant, fleeing and hiding from threats of death show great commitment, ingenuity and flexibility. Clearly, Mary had a strong and firm character.

Yet perhaps the greatest contribution we have from Mary’s story is the way in which her response to these events played out.  You see, the way in which Mary lived out her commitment to God’s calling gives us a clear picture to what it takes to live a New Covenant life today. We find the account of Mary’s calling to her part in our God’s redemption of people in Luke the first chapter.

“In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.  And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.”  But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.  The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.  And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus.  He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David.  He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”  Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?”

Mary has been given startling and disruptive news by the angelic messenger.   The implications were enormous on every level for this young maiden in a small, backwater village at the edge of Galilee.  I am sure that not the least of the startling and disruptive features was the delivery of the message by an angelic messenger.  How frightening would that be?  Then there is the two-part greeting from the angel.  “Greetings, favored one!  The Lord is with you.”

First, he describes her as a “favored one,” which was not a common idea for a young woman in that time and place.  Women did not normally enjoy favored status, especially in heavily male-dominated religious life. The angel then tells Mary, “The Lord is with you.”  That did not fit the old covenant understanding of how God related to His people.  The temple in Jerusalem represented the presence of the Lord God to the people.  To state the Lord was with Mary was an enormous departure from the commonly-held view of God.

The message goes on to be even more astounding.  “…you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus.  He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David.  He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”   Imagine the impact of these statements on a young girl, likely a teenager, engaged to a simple tradesman.  In that day, a common blessing was that a woman’s first born would be the Messiah, the Coming One.  For hundreds of years this is how women were given a blessing.  Mary is being chosen to bear that long-awaited Messiah into the world.

It gets better.  When Mary responds in honest confusion over how this might come to be, the angel’s response is equally astounding.  “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God.”  This was going to be a divine conception, without the agency of a human father.  This description of the conception is “inconceivable” news, to be sure.

It never ceases to amaze me, the response of Mary to this incredibly disruptive and astounding message.  “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”  Total trust in her God, simple faith, audacious courage.  It is the simple, straight-forward faith and trust that are important to us.   By her choice to accept her calling and obey the Lord’s will, Mary becomes the prototype of the New Covenant manner of living that is expected of every true disciple of Jesus.  Mary without hesitation chooses to be the one into whom the Holy Spirit would be poured, to let the Spirit of God bring the very Life of God inside of her.  She agrees to become the cup, the chalice that will hold the presence of God on earth.  She agrees to give up control over her life, to give up her plans and her will to let her God indwell her and have full control over her living. 

When we choose to be disciples of Jesus Christ, we too are asked to give up control over our life.   We are asked to give up our plans and our will in order to let God the Holy Spirit have His will and control over us.  The outcome of this will be the pouring of the Holy Spirit into us.  The life of our God will be lived in place of our lives.  As Paul describes it, it is no longer we who live but Christ Jesus who lives in us.

Here is the first of many challenges to us in the events of Jesus being incarnated as a human, living among us, demonstrating the Kingdom of God, and dying to redeem us from our sins.  It is the challenge of giving up total control over our living in abject humility, denying ourselves to let Him live His life in our place.  It is to see all of life through the words of Mary; ““Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

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