Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Advent Lessons: Mary

Mary was engaged to be married to a carpenter named Joseph. She was a young woman, and so far her life was probably proceeding much as she had always imagined it would. She would be married to a good man, together they would raise a family, enjoying a modest but hopefully happy life. Then an angel came to visit her, changing everything and nothing all at once. The angel told her that God wanted her to bear His own son. She was going to be made pregnant by the Holy Spirit now, while she was still a virgin. She was still supposed to marry Joseph and have the family she always wanted, but it would be a different kind of family. This pregnancy would mean that her reputation could be tainted because she was not yet married. She would have to raise a son who would be God incarnate, perhaps the most challenging task anyone had ever faced. She didn't know it yet, but she would even have to flee with her family and live in exile because her son would have powerful enemies before he was even born.

When the angel delivered this startling news to Mary, she probably couldn't even begin to imagine the implications. Still, she must have understood that she was being asked to give up control of her life. The angel did not ask for her consent. He simply explained God's plan for her life and what would happen. Yet, Mary knew it was important for her to accept the future that God had shaped for her. "I am the Lord's servant," she said to Gabriel. "May it be to me as you have said." She went to visit her cousin Elizabeth to find support in this emotionally challenging time in her life. Together the two women encouraged each other and celebrated the plans that God had for them.

Perhaps God chose Mary precisely because He knew that she would meekly accept His rather extreme interference in her life. He knew that she would love His son, not resent the upheaval in her life that Jesus would represent. She could accept the enormity of bearing God's son and could endure the miracle that would appear to be scandal to everyone else. She would love Jesus and would be a devoted mother to him, no matter how many changes and challenges he brought to her life.

Faced with the prospect of being chosen to bear God's son, Mary did not lament that she had lost control of her own destiny. Instead, she proclaimed, "My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me—holy is his name." I like to think that even in the dark times when she was on the run from Herod's soldiers and even when she saw Jesus led off to be crucified, she remembered these words. Somehow, because this was God's plan, everything would be worth it. Despite the hardships, she wouldn't have wished that God had chosen someone else instead of her. She was God's servant, and she truly wanted to do whatever He asked of her.

Not many of us are such willing servants. We prize our autonomy and our independence so dearly. Which of us would want an unplanned pregnancy at all, much less a baby fathered by God? Which of us would be willing to completely turn over our lives to God? Would we be more like Moses, trying to talk God out of His crazy plan, or would we accept meekly as Mary did? God chose many obstinate people to be his servants, and he somehow managed to talk even the skeptics like Moses and Jonah into doing what He had chosen them to do. Yet he chose a woman who didn't argue at all to do the most important job of all—to bear and raise His only son. God has had many servants through the generations, but Mary was one of a kind. She was willing to trust her God completely, even when He chose her to do something that should have been impossible. Many would call Mary naive and overly passive because of this, but I find her to be admirable.

Would the life Mary had planned for herself have been better than the life God chose for her? I think if Mary were here today, she would tell us that nothing could ever have been better than carrying the son of God under her heart and loving him passionately all 33 years of his life on Earth. She could never regret being a part of something so incredible, and that's exactly what God chose her. Perhaps I too may be chosen for wonderful things if I can truly be a willing servant. 

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