In the Jesus story, right now looking at Mary the mother of Jesus and the world she lived in. It’s a world with a booming economy, but lots of people get left out. But in this booming economy, in this world where Caesar is called the “son of god”, the angel Gabriel comes to Mary saying REJOICE! You could say this is the proper beginning of New Testament. Now we are stepping into Good News. Rejoice! When the angel makes his enunciation with the word “rejoice”, Good News is indeed breaking into the world. The long dark night is at last coming to and end. It is time to rejoice!
God is keeping his promise to bless the world through the seed of Abraham. Rejoice!!
God is keeping his promise to rule over the nations through the Son of David. Rejoice!!
This child who will bless the world and rule the nations is about to be born. REJOICE!!
But then Mary speaks. How will this be, since I am a virgin? To which the angel answers The Holy Spirit will come upon you…of course it is from this that we get part of the apostles creed where we confess of Jesus Christ – “He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary…”
The great Swiss theologian Karl Barth points out that there are 2 moments in Jesus story where God himself intervened directly in his creation. These two moments are the Virgin birth and resurrection. It is no surprise that these two moments are the dual foundation of our Christian faith. It all really comes down to Merry Christmas and happy Easter. It is all about the incarnation and the resurrection…
Even though God intervened – He does not override Mary’s human freedom. Mary is free to say no. The angel Gabriel here awaits Mary’s response before leaving her. We see Mary ask her questions. How will this be, since I am a virgin? We see the angel answer her. “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 called holy—the Son of God. And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” St Augustine had a famous sermon, about 1600 years ago. In his sermon Augustine portrayed this moment as a hush falling over heaven as God and all the angels awaited Mary’s response. Then she speaks – “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her. And all the angels and heaven rejoiced and did backflips. Rejoice indeed. God’s intervention hinges on Mary’s yes.
Mary’s cousin Elizabeth, who was carrying John the Baptist at the time, said of Mary “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” Luke 1:42 ESV. Mary said yes to God. But saying yes to god does not mean Mary’s life will be easy. We think it’s all about “Say yes to be blessed!”. But for Mary, sometimes it was just the opposite. Saying yes sometimes meant meant embarking on life etched with sorrow. As Simeon so correctly prophesied of Mary at Jesus’ temple dedication “…and a sword will pierce through your own soul…”Luke 2:35 ESV.
She will live her entire life under the shadow of assumed scandal. Joseph would have divorced her. He has only one assumption when his betrothed turns up pregnant . But an angel comes to Joseph – “But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”” Matthew 1:20-21 ESV. But the angel didn’t go to everybody. There were plenty of people in that backwoods of Nazareth who knew that Mary had come up pregnant by someone other than her husband. It follows her her whole life, it will cause her suffering.
After her baby is born, we don’t know how long, maybe a month, maybe six months, maybe a year, there are thugs from King Herod seeking to kill her son. She and Joseph have to escape to Egypt. This doesn’t sound like Mary said yes to be blessed, does it? It doesn’t sound like her life got easy and happy after she said yes to God.
Jesus escaped, but lots of little boys died in this search for Christ. Does Mary have guilt that her son is the one who survives? Does this put an additional burden upon her, that because King Herod wanted to kill her baby a lot of other babies died. Running for your life, having the burden of the death of other women’s babies on your conscience, this doesn’t sound like an easy life…
Mary was also there at cross when her first born was crucified. Jesus will always her her first born. Whatever else Jesus was, Jesus was always her first born child. Yes, Jesus was her Lord and savior, but he was also her son. In this way Mary is extraordinarily unique. And yes, she lived through seeing her own son tortured on a Roman cross.
The days we live in are shallow and cheap. We in turn present a version of Christianity that we ourselves can handle. We present to the world that saying “yes” to God means your on the fast track to happiness. But what if it’s not so. Yes, we know saying yes to God will save you, will get you out of certain struggles. But what if saying yes to God gets you into other trouble? What if it saves you from this trouble only to throw you into that? What if it brings with it baggage you’re going to have to struggle with and might make your life more difficult? What if????
There IS joy in getting involved with god. He saves you from your sin and other things that are killing your soul, but know that there will also be sorrow. The message to Mary – REJOICE!! and get ready for sorrow. Can you accept it, can you receive this, can we handle that? Will we say thanks, but no thanks? I’m Glad Mary did not.
Christianity is filled with paradoxes. As we engage our life with god, we gain the capacity for real sorrow but at same time real joy. Mary will know both. It’s part of the reason for our fascination with her.
We know that joy will have the last word, But we don’t get there in a cheap, easy way. Along the way there will be sorrow. It might be comforting to know that at least when we go through sorrow it’s part of Christ being formed within us. We don’t have to feel guilty for going through a hard time.
How can we look at Mary?? How do we understand her? We know this much about her, that she is a human being in whom Christ was formed. AMEN! Literally. Here is a human being in whom Christ was formed. And just what are we to be? Men and women in whom Christ is formed. We are to be like Mary, a bearer of God into the world.
In Mary, there is a tension between deep joy but also profound sorrow. It should be comforting to know that sorrow is part of Christ being formed in us. It’s not abnormal, but a part of the process we go through as Christians, part of our spiritual formation. We say yes to God, but life doesn’t always go our way. We don’t get to be happy all the time. But the struggles and sorrows we go through are just part of the process of growing in Christ, as Christ grows within us. It’s all part of the mystery of Mary…
“In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name 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 father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” And the angel answered her, “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 called holy—the Son of God. And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.”
Luke 1:26-38 ESV