Mary the mother of Jesus gets ignored most of the time in my experience.
I think she is passed over by many as a protestant reaction to the Catholic Church’s treatment of Mary. In an effort to separate themselves from the Mary-worship that happens in other parts of Christendom, protestant churches tend to gloss over the wonderful testimony of faith and sacrifice that Mary made for the Lord.
Mary’s story, to me, is humbling, inspiring, and thought-provoking.
Most Bible scholars think that Mary was between 14 and 16 years old when Jesus was born. That means she was between 13 and 15 years of age when the Angel Gabriel visited her, calling her favored of God.
My oldest son is almost 15 and his brother just turned 12. I’m thinking about the young ladies I know that are their age and wondering if they would respond with the same level of humble submission as Mary did.
I know at age 13, I was still struggling to submit to my parents, let alone to the potential consequences of an unwed pregnancy in ancient Israel.
We tend to think, it’s just an unwed pregnancy, big deal.
But it was a big deal.
A huge deal.
According to Hebrew marriage customs, Mary and Joseph were already married even though they had not consummated their relationship. That meant that Mary risk being stoned for adultery when she was found to be pregnant. This was part of the Mosaic Law.
Mary knew this. She knew that she either faced death by stoning, or –if Joseph didn’t publicly reject her– she faced the scorn and ridicule of those around her for what they would perceive as her sin.
Mary had done nothing wrong.
She was right where God wanted her, walking in obedience to His word.
God brought into her life the most wonderful Gift in all of history.
But that gift would also be a trial because those around her would not understand.
They would assume sin.
They might accuse.
They might even judge and shun.
From her song in Luke we know that Mary had a very firm grasp on scripture, on God’s power and His faithfulness.
Mary may have been confused, because although the Hebrew people anxiously awaited their Messiah, they did not expect Him to enter the world in this humble manner.
They were expecting a triumphant king who would free them from the Roman domination, not a suffering servant who would die for their sins.
Both are prophesied in the Old Testament, but prophecy is hard to understand when you’re looking forward and much clearer when you’re looking back.
Mary must have suspected that no one would understand.
That for her whole life she would bear a stigma of being sinful when the truth was that God had chosen her for something holy and wonderful.
I would have been curious, too.
Staring the possibility of spousal rejection, social alienation, and possibly even death in the face, she said one simple phrase that will stay with me until I take my last breath.
What inner strength this young woman must have had!
She –knowing full well it might mean death– surrendered herself fully into God’s hands.
One could argue that the angel provided comfort or that she somehow knew God would take care of her.
One could even argue that it was an honor to bear the Christ Child, and she shouldn’t even have thought of herself.
Maybe she didn’t.
Maybe she only thought about how wonderful it was that God had chosen her.
But still these words echo back in my mind bouncing around like a pinball trying to find a resting place.
“Be it done as you have said: I am the handmaid of the Lord.”
Basically, she said, I surrender to the plan you have for me, because I’m your servant.
How many times have I fought God’s plan for me?
When something comes my way, and it’s not of my doing: it’s not even anything I can control…
How many times have I squawked and clawed and bit to try to get my own way before ever even considering that He might know best?
How many times has He dragged me kicking and screaming like a pouty child to what He has planned for me?
How many times have I resented the path He chose for me because it was hard?
Or others wouldn’t understand?
Or it’s not what someone said was supposed to happen when you trusted God?
Or that’s not how other Bible believing people think it should be?
Or I might be judged for sin when I was actually righteous?
When was the last time I was faced with a serious hardship and I simply said, “Whatever you have for me, Lord, I’m just your servant”?
When was the last time surrender was my first choice instead of my last when I finally I realized I couldn’t argue my way out?
When’s the last time I just let God be God and said, “Not mine, but Your will be done”?
This is why this story should not be skipped over.
To me, it’s a story of wonderful faith and courage that just happens to be part of the Christmas story.
It’s a story of a woman who faced injustice and trial with dignity.
It’s really breathtaking to be able to glance into the heart of the young women who God chose –from all of time and history– to be the mother of His child.
She’s worth a second look and more than a bit part in the Christmas play.
She’s an example to all women –and all people– who would follow hard after God.
We know very little about her life, and yet in one sentence she can bring me to tears.
May I have the faith of Mary!
May I embrace the life God has chosen for me with a willing and humble spirit –regardless of what problems that path may bring.
May my lips ever whisper: “Be it done as You will: I’m the handmaid of the Lord.”
PS The title image is Our Lady, the Blessed Virgin Mary, by artist Giovanni Battista Salvi da Sassoferrato (1609 – 1685).