In various apocryphal writings of the early church, this young Mary is presumed to be about fourteen years old when the angel Gabriel visits her with the astounding news we’ve just heard. Mary is betrothed, not yet married. Betrothals, which were legal and binding, were usually arranged between families when girls were still quite young, not accustomed to making decisions for themselves. (1) With the angel’s announcement to her, she is perplexed. She gives some resistance. How this can be, she to be the birthmother of the Son of God? She questions this, and she is afraid, as well she should.
The immediate problem was her being a virgin. There’s no question that she was a virgin. Were she not a virgin, she would already have been expelled from her family membership, at best, or stoned to death, at worst. No one would believe her obviously-concocted story about how she became pregnant. People 2,000 years ago would no more believe the Holy Spirit’s impregnating her any more than we would believe such a story of 14 year-old girl here-and-now. Mary would either be perceived as lying about her surreptitious sexual exploits with Joseph (or with someone else), or she would be branded as crazy. One or the other, or both. And she would know her fate as she pondered these things in her heart, what she was being asked to be and bear and become. Also, she could well have imagined that she would not be morally vindicated until this baby had grown up and proved himself to be the long-awaited Messiah. We could say that her initial hesitation proved to be well founded, insofar as Jesus was about 30 years old when he began his public ministry. That is, Mary would have to live with the fate of her acquiescence for almost 30 years without any vindication, and meanwhile having become an old woman.
We actually don’t know why Mary had “found favor” with God. In the opening two chapters of the Gospel according to Luke, Mary is portrayed as “thoughtful” (2), “obedient” (3), “believing” (4), “worshipful” (5), and devoted to Jewish law and piety (6). Luke names Mary in the company of believers when the church began (7). But none of these qualities are the reason why Mary was chosen, why she found favor with God. She was chosen by God, because she was God’s choice. That’s the only reason given. This was Mary’s destiny. This was God’s destiny for Mary, and somehow she got some glimpse of this in her finally surrendering to God. She doesn’t respond to God saying, “Now that I think about, this is actually what I want. This happens to be what I had in mind for my life, anyway. It’s a dream come true.” No, that’s not her response. She actually surrenders her will to the will of God. She says, ‘okay’: “Here I am. …Be it unto me according to your word.”
What is your destiny? What do you know about being visited by some message or some messenger from God? Have there been any dreams, or signs, or omens in your life, even going back to when you were quite young, about what you were to be or bear or give birth with your own life? Were you ever given a glimpse of the shape or path for your life, or is there something now, in this season of your life, that is dawning on you: God’s will for what your life is to be about now? If you know something about this, then you can likely identify with Mary’s’ resistance, with her question, “How can this be?” The example we see in Mary is to willfully surrender her will to God’s will for her destiny. And so for us: surrendering our will to God’s will, that God’s will inform our will. Surrendering to God’s will can evoke fear in our hearts, raise questions; instill resistance, given the qualities we see or don’t see in our own life; can be quite costly or difficult; lonely; perhaps misunderstood or judged harshly by people surrounding us. And yet, there’s enormous freedom, authority, and the outpouring of joy in saying “yes” to God, God’s destiny for our lives.
Mary needed help to claim her destiny. Joseph stuck with her, against all odds, and her cousin, Elizabeth, gave her much-needed, believable assurance. God has a call on your life. And you’re going to need help claiming that call. Help will be provided along the way.
1 The reference about betrothals and the subsequent-named personal qualities of Mary drawn from Interpretation; A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching, by Fred B. Craddock (John Knox Press, 1990); pp. 26-28.
2 Luke 1:29; 2:19, 51).
3 Luke 1:38.
4 Luke 1:45.
5 Luke 1:46.
6 Luke 2:22-51.
7 Acts 1:14.
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