And Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.-Luke 1:38
Mary is the focus of the gospel reading today. This is the Mary before dogmatic interpretations, before she was dressed with royal garments and majestic titles. She is just Mary, plain and simple. Most likely, no one ever took any notice of her. Definitely they would have never imagined that her name would be remembered with reverence after two thousand years.
There are several traditions related to Mary’s parentage but, in the canonical gospels, we are only informed that Mary lived in the temple. Her parents do not appear to be in the picture anymore. Elizabeth, the mother of John, perhaps was her only living relative. Therefore, it is safe to assume that she was an orphan. She survived on the charity of others and even Joseph’s betrothal to her was considered as an act of kindness on his part. Apparently, Elizabeth and Joseph were the only people who were concerned about her well-being and the Holy Spirit testified to both about her pregnancy. She was basically a young teen alone in this world. There was nothing remarkable or spectacular about her. To make matters worse, she was poor and an orphan. The future did not seem very bright for this young girl. Her only place of refuge was the temple where she could be safe from any exploitation. She seems to have a similar story with our children. Except that in our present time, the streets have replaced the temple.
The angel never said why God chose her. The churches have many theories which have transformed Mary into super spiritual saint. I understand the intention behind it. They did it because Mary is our only witness to the virgin birth. They wanted her to be above suspicion. However, the authentic nature of the Virgin Birth is not something we prove through the testimony of witnesses. It is a Truth that is realized through the Holy Spirit.
As for Mary, the Bible just says that she was the one God chose to be the mother of Jesus and He has no obligation to give us any reason for His choice. It was quite simple and in a way, it is beautiful in itself. God chose an orphan whom society considered as insignificant or perhaps even a burden. I have no doubt that Mary was a devout young girl and I am also sure that there were devout virgins during the time. God did not choose her because of her sanctity. It is not a choice based on merit but it is purely God’s grace. Besides, it seems like God chooses underdogs to reveal His love to the world. Perhaps, we need to focus on this fact. God seems to have a preference for those whom society deems as insignificant to accomplish His work.
It is not first time He done this. It is basically the story of almost every personality in the Bible. God chose an enslaved nation to be His chosen people. He called the most unlikely shepherd boy, overlooked by his own father, to become the greatest king of Israel. Jesus chose common and perhaps unqualified people to become his apostles. He chose a despised Pharisee who persecuted Christians with a vengeance to become the apostle to the gentiles. The Bible is full of such examples and our religious history is also full of women and men who often overlooked that ended up doing great things for the Kingdom of God. There is a tendency for the church to be influenced by worldly standards to transform these people into some sort of super heroes. This is a great disservice to the message of gospel and it is also disrespectful to these saints. I am sure that Mary would reject all the titles that have been given to her by the churches. She has no use for them. She discovered the one needful thing that has made her life full of significance. She said, “Yes” to God. She chose life when she said that she was a handmaiden of God. She did not sacrifice anything to become Jesus’ mother. She had nothing to sacrifice. She had nothing in this world. This helped her see the life that was being offered to her.
I think that the most powerful message that the biblical Mary can teach us today is to say, “yes” to God. There is no sacrifice in saying “yes” to God. In fact, the contrary is true. We lose everything when we say “no” to him. Sometimes we are blinded by the things we possess and status that we have in this world. We think that we need all these things plus the gospel to be happy. In the end, we end up holding onto things that are meaningless and give up the One thing that is needful. Mary was the perfect candidate because she had nothing to hold her back from saying “Yes!”
The story in the gospel reading above sounds like a Christmas story but it is still essentially an Advent story. It is still about waiting. It is not about waiting for Christmas. We can’t wait for something that already happened. It is waiting for God to manifest His Kingdom in a clear and precise manner to the world. The story is also a warning. It reveals to us where to wait. The religious authorities waited in high and lofty places for the Messiah. However, God appeared to the world in the same way He has always done. He appeared among those who are meek and forgotten. As Christians, if we considered ourselves to be people who are waiting for the Messiah, then we need to know where to wait for Him. He hasn’t changed. He will continue to manifest Himself among those whom the world rejects. This is why He admonished his disciples to be among the poor, imprisoned, orphans and widows, basically among those who are easily overlooked. Not because we are superior to these. The contrary is true. They understand that whatever God has to offer to them is infinitely better than what the world has to offer. Mary said “Yes” because she knew all the securities and honor that this world could offer is garbage compared to the gospel.
“Indeed I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as refuse, in order that I may gain Christ. ”-Philippians 3:8
She never said these words but St Paul, another unlikely servant, articulated it perfectly. Many of us are still holding onto garbage. We need to be with people like Mary to realize the truth of our fantasies.
Our children and teens are in an excellent place to see the world as Mary did. When we see them in this situation, we just see hopelessness and poverty. However, God sees them as great and potential servants like the Mother of His Son, Jesus. These are the kind of people God usually chooses to reveal His kingdom to the world. He does make strange choices.