I’ve been thinking about you, Mary. This time of year I tend to think of you a lot – partly because everywhere in this season of short days and long nights we hear about you in our carols and in our scripture readings. In the Lutheran church we don’t tend to spend as much time talking about you as do our brothers and sisters in the catholic church, but this time of year we turn our gaze toward you a bit more.
I’ll always remember how much I thought about you the two Decembers I was pregnant with my sons. I felt like I experienced the Advent season, the season of waiting and expectation, in a whole new way then, and I thought about you, Mary, in a new way. Between you and me, during the worship services on Christmas Eve those years I was boiling in my robe and stole, both my boys were like little furnaces growing bigger by the day – so I was always hot. The Christmas tree in the sanctuary at my church in Colorado obstructed the view of the chairs where the pastors sat, and so during the hymns, I stood behind that tree, took off my shoes, and rested my face on the cool marble pillar back there. I was so hot, so tired, so not glowing or any of the good things they say about pregnant women – but I was thankful. And I thought about you, Mary. You were no longer just a character in a story I had heard my whole life. You were a mom, like me.
But of course, much different than me, too – because your pregnancy was announced to you by an angel and all. And you were probably about fourteen years old at most. You had never slept with a man, you were unmarried.
So, when Luke writes that you were “perplexed” or “troubled” at what the angel was announcing to you, I tend to think that must have been an understatement of biblical proportions. I mean, I feel perplexed or a bit troubled when the dryer quits working or if there is stain on the couch that has appeared that no one is taking responsibility for. But when an angel appears with news that is not only going to change your life but the entire world through you – well, I can think of better words to use: stupefied, astonished, flabbergasted, dumbfounded.
And, Mary, isn’t it wild how streamlined Luke makes your story? I mean, just a few neat and tidy verses and your tale is told. In verse 31 you begin to find out all that is about to happen. You ask one question, “how exactly is this going to happen?” in verse 34, and by verse 38 you say essentially, “Okay then.”
Pretty sure that moment wasn’t quite so neat, tidy, and quick as Luke portrays it. Mary, only you and God and perhaps Gabriel got a glimpse, too, of how this really went down. I’ve been thinking about you and wondering – If you felt terrified, if you wanted to say “pick another girl from the village, please!”, if you had sleepless nights over the months that followed as you wondered, and worried at this strange blessing that was happening to you.
Through history you are often portrayed as so meek and mild. But Mary, that’s not how I think of you. I think of how brave you were. Brave to say, “Here I am, the servant of the Lord, let it be with me according to your word,” even if your voice was trembling when you said it. God blessed you with that bravery and Gabriel reminded you that nothing is impossible with God. I wonder if you repeated that to yourself over and over, a mantra of sorts that held you up through the morning sickness, the swelling, the heartburn, all the glorious accompaniments to pregnancy? “nothing is impossible, nothing is impossible, nothing is impossible with God.”
I think about you, Mary, and this story of how you believed and trusted God. For however many doubts were woven in along with it, God blessed you with just enough faith – and you leaned into that faith to carry you through all that was to come. Day by day.
That’s what I wish Luke could have written more about. Sure, he was just trying to tell a story and it’s easy to criticize the storyteller, but he made it sound so easy. We get to learn so little about you and we are left to wonder so much. And if we aren’t careful we can think that you had some superhuman faith and bravery and if we were only better people, we would have that kind of faith and bravery, too. We can think that as followers of God we can’t have doubts and we need to be sure and certain all the time, confident as we proclaim with voices that don’t shake, “Here I am, Lord, let it be with me according to your word.”
But you were a fourteen year old girl, Mary. Maybe as young as twelve. You were the age of a middle-schooler. You were a human being, like any of us. Luke doesn’t write about your fears or hesitations, he doesn’t linger over how common you were, how completely unremarkable you were compared to any other girl alive in those days. Rather, he focuses on what happened through you – which is, of course, the point. Jesus is the point. Jesus is the reason. Jesus is Christmas.
But you mattered, Mary. You mattered so much – I hope you knew that. You matter because we all matter. You matter because you remind us that God is able to work through any of us. You remind us that the extraordinary can still happen – because nothing is impossible with God.
26-28 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to the Galilean village of Nazareth to a virgin engaged to be married to a man descended from David. His name was Joseph, and the virgin’s name, Mary. Upon entering, Gabriel greeted her:
You’re beautiful with God’s beauty,
Beautiful inside and out!
God be with you.
29-33 She was thoroughly shaken, wondering what was behind a greeting like that. But the angel assured her, “Mary, you have nothing to fear. God has a surprise for you: You will become pregnant and give birth to a son and call his name Jesus.
He will be great,
be called ‘Son of the Highest.’
The Lord God will give him
the throne of his father David;
He will rule Jacob’s house forever—
no end, ever, to his kingdom.”
34 Mary said to the angel, “But how? I’ve never slept with a man.”
35 The angel answered,
The Holy Spirit will come upon you,
the power of the Highest hover over you;
Therefore, the child you bring to birth
will be called Holy, Son of God.
36-38 “And did you know that your cousin Elizabeth conceived a son, old as she is? Everyone called her barren, and here she is six months pregnant! Nothing, you see, is impossible with God.”
And Mary said,
Yes, I see it all now:
I’m the Lord’s maid, ready to serve.
Let it be with me
just as you say.
Then the angel left her. (Luke 1: 26-38)