Mary, Interrupted

Mary is probably an early teenager, promised to Joseph and awaiting her marriage, when the appearance of an angel interrupts her plans for her life.

She is told not to be afraid (words angels always sayand that the Lord is with her (words God says to prophets in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament)). She’s told she will be pregnant with God’s child, and the only question she asks is how that could happen, given her virginity.

Personally, I might have “gone all Moses” on Gabriel if I were her, arguing and asking many questions.

But not Mary, she first asks how, and then states her identity as the Lord’s servant and agrees to her fate.

What a risk-taker!

She agrees to be pregnant out of wedlock in a time when women in her condition would be divorced in a way that brought her great shame, thus almost guaranteeing that she would never again have the opportunity to be married.[1] The pregnancy and the divorce would bring shame not only on her, but also on her entire family.

Her words, “I am the Lord’s servant . . . May your word to me be fulfilled” (Luke 1: 38 NIV), are not the words of a little kid. They are the words of a courageous woman of God who cares more about her identity as God’s servant and about her obedience to God than she cares about anything else. These are the words of a woman of focus and determination. 

When Mary makes this choice and states these words, the early Christian writer, Irenaeus says that she redeems the negative choice of her ancestor.

For as Eve was seduced by the word of an angel to flee from God, having rebelled against his word, so Mary by the word of an angel received the glad tidings that she would bear God by obeying his word. The former was seduced to disobey God [and so fell], but the latter was persuaded to obey God, so that the virgin Mary might become the advocate of the virgin Eve. As the human race was subject to death through [the act of] a virgin, so it was saved by a virgin, and thus the disobedience of the virgin was precisely balanced by the obedience of another.[2]

Mary’s act and words redeem Eve's acts and words. Click To Tweet

     “And then the angel left her” (Luke 1:38). Whatever proof she had that the baby was from God disappears, and so Mary does what anyone might have done—she runs to her cousin’s house. Perhaps it’s because the angel had mentioned her cousin, and she thinks she might be safe. There, she receives confirmation that she had actually heard God. Her cousin Elizabeth, pregnant with John the Baptist, feels John leap in her womb upon the appearance of Mary, and Elizabeth speaks, filled with the Spirit. She blesses Mary’s obedience and the child that would come from it.

And it is after she is blessed by Elizabeth that Mary sings the beautiful poem that we call the Magnificat, whose words echo Hannah’s in 1 Samuel 2. She begins, “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior” (Luke 1:46–47). To know Mary, we must realize when she declares these words. Does she glorify God when all is fulfilled and everyone understands it? Does she glorify God when she’s accepted by Joseph? Does she glorify God when Jesus is born? No, she glorifies God before all this. She glorifies God before most people would have even known she was pregnant. She glorifies God for God’s future actions, as though they are already accomplished. Click To Tweet

What a song of faith! She sees what is not as though it is! Lutheran Pastor in Nazi Germany, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, preaches on Mary’s words in an Advent sermon:

This song of Mary’s is the oldest Advent Hymn. It is the most passionate, most vehement, one might almost say, most revolutionary Advent hymn ever sung. It is not the gentle, sweet, dreamy Mary that we so often see portrayed in pictures, but the passionate, powerful, proud, enthusiastic Mary, who speaks here. None of the sweet, sugary, or childish tones that we find so often in our Christmas hymns, but a hard, strong, uncompromising song of bringing down rulers from their thrones and humbling the lords of this world, of God’s power and of the powerlessness of men. These are the tones of the prophetic women of the Old Testament: Deborah, Judith, Miriam, coming alive in the mouth of Mary.

Mary, filled with the Spirit and prepared. Mary, the obedient handmaid, humbly accepting what is to happen to her, what the Spirit asks of her, to do with her as the Spirit will, speaks now by the Spirit of the coming of God into the world, of the Advent of Jesus Christ. She knows better than anyone what it means to wait for Christ. He is nearer to her than to anyone else. She awaits him as his mother. She knows about the mystery of his coming, of the Spirit who came to her, of the Almighty God who works his wonders. She experiences in her own body that God does wonderful things with the children of men, that his ways are not our ways, that he cannot be predicted by men, or circumscribed by their reasons and ideas, but that his way is beyond all understanding or explanations, both free and of his own will.[3]

Mary’s words are words of valor and faith. She takes a risk that few would be courageous enough to take, stating, “I am the Lord’s servant . . . May your word to me be fulfilled,” and then faithfully proclaims what is not yet as though it is.

And this is just the first step.

If my life-plans were interrupted, would I respond like Mary? Click To Tweet

This is excerpted from The Book of Womanhood, Cascade Books, 2015.

[1] Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary, 48.

[2] As cited inWebber, Ancient-Future Time, 49.

[3] Bonhoeffer and Robertson, Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Christmas Sermons, 97.

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