Updated: Dec 13, 2022
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her. (Luke 2:26-38 NRSV)
“Spencer, you are going to have to sit down,” my wife said.
“Why?” I asked, sitting down nevertheless. My wife was calling from the doctor’s for a routine check-up early on in her pregnancy. My mind immediately jumped to conclusions, fearing the worst. “Is something wrong?”
“The ultrasound shows that we are having twins.”
“Oh,” I said, glad I was sitting down, feeling a bit weak in the knees. My wife and I, after having three boys, really wanted to have a girl. As I tell my wife to this day (now five years later), jokingly, “We got greedy.”
My mind turned however to worrying: With twins comes possible health risks for my wife in the pregnancy. Also, will we have enough money? Will we have to get another vehicle? What will this mean for our jobs? How will we manage? I remember remarking before that life was getting pretty crazy with three boys. And yet we both knew that this was the blessing God was giving us. That Sunday, I remember preaching on resting in the peace of God. That sermon wasn’t for my congregation.
A phone call like that can only raise a lot of questions and worries. Yet, I feel humbled reading the opening passages of the Gospel of Luke seeing the example of Mary: How much more anxiety would it be when it is an angel appearing to you, announcing that you will have God’s Son? I cannot fathom. Yet, Mary’s response is simply and beautifully: “Here I am.”
It was the same response Abraham gave to God when God tested him. It was the same response Jacob, Moses, and Samuel gave when God encountered them too. These Old Testament saints stood ready to do God’s will when God appeared to them: to sacrifice, to prophecy, to lead, etc., despite giving up home and safety.
For Mary to respond to the angel with these words, Luke is very deliberate in alluding back to these great men and what they were willing to do for God. Yet none of them were required to do something quite like what God was now requesting of Mary: to bear his Son. Of course, the obvious explanation for this is that none of them were women. But it is more than that: to be found pregnant before marriage carried the risk of being shamed and even stoned by her community.
However, this risk does not even occur to her. “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” Mary wonders when the angel comes to tell her God’s plan. She is confused and needs clarification about how she will, as a virgin, be pregnant. The angel responds, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore, the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God.”
That is apparently all it takes. Once she is assured of this, she is ready. I can’t help but be astonished by the lack of follow-up: “What about my fiancé? What will he think? What about my community? If they think I committed adultery (an obvious explanation), they could kill me. What about powerful people who might want to kill my baby? How will we stay safe?” There could be so many more questions here (much more drastic than wondering if she would need to get a full-size van). And yet, when the angel simply says, “nothing is impossible with God,” Mary has heard all she needed. Nothing else mattered. She was prepared to do what God wills. It is a simple response but it is also courageous faith.
The story in Luke chapter 1 might leave little to wonder about why the angel proclaimed to her that she was the “favoured one.” The significance of her willingness is matched in contrast to her seeming insignificance. She was a woman, young and poor. Her name might as well have been Jane Doe. At first glance, there wasn’t anything special about her at all. Did God know Mary would respond this way? The narrative does not say, but judging from how Mary speaks about it, God appearing to her has everything to do with God’s favour on the humble and lowly, the average folk who trust God but sometimes feel like God has forgotten about them.
Perhaps you wonder, “Does God care about me? Or just, “What is special about me? What am I worth? Do I have worth?” God chose Mary, and that shows us something. God is with us, we who feel like no one cares about us, us who sometimes feel like we are insignificant.
Yet, Mary shows us how we are all significant in the eyes of God. We are also all capable of doing extraordinary things, each appropriate to what God plans for us. She responds with simple obedience, which we can all do in our own circumstances, despite our worries and stresses. So, Mary, without hesitation, says, “Here I am, the servant of the Lord. Let it be according to your word.”
Our lives matter to God, no matter who we are, no matter what we are going through, and God is calling us to extraordinary things in his eyes (even if they are, as Mother Teresa once said, merely “doing small things with great love”), and that begins by saying, “Here I am Lord. I am ready to follow your word.”
For Mary to say this, most interesting, a statement found on the lips of the great Patriarchs of the Hebrew Scriptures indicates something of who Mary is for the New Testament. She is a leader in moral courage, a hero of faith - lighter words will not do. Those that devalue the abilities of others based on their gender ought to be reminded of who God prefers to lift up and partner to bring salvation to others. Mary is, in many ways, the Abraham of the New Testament, through whom comes the seed that blesses all people.
Are you ready to do something truly significant in your lives? Are we ready to say to God today to whatever you are going through or to whatever God is calling you, “Here I am, God, I am ready to walk with you”?
Spencer Boersma is the Assistant Professor of Theology at Acadia Divinity College. He lives in Kentville, Nova Scotia, with his wife and five boys, and he serves on the board of ASBE.