This is what the Lord says: “Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight, ” declares the Lord.
The angel went to [Mary] and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favoured! The Lord is with you!.. Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favour with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.. The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age.. For nothing is impossible with God.”
“I am the Lord’s servant, ” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said.”
When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed. “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear!… Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished.”
And Mary said: “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me – holy is his name.”
But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things – and the things that are not – to nullify the things that are, so that no-one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God – that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written; “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.”
The calling of Mary to bear the Son of God, to nurture and bring him to birth, to feed, clothe, wash and protect the incarnate deity, is one of the most staggering and attractive parts of our faith story. It is both mind-blowing and yet beautiful, to consider that the unknowable, uncontainable, should be for nine months, held in the safety of a young girl’s womb, to grow and take human form, and then like every other human infant in their utter helplessness, the one who named the stars became speechless and had to learn words, walking, and every other life skill.
This story has been particularly precious to me since my own children were born, and I learnt for myself how much work it takes to bear and nurse a baby, just how dependent they are on the care and compassion of others. Motherhood is hallowed for me, made part of my work for God, as I see that God himself chose to let himself be mothered, embracing our humanity in every aspect. It is both a perfectly ‘natural’ process, and also a privilege and a calling, and a precious gift. And Mary was an ordinary woman – probably scandalously young by our western standards to be marrying and bearing children. She rightly describes herself as humble, and we do wrong if we ascribe unique virtue to her and see her as somehow other than ourselves.
What is extraordinary, and a challenging invitation to every believer, is her acceptance and embracing of God’s will as announced to her by the angel. After expressing her (understandable) reservations, she is prepared to accept the angel’s explanations, and to embrace all the glory and shame that will ensue. She boasts in the God whose choice has fallen upon her – exulting to be his handmaiden, to be part of his plan and to glimpse even dimly what a great part that will be. The calling of Mary is entirely consistent with God’s upside-down approach to fulfilling his purposes and establishing his kingdom, and we can also take comfort as we recognise how again and again, it is the unlikely (in human eyes) who are used mightily by God.
When human beings recognise their powerlessness and offer themselves to God to be used according to his plans – whatever that may be – then there is no hindrance to his almighty power, no pride or self-will to thwart his work and to steal the glory that is his alone.
As I consider Mary again this advent season, I pray that I might, like her, offer myself to God with a trusting and humble heart, believing that he will do what he has promised in and through me. I rejoice in God my Saviour, and my soul magnifies my Lord.
(picture of ‘Annunciation’, 2009 by Hermann Josef Runggaldier, Verona)