The Mary I never knew
The Mary I never knew
21 December 2016
There’s something about Mary that captivates me. Something about her has long captivated the church, too, leading many to overestimate her virtue throughout the centuries. She has gone from a pregnant peasant girl to a sinless, perpetually virgin saint.
But we shouldn’t let her saintliness make us forget her realness. She was a teenage girl who gave birth to a baby on a dirty stable floor. She was a mother who ran through Jerusalem looking for her little boy when he was lost. She was a woman who had enough influence over Jesus to convince him to turn water into wine at a wedding. Mary was a real woman with a real story.
There are many stories about Mary in the Bible, but, for me, the one that reveals her character the most is the call of God on her life and her response, found in the first chapter of Luke’s Gospel. Luke tells us that God sent an angel to Mary, a young girl in Nazareth who was betrothed to Joseph. The angel said she had found favour with God, and that she would give birth to the Son of the Most High.
The angel’s presence and words frightened the young girl, and yet, despite her fear, she replied, “I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled” (Luke 1:38). Mary said yes to God’s strange request. She said yes to the danger of being an unwed mother. She said yes to the unknown.
A few verses later, Luke records Mary’s words after visiting her cousin, Elizabeth. Known as the Magnificat, it is Mary’s continued response to God. It is a subversive – “He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty” (Luke 1:53) – and bold prayer in the face of uncertainty and fear. It is a prayer that transforms Mary from a peasant girl into the mother of God. It is a prayer that begins to reveal the incarnation – the meeting of heaven and earth, that Jesus is both truly God and truly man. The Magnificat is Mary’s song, but it is not focused on Mary. Instead it is focused on the might, holiness and mercy of God.
Despite how she is sometimes viewed, Mary wasn’t perfect or sinless. I’m sure she had her doubts. I’m sure she didn’t always understand what was happening. But perhaps that’s the point. Mary’s story tells us that we don’t need to be a saint or a virgin mother to be God’s image bearer. We just need to obey. To say yes. To speak into the universe, with fearful trepidation, “Let’s do this, God. I don’t understand what’s happening, but I trust that you are at work.”
Maybe Mary found favour with God because she knew and understood that God was at work in the world – even in the things she didn’t understand and in the things that were impossibly hard to imagine.
As we approach the coming season, I hope that we are marked by Mary’s faith. Not a sinless Mary, but a real Mary. When Mary’s realness comes through, her act of obedience and her subversive prayer mean more to us. When we recognise ourselves in Mary, in her imperfection and fear as she delivered the Son of God, then we enter the Christmas story in a new and a powerful way.
This Christmas, may we be reminded that God seeks us out where we are, as we are. We don’t have to have all of our stuff together to be used by God. Instead, God seeks us out when we are suffering; when we are cowards; when we are unfaithful; when we are arrogant; when we are lost and broken; when we feel forgotten, bored, insignificant and tired; when we are wounded, and when we are the ones who are wounding.
God is seeking us out that we might say – I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled (see Luke 1:38). That we might say – my soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour (see Luke 1:46-47).
Lieutenant Kristen Jackson-Dockeray is the divisional youth secretary in the British Columbia Division.
Article first published in the Canadian Salvationist.