The Mary Within Us All

Luke 1:26-38 and Luke 1:46b-55 

Mary is the special one. That is the typical message conveyed about the mother of Jesus. Whether through art that depicts her with a halo hovering upon her head or theological descriptions about her purity, the usual portrait of Mary emphasizes her unique capacity to fulfill a once-in-eternity task. Surely there is truth in this stance, given her extraordinary witness to the angel Gabriel. “Let it be with me according to your word.” 

Yet hear again what Sheldon said about Henry Tanner’s painting. “In ‘The Annunciation,’ Tanner allows us to see ourselves in Mary’s earthy, rumpled, bare-footed existence.” Since God entered the world to dwell among us, since the Incarnation presses toward the holy possibilities alive in humankind, then the links between Mary’s life and our lives are worth our attention. There is something of Mary inside of each of us; a whisper of her spirit, a kernel of her faith dwelling in our faith. How might Mary’s story speak to our stories? 

Zechariah and Elizabeth, Mary’s cousin whose pregnancy parallels her own, are an elderly couple who have long hoped for a baby. They join the biblical line of childless couples, another scene in an old, familiar plot line. Mary, on the other hand, is not looking to be pregnant. The angel’s news comes as a shock. While both pregnancies are unexpected, it is Mary’s that holds a deeper level of risk, an event wholly unimaginable whose effects could be costly in her life. 

If you have ever been awoken at night to a life plan upended, come home to find a surprise visitor invading your days, or received news you could not ever have anticipated, then you have walked alongside Mary. Luke describes Mary as frightened, wondering, and perplexed. We might add anxious, disappointed, and nauseated. After Gabriel departs, she will be faced with telling Joseph, handling her parents’ reactions, and at some point, facing her neighbors. Through one five-minute conversation her life drastically changes forever. So whether it is a surprise baby or an unexpected move, a sudden death or a global pandemic, when the life we thought we would have becomes replaced by an unanticipated one, we walk Mary’s path.  

The angel Gabriel greets Mary with the word “favored.” “Greetings, favored one.” Mary is not fooled by the greeting. She senses the strangeness of the visit. The strangeness continues long after Gabriel departs. Her baby is born in a different town, outside with the animals. The family flees to Egypt because of King Herod’s threats. As a pre-teen, her son will remain behind in the temple instead of coming home his parents and then ask “Why won’t I be in my Father’s house?” Her favored status will look, at times, like anything but favorable.  

The faithful ones of God experience struggle accompanying the call. Mary is not alone in learning that being selected by God does not guarantee security, success, or material gain. More likely, favored status means pitching a tent in the wilderness, being misunderstood by one’s peers, feeling stretched to one’s limit, embarrassed by one’s beliefs, or heart-broken by another failed attempt at healing a hurting world. This is a second pattern shared by Mary and so many: the call to bear Christ brings its own heavy load. So if you walk a challenging, lonely or strange road, yet again you follow Mary’s way.  

Lastly, Mary has been given many titles through the centuries: Mother of God, Queen of heaven, and the God-bearer. There is another title for her, often forgotten, disciple. Mary is the first person to hear that God is coming into the world in human flesh. When she hears the news, she believes it. She follows it; answering the invitation to birth God into the world with a trusting “Let it be with me.” She allows God’s activity to reshape her life. She will be there when Jesus is born. She will stand at the cross when he dies. She is among the community in the upper room when the Holy Spirit births the church. She is a disciple.  

There is a message here for us about how God continues to enter our world: through ordinary lives, in everyday places, through people will to allow God to reshape their expectations, priorities, and future. Nothing is impossible with God, declares the angel. Another way to speak that truth is to proclaim that every human life is filled with divine possibility. As we journey ever closer to Bethlehem, may May’s witness spur ours. May the fire of God’s love make a home in your belly. May you hear the divine call and allow it  reshape you toward God’s purposes. Let it be with us, too, according to God’s word. Amen.  

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