King David was a manly man. He slayed giants. He slept with other men’s wives and killed their husbands. He led the armies that secured Jerusalem. He established a kingdom. (He also danced through the streets naked, but that is another sermon.)
Sweet Mary, on the other hand, was by all accounts a nice girl from a good family. She was open, receptive, non-confrontational. She was even a virgin.
Somewhere, Gloria Steinem is pulling out her hair. These descriptions are a feminist’s nightmare, right? Manly men and wimpy women. Women of my generation were told we could grow up to do anything, be anyone we want to be. Women before me had fought for their rights to work alongside men in every field you could imagine, and I certainly reaped the benefits of their hard work. After all, I was born the year after the first women priests were ordained. What women are not supposed to be is passive, waiting around for some man (or God) to fulfill our destiny.
So, what do we do with these images of David and Mary? These contrasting images of aggressive and passive behavior.
The good news is, we don’t have to choose just one. (Though I’d be careful which attributes of David you emulate.) God uses both David and Mary in Jesus’ conception. In the Lukan geneaology of Jesus, Joseph, Jesus’ father, was descended from the line of David. We’ll never know how the genetics of the assumption work, whether Jesus inherited any of Joseph’s traits, but for all legal purposes, Jesus could trace his heritage back to David.
Throughout Jesus’ life, his incredible faithfulness to his heavenly Father will be a powerful combination of both David’s aggression and Mary’s ability to yield to God. We see David in Jesus when he stands up to the powers of the day, when Jesus throws over the tables in the Temple. We see Mary’s quiet faithfulness when Jesus yields to God in prayer over and over again, especially when he must choose to follow the path that he knows will lead to his death. And in this struggle, we learn that yielding to God, as Mary and Jesus do, can be the most courageous and frightening way of faithfulness possible. Yielding to God is not wimpy.
Mary was a woman who knew where her life was going. She was marrying a carpenter, and would have a lovely quiet married life in which she’d take care of her husband and raise their children. All this is interrupted when the Angel Gabriel comes to her and tells her that she is the favored one of God.
When Mary accepts God’s unexpected plan for her life, she yields to a future she cannot predict. She does not know whether Joseph will accept or reject her, whether her family will shun her. She certainly cannot know that she will one day have to watch her son be brutally murdered.
When Mary yields to God, she surrenders her very understanding of how the world operates. She surrenders her understanding of how God intervenes in the world. Mary is open to God behaving in a completely new and unanticipated manner.
Yielding to God is no small thing. When we acknowledge that we do not control our destinies, we face the terror that we cannot predict our future. There is no way to ensure that we or our loved ones will be safe, secure, or happy.
Still, the Angel Gabriel refers to Mary as “favored one”. This Greek word translated as favored-charitoo– means, “endowed with grace”. God chooses Mary, not because she is perfect, but because he chooses to endow her with his grace, just as he chooses to endow humanity with grace through the life and death of Jesus.
So, where is the grace in this yielding to God?
I’d like to think that the grace, for Mary, came from her relationship with her Son. She had the privilege of watching this incredible man grow from the baby and young boy she had nurtured to the powerful, wise and self-giving man he would become. She experienced the grace of knowing God first hand, for a longer period of time then anyone before her. She lived with this incarnate God 24 hours a day for years. I’d like to think somewhere inside of her was a Jewish mother who got a chuckle out of the thought of disciplining the Lord of the Universe. Potty training God?
In the same way, the grace when we yield to God, is that we get to learn more about God, we get to sit in his presence for a bit, and get a tiny sense of who he really is. Yielding to God is not always about doing the will of God, it can also be a emotional or psychological transaction. For instance, if you have a hard time trusting the father figure in your life, that distrust probably plays out in your prayer life with God. If your dad abandoned you, why shouldn’t God? In that case, yielding to God might be a moment of epiphany when you realize that God loves you, that God is not going to abandon you. In that moment, you feel your body relax, your defenses lower. That is yielding to God.
You might believe you don’t need God. In that case, yielding to God may happen when you get hit with a major crisis. In a moment, in a flash, you realize that you are finite, that you don’t have all the answers.
When we yield to God, we become God’s favored ones. Not because we earn the distinction, but because God longs to bestow his grace upon us.
And it is only when we yield to God, that it becomes appropriate to have a more confrontational, aggressive faith like David. When we have yielded in prayer to God and have a sense of God’s call in our lives, we can then live out the “masculine” side of our faith.
Some of us might be called to fight for justice-writing letters to legislators, or organizing protests. Others of us might be called to bring bible studies into local prisons or to work with the Bread Fund.
The Christian life is a dance of yielding and responding to call. The Christian Life is a dance of prayer and action.
We are called to be both Mary and David.
As Jesus came into life through David and Mary, we are called to bring Jesus to life in this world.