God the Father decided to come down to earth and encounter his creation. Now, how to do it? He could show himself directly, but then ran the risk of so overwhelming human beings that they wouldn’t be able to process what they saw—or worse be killed by the power of being in the direct presence of God. He could just boom loud messages from the sky, but that might frighten humans so much they would obey out of fear. Instead God decides to send his Son, the Beloved, part of himself, to become a human being. The vast, cosmic God, creator of the entire universe, decides to send his Son to unite to a single human cell in a particular woman’s uterus and become a person who is entirely human and entirely divine.
And for this moment to happen, there had to be one particular woman to bear this divine child.
Mary is often lifted up for her willingness to bear this life, this desire to please God. But if you read the text carefully enough, you’ll see she isn’t really given a choice. The Angel Gabriel tells her what is going to happen:
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 acknowledges her role in the matter, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” The word servant here is actually the word doule which is more accurately translated slave.
In the Gospel of Luke, the power of God is non negotiable. God chooses Mary and Mary concedes that she belongs to God.
This concession of Mary’s, this acknowledgement of her position before God is not the enthusiastic response we remember from the Christmas story. We remember the Magnificat, of course. But before Mary can rejoice at what God is doing, Mary has to acknowledge that she belongs to God, completely.
In our baptisms, we acknowledge that we belong to God completely, as well. And when we first realize that we belong to God completely, it can be sobering. We are called to follow God all the time, at home, at work, with our friends, with our enemies. Once baptized our lives are completely reoriented. Our lives become a vehicle for God’s grace to be enacted in the world. Our lives are no longer for our own pleasure, our own enrichment, but now belong to God.
Mary doesn’t stay in a place of resignation, of course. The Angel Gabriel encourages her to visit her cousin Elizabeth, who is also experiencing a miraculous pregnancy. Mary visits this older cousin, and Elizabeth’s joy shakes something loose in Mary. Mary is able to take a step back and rejoice about the miracle that is taking place within her. Mary sings the Magnificat as she realizes her discipleship will birth God’s grace and love in the world.
God’s grace and love continue to pour into the world, but now, we baptized replace Mary as the people who carry and birth God’s grace and love into the world.
Even those of us who were not looking for God, who do not seek to be Christ-bearers, we are all chosen by God to do his work.
That work can seem overwhelming in a world that seems to devalue holiness, a world that wants to turn God into a commodity that can be shaped to fit any argument. A world where the rich and poor get more and more isolated from one another. A world in which hundreds of mothers in Pakistan and Nigeria are mourning their dead and missing children this week because of hatred and violence born out of a misunderstanding of who God is.
And yet, despite our bleak landscape, we join Mary in singing the Magnificat. We take a stand with Mary and with her holy child. We sing because we know that despite everything, Christ is alive in the world. We sing because God’s power is at work in ways we cannot see. We sing because our God is one that grieves the loss of those Pakistani children and is even now surrounding the missing in Nigeria with his love and care. We sing because we believe there are powers greater than those who wield death and grief. We sing because we believe love will conquer all. We sing because love already has.
And when we understand ourselves as being part of God’s great love for the world, suddenly the burden of discipleship is lifted. We do not follow Jesus because God requires it. We follow Jesus because we cannot help ourselves: because Jesus brings light to a dark world, because he heals our torn bodies and hearts, because we want to be part of bringing light and healing to a world we love so much.
May the Spirit fill us with Christ’s light and love so we can join Mary in bringing God to the world.