Opening Prayer. Lord, prepare our hearts to hear your voice. Prepare our minds to be open to possibilities beyond our experience. Prepare our bodies for action in your presence. Amen.
Scripture. Luke 1:38
Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.
A Story of Mary. From Jim Fisher
NOTE: Today’s Advent reflection tells of Luke spending time with Mary in the middle of the first century to record her recollection of the birth of Jesus. It is an imaginative story of a conversation that might have taken place between Mary and Luke, who is the author of the gospel containing the “Mary” stories. We encourage you to set aside 15 minutes (NOTE: this is a longer one to kick us off) to immerse yourself in the imagery and emotion surrounding how Mary may have related her annunciation to Luke.
Luke is sitting in a garden outside Jerusalem with Mary, the mother of Jesus, on a warm afternoon long after the death of Christ and the events of Pentecost. Mary’s thick silver hair shows only remnant strands of the rich black locks that once adorned her head. It is mid-summer A.D. 55. The apostle Paul has recently been arrested and escorted to prison in Caesarea. Luke, Paul’s physician and traveling companion, is taking this opportunistic break in his travels to spend time with Mary and the others who knew Jesus.
Luke is gathering the “Mary” stories and recording them on sheets of parchment that he carries in a leather satchel slung over his shoulder. He is journaling the stories that only Mary would know. He is capturing the oral tradition of a woman pressing it into a permanent testament to her role in the story of Jesus, the story of God.
Luke and Mary are seated in a shaded area of the garden with their backs against a fig tree lunching on bread and dried fish. Between mouthfuls, Luke turns to Mary and asks, “Tell me about the birth of Jesus.”
Mary breathes a long pensive sigh and gazes down the road and out across the valley below. She remembers back to the time, a lifetime ago now, when she was a young woman–still a girl, really. “I was on my way to do some morning chores for my mother when I was disturbingly approached by someone who said, ‘Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.‘ And I thought, what kind of greeting is that? From a stranger, no less. I wanted to bolt and run back to the house. Who is this? What is going on here? This is feeling really creepy.
“But then, just as I was about to turn and run, the stranger comforted me, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary!‘”
A twinge of remembered fear crawls along Mary’s skin. She shudders briefly, then smiles at Luke and adds, “Angels always say that, you know. As your legs crumple and you drop to your knees realizing who is speaking directly into your soul, the messenger of God always says ‘Fear not!’ Funny really, for those words only calmed my sheer terror down to mere fear for my life.”
Mary strokes her forehead, closes her eyes, and wanders back into the memory allowing the emotions of that moment to swirl back in her heart and soul. “I went from wanting to run for my life to feeling that my life depended on staying. But it was still scary. This angel knew my name! Looking askance I tensed up and heard,”
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.
“At this point I think the only words I picked up were ‘conceive’, ‘bear a son’, ‘house of David’ and ‘kingdom’. Luke, it was every Jewish girl’s dream to bear a son who would grow up to be king — a new David to lead us out of the grip of this Roman Goliath. I knew Joseph was descended from David. I knew it could happen. But when this angel crashed into my life proclaiming, ‘Girl! You’re the one!’, it threw me. All I could think to say was ‘How can this be for I am a virgin?’ My young teenage brain, while running ahead to the dream of being the mother of the King, was struck at the impossibility of it all. I remember clearly these next words for I have carried these deeply within my soul all these years. The angel then said,
“The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.”
“What kind of answer is that? This means I would be pregnant before being married. My parents won’t believe me. Joseph won’t believe me. No one will believe me. They’ll all think I slept with another man, cheating on Joseph. Luke, the penalty for that is death … by stoning. Not a pretty thought, is it?”
Mary allowed the significance of that image to sink in for a moment and then continued, “In my head, I compared the story of Abraham and Sarah with Zechariah and Elizabeth. Sarah was barren and yet bore a child, Isaac, who became the nation of Israel. And here, in Elizabeth, the story is being repeated. But why me? A virgin becoming pregnant by the Holy Spirit? How’s that going to work? It’s never been done like that before. I mean, Samuel, Sampson, Isaac–they were all borne of barren women, not virgins. God doesn’t work like that … does He? Why not Elizabeth? She already has the barren-woman-bears-a-son thing going for her. Why me?
“You know what Luke? I could have just said, ‘No thanks. I’m totally buried with the wedding plans and all. Besides I have chores to do. Gotta run.’ I had a choice. I could have walked back into the house and said, ‘Hey Mom! You’ll never guess what just happened to me!’ … never realizing that I had just walked away from a burning bush; that I missed the ride of my life.”
Luke stares at the ground allowing the story to sink in. He wonders if had this been his story whether he would have chosen to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to this assignment from God. Saying ‘yes’ means a life of uncertainty, embarrassment, shame, and even possibly painful death. Saying ‘no’ means returning to his predictable, normal, self-controlled life.
Luke then asks, “Mary, how on earth did you ever end up saying ‘yes’ when you knew that the yes-road was impassable at worst and break-your-ankles rocky at best? I could never have done that!”
“Luke, at that point, the breath of God washed over me and I felt a profound sense of peace. I think I finally realized who was speaking to me through this messenger. It was the One who created me; the One who created the angel; the One who created the very clay on which I knelt.”
Mary raises one eyebrow and looks back at Luke with a smile. “It’s almost funny now. As a girl I had no idea what I was in for. I had no idea what that one act of faith would lead to. But those last words of the angel, ‘For nothing will be impossible with God’ kept echoing through me. I remembered how God brought us out of Egypt, how He supported us for forty years in the desert with miracles of water and manna, how He parted the water of the Jordan allowing us to enter this land. The history of God is filled with impossible things being done by normal, ordinary people who work intimately with their Creator. Why not me?”
Luke continues, “So how did you ever get around to saying ‘yes’? How long did it take for you to weigh your options and make that life-changing decision?”
Mary reaches over for Luke’s hand. She looks directly into his eyes and says, slowly, “The very next thing I said was, ‘Behold the …’” And with tears gathering into droplets at the corners of her eyes, she switches to Greek, Luke’s native tongue, and says, “Behold the doulē of the Lord!”
“Doulē!? Mary! That means female-bond servant! Really? You said that to God?”
“Yes, dear Luke. I told God to behold his new bond-servant, his handmaiden. And then I added, ‘may it be done to me according to your word.’ I said, ‘Do it now. Make it so,’ and then I collapsed in awe at the feet of our Lord God as the angel departed.”
“Oh Mary! You are an amazing woman! I could never have done that!”
“Luke, I am not above anyone who accepts an assignment from our God. It’s just one act of faith. Anyone can do that. You can do that, Luke. Actually, it’s not a matter of can, it’s a matter of want. I wantedto be completely dependent on God from that point on. I knew everything impossible would be possible with God. I knew I couldn’t do it on my own, but God couldthrough me. If you start with wantingto work with God, what you can do together has no limits … and what you create together is eternal.”
Mary reflects that it seems so quiet now after the tumultuous events of the previous seven decades of her life. She looks back out across the valley and to the people and their wagons on the road below. For most of them Jesus is gone. He’s nothing more than recent history to them. He was a criminal heretic. He was crucified. End of story. She wonders if future generations are ever going to understand that He lives on. She wonders if her decision to bear the Savior is ever going to make any difference. The words of the angel from so long ago whisper on the wind, “For nothing is impossible with God.” There is hope, somehow. Somehow God will use this kind, Gentile man sitting next to her in this garden, to keep the story alive. And her son will find a way to live on in the hearts of those who submit to Him as their King.
She looks back to Luke and concludes, “Luke, you are a part of this story. Write it down. Make it permanent. I delivered a son who lived, died, and rose again to deliver me. Your job is to birth and deliver this message to all future generations. Keep the story alive, my friend. For the story cannot and shall not die with us.”
Luke stands and holds out his hand to Mary. She accepts the assistance and rises into his compassionate embrace.
“Mary, I stand in awe of how your selfless act of faith could change the entire course of history. Your words, “Make me your bond-servant — do it now” hold the key to the entire redemptive story that we are all a part of. I, too, am submitting to God and accepting any role He wants me to play in this. Here I am, Lord. Make me your servant. Do it now.”
Mary smiles approvingly and blesses him with “And may our Lord God guide your every step and may His Spirit breathe generously into what you write.”
The two friends then turn to walk, arm-in-arm, into the sunshine, through the garden and back up into the city.
For Further Reflection. Into the Advent season, the season of waiting, pierces the voice of a girl who had the faith not to wait. Innocently, without knowing its full consequences, she makes the choice, then tells the angel of the Lord, “make it so.” A Jewish girl had the faith to pray, “Lord, here I am. Make me your servant.”
And I want to skip right over that and run straight to Bethlehem to adore the baby Jesus along with the shepherds … for it is so much easier for me to watch and enjoy the story than to accept a part in it.
Can I speak that same prayer and submit to God’s rule in me? Am I ready to accept whatever role God wants me to play to bring redemption and healing to God’s Creation? A tiny whisper within me is urging me to respond “Make it so,” while every other voice within me is wanting to just say “Can I get back to you on that?”
Questions for Consideration.
Closing Blessing. May the Spirit of God breathe perceptibly through you whispering a call to do good, for Christ’s sake. And may you be filled with the courage and faith to respond, “Make me Your servant. Do it now.” Amen.