This week, we celebrate Mary and her faithful response to the Angel’s visit. Here is the story of her encounter with Gabriel from Luke chapter 1,
26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” 29 But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.30 The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 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. 33 He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” 34 Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” 35 The angel said to her, “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. 36 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. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 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.
We know the story so well, we often miss the power of not only an angel’s visit, the transforming words he offers, but Mary’s response. There is no request in the angelic proclamation. He does not ask, “Mary, God has a job for you to consider.” The only consideration is her response. Here is a painting which helps me capture the power in Mary’s choice.
Here are the details, their possible symbolism, and parts of the story we may have overlooked.
Red Dress: If you went to high school when I did, you likely read The Scarlet Letter. Regardless of the origin of her future child, Mary would not have been seen as a ‘good’ girl. Like many teenagers with child, Mary does what many had to, went away to see their cousin. Sometimes they stayed until the baby was born, sometimes in Mary’s case, at least until the intensity of the scandal calmed.
Sight: In the paining, Mary is looking forward. She has a clear sense of vision.
Umbrella: Mary is in the rain. The umbrella is before her. To get out of the rain she has to step forward. The choice is also before her. She can stand still or step out.
Water: She can step forward to get out of the rain, but the path ahead is not dry. She will have to step into an apparently deep lake. The minor choice seems to be accompanied by a large one, out of the rain and into deep water. If she trust’s God’s messenger and God, then she will not see herself as cast off no matter what her culture and family might say about her, but the step will be into deep water. God works that way. God called Abram and Sarah – they left their homes and went into a famine.Jesus called Peter and the other fishermen. “Leave your nets, come and go with me and I’ll give you purpose – I’ll make you fishers of people.” “Fishers of people? Wow!” “Oh, yeah, by the way, I’m headed to the cross…”
Alone: Though Mary stands as a solitary figure in the paining, that was not how she saw herself. She knew little enough of men, the world, parenting, to have any idea what life would be like for her. She did know enough of God and know God well enough to trust, not beyond reason but beyond reservation. She had faith like that poet, Taylor Caldwell described,
I am not alone at all,
I was never alone at all.
That is the message of Christmas.
We are never alone.
Not when night is darkest, the wind coldest,
the world seemingly most indifferent.
For this is still the time God chooses.
During Christmas we retell the familiar tales, but if we dare to listen, we will hear the voice of one beyond time calling us to step out, venture from the shore, to the infinite sea of God’s impossibility made our potential.
Lead on, Mary!