[This was shared during tonight's Midweek Advent Worship at Saint Matthew Lutheran Church in Logan, Ohio.]
Mary might well have wondered if she’d lost her mind. After all, how many times have you seen an angel? And how many virgins have babies?
She could be excused maybe, for writing off her entire experience with the angel Gabriel as a figment of her imagination. Or, to have treated the angel’s message with the kind of skepticism with which Zechariah, the husband of Mary’s relative, Elizabeth, treated Gabriel’s message to him that he and Elizabeth would have a son. Yet Mary believed.
She might also be excused for being more than a bit resentful. A young woman—a girl, really—who had not consummated her arranged marriage to Joseph, the Nazareth fix-it man, Mary knew that once her pregnancy became known, she would probably be dragged outside her small town and stoned to death. Yet Mary believed.
We know that Mary was not always the perfect disciple. As Jesus grew older, she allowed herself to forget that Jesus did not belong to her. No child really does belong to a parent, of course. Parents must grow to accept that. But for Mary, such acceptance must have been especially difficult. When he was twelve, Jesus became separated from the family during a trip to Jerusalem. Mary was frantic. But when she finally caught sight of Jesus in the temple and asked Him why He had so troubled Joseph and her, Jesus replied simply, “Didn’t you know that I would be here in my Father’s house?”
And later, when people were following Jesus, many of them whispering threats and calling Him blasphemous, Mary, in spite of what she knew about Jesus, tried to tell folks not to listen to Him. Jesus had lost His mind, Mary and her children told the crowd in a bid to spring Jesus loose and to bring Him back to safety in Nazareth. But Jesus said that His real family was anyone who believes in Him as God and Lord.
Of course, Mary knew that. And I have to say that for me personally, it’s Mary’s lapses in faith that make her so compelling, such a role model. I have lapses in faith, too, times when I say and do things that run contrary to the Lord I believe in, contrary to the life of faith He has called me to live.
But by God's grace, I'm thankful that God gives more credence to my faith than to my many lapses. Mary helps me to know that's true.
And it should be said that incidents like the ones I named from Mary's life were only lapses in her faith. From the moment she learned from Gabriel about the role she was to play in God’s plans for the world’s salvation, through witnessing her son’s death on a cross and His resurrection, despite the lapses, she remained faithful. Through joy and heartache, doubt and glorious affirmation, Mary was a faithful disciple.
The Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Christian traditions have a title for Mary. They call her theotokos, a Greek compound word that means literally, Bearer of God. Mary bore Jesus more than just in her womb for nine months.
She bore Him, the mark of Him, in some way her entire life. In this too, she is a model for each of us. We who, as baptized Christians have been sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever, bear the Name of Jesus. We carry Him into our everyday lives and relationships. That isn’t always an easy load, something Jesus recognizes when He tells us that we must take up our crosses and follow Him. But the Lord we carry with us also carries us, a far heavier burden that began when He went to the cross and bore all our sins. And those who dare to take Christ with them through their life’s journeys also receive guidance, peace, and an eternity of hope that nothing can destroy. Bearing Christ lightens the loads of life!
Whatever God may call you and me to be or do, I pray that we will be found as faithful as that young Judean girl was when met by the angel Gabriel. May we willingly say, “Here am I; the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Amen