Catch the Current
A Very MARY Christmas
"Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus . . ." (Lk. 1:30-31, NIV)
Immediately upon hearing this news, Mary did something that revealed how deeply the dream was already at work within her soul, even then. She did not cry, nor did she rejoice (that would come later). She did not run in fear nor faint in bewilderment. What she did was simply to ask, to ask that question:
"How will this be," Mary asked the angel, "since I am a virgin?" (v. 34).
Consider this. Her first concern was not to question the veracity of the God-given dream, but simply to understand more about the way God's plan would unfold. In this case, the word God brought was stretching her soul and life beyond their normal boundaries, from the realms of fact to those of faith. God's word (or "dream") was speaking to Mary's potential, her God-given potential. In a real sense, the word of God was at work in her.
Even more amazing is the painstaking care God takes to answer Mary's important question. In the next few sentences of this passage the angel doesn't scold Mary for asking. He doesn't say, "It will happen just because God said it would" or "Who are you to question God!?" He carefully and kindly answers her question. He tells Mary more about the way in which the incarnation of Christ will take place within the hallowed confines of her womb. This is how the yet-unseen "dream" would come to be:
"The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God" (Lk. 1:35-37).
If the angel's assignment had been left up to me, I'm quite sure I would have followed her question up with my own paraphrase to the verse that would have gone something like this: "Mary, Mary . . . don't worry. You are a believer, so just believe. Trust God. You don't need to try and figure this out. You see, God's mind and ways are so much more vast and complex than ours, why even ask why? Just trust him."
The angel, however, was patient to explain the way this would happen. Once that occurred, Mary accepted the dream of God, and the word of God, for her life. She responded this way:
"I am the Lord's servant. May it be done to me as you have said" (v. 38).
In his "Explanation of the Magnificat" (1521), Martin Luther said: "One should honor Mary as she herself wished and as she expressed it in the Magnificat. She praised God for his deeds. How then can we praise her? The true honor of Mary is the honor of God, the praise of God's grace . . . Mary is nothing for the sake of herself, but for the sake of Christ . . . Mary does not wish that we come to her, but through her to God."
If anything about Mary is to be venerated, it is not first and foremost as something of a personal divinity, but for something within her ever so spiritual. It isn't that she is to be seen as a god, but to be honored for the way she responded to God. It wasn't a beatific crown that we need to place on her head or a prayer we need to offer at her feet. Rather, it is an observation we need to make about her simple faith, her sincere soul and quick response to the glorious word of God brought into her life.
What is most amazing about Mary is not her, but God's grace upon her. She was somehow graced to respond so honestly, so faithfully, and so fully to the word of God set apart for her soul and the dream of God for her life. This year at Christmas, be inspired by Mary's example to embrace God's words to us, in particular the inspired words of the Bible made fresh and alive by the Holy Spirit. May we receive them and believe them as readily and faithfully as did this young virgin. And let us call her "blessed."
Robert Crosby is an author and Professor of Practical Theology at Southeastern University. Read his interview with Bobby Gruenewald, the Founder of YouVersion.com (the Bible App) and related articles at Christianity Today—The New Engagers and The Social Network Gospel.
Robert Crosby is the author of the new book, The Teaming Church: Ministry in the Age of Collaboration (Abingdon Press). Crosby's column, "Catch the Current," is published every other Tuesday on the Evangelical portal. Subscribe via email or RSS.