While Roman Catholics may exalt Mary to an inappropriate place and Protestants may
ignore her altogether, Mary is to be an example of faith for us. There is no denying that she was, to quote the angel, “full of grace.” But Mary is a prototype for us, and what was true for her is now true for us. And therefore, today, God says to you: “Hail, Christian, full of grace!”
The first thing to notice about Mary’s blessed relationship with God is that it is God who initiated a gracious, special relationship with Mary, and not Mary with God. God announced Himself to Mary through His Word, through His messengers. Why is Mary called highly favored? Because God has chosen to visit her. God chose to come and bless her – not on account of her own merit, but because of His sovereign grace.
There is no indication that Mary had done anything special to merit being the mother of her Lord, for if she had, then it would no longer be of grace but a reward. There is also no indication in Scripture, which is the oldest and most authoritative Tradition, that she was without sin. Her sinlessness (related to the doctrine of her Immaculate Conception) doesn’t appear to have been asserted in the first several centuries. In spite of teachers such as St. Thomas Aquinas and Bernard of Clairvaux opposing it, the doctrine was dogmatized, but not until 1854.
The fact that Mary sinned like us is precisely the point: that God has come to dwell with sinners, not with those already righteous, because only God is righteous. If Mary were sinless, this point would be obscured. She would be actually less of a model for us because she would be unlike us, without sin and not in need of salvation herself. That God can and does inhabit sinful people is a greater testimony to the power of God in Mary’s life and ours – than if she were sinless. This is the real miracle of Pentecost and of God’s mighty salvation: that God has come to be with His people, even though they are sinful. This is why Mary is so meaningful to me: because, like me, she was a sinner to whom God miraculously gave His grace. Like sinful Mary, God has made me the Temple of His Holy Spirit.
Mary responds to this grace with faith. Though she was astounded by the astounding words of the angel, she was believing. The things she felt are very instructive for the way that we should feel toward God and His grace in our lives. We find that Mary wondered at the things the angel had told her. Like Mary, we should wonder at the things God has promised to us and actually given us. Mary also believed. Though what God told her was outside of her experience, or anyone’s, she believed. Did she understand it all? Obviously not. Did she believe? Obviously so.
Mary also was troubled by the saying of Gabriel, and this is perhaps what most separates her from us. Mary was troubled that she could be found worthy to be the mother of her Lord. She was troubled that she would give birth before she knew Joseph. God has told us equally amazing things and done equally marvelous things for us, but we aren’t troubled by the presence of God. Somehow, God’s presence among us is too familiar and too tamed. God is not to be feared in any sense, because He’s just a warm tingling inside and not a consuming fire.
But Mary was troubled, and we should be, too. Not troubled as in anxious or doubtful, but troubled in that if we understand God Almighty to be present among us, and having seen Him for Who He Is, we appropriately tremble.Equally important, Mary was humble. She knew that the miraculous things she heard were of God, and not of herself. She knew that she was an unworthy servant, not someone who deserved and therefore expected what she received. Of all of the things that Mary felt and said and did, one of the most meaningful to me was her simple summary of her response to God in her life: “Behold, the handmaid of the Lord.” After graciously receiving the miraculous grace of God, her response was not to think too highly of herself but to stand, ready to serve in the way that He had called her.
In time, God blessed Mary by being with her, through His Son and through the work of the Holy Spirit. Gabriel tells Mary, “The Lord is with you.” First, the Father comes with His promise, and then the Holy Spirit overshadows her, and then the Son of God comes to her, and so we remember, in this season of Trinity, that the entire Trinity came and blessed Mary, just as He comes to us.
The point, again, is that having been blessed by God like Mary, we are to be like Mary in faith. As with Mary, God offers you His grace. You have been visited by the messengers (angels) of God – the other Christians in your life. You have heard His Word: it comes to you every time you hear or read the Holy Scriptures.
And you must respond with faith, humility, and obedience – just like Mary. If God could and did enter into Mary, He can do the same with you. If God can use Mary, imperfect but humble and faithful Mary, He can use you. If He can dwell in Mary by His Holy Spirit, then He can dwell in you by His Holy Spirit as well. You, and not just Mary, are the God’s chosen vessel and the locus of His special presence. You are called the Temple of the Holy Spirit, and so you have the Holy Spirit as did Mary. The Holy Spirit didn’t turn Mary into God Himself any more than He turns us into God. Rather, God’s gracious presence through His Holy Spirit redeems us, the fallen ones.
As Mary bore Christ, so can you all be Christ bearers, “Christophers.” This is the importance of the Incarnation to us, not just that Jesus became man but that Jesus became man so that man could now live with God and even become the Temple of the living God. As with Mary, Christ is to be born in us, and we are to bear Him every day. It’s not as if 9 months later He goes outside of us: He has tabernacled with us permanently, through His Spirit. And this is the meaning of Pentecost.
What should our response be to such glad and joyful tidings? It should be the same as Mary’s. We should be troubled by the presence of God in our lives, but we should also believe. And we should show our belief by saying “Behold, the servant of the Lord,” and then go out and serve not only as servants of Jesus Christ but also as bearers of Jesus Christ.
Rejoice, highly favored one! The Lord is with you; blessed are you among men.
Prayer: My soul magnifies You, Lord, and my spirit rejoices in You, for You are my Savior. Come and glorify Yourself in me by coming to be with me. Fulfill Your promises to me through Your Son, and as You make me Your chosen vessel and servant, give me the Spirit of Jesus Christ that I may more faithfully serve. Amen.
Point for Meditation:
1. What do you see in Mary’s faith that makes it worth emulating? Choose one of these and work on manifesting it more in your life today.
2. What changes in your life would you need to make to have faith like Mary’s?
Resolution: I resolve to see myself today as one to whom God has come to bless. I resolve to meditate further on Mark 1:28, hearing the Lord say to me, “Rejoice, highly favored one, I am with you. Blessed are you among men.”
© 2013 Fr. Charles Erlandson