A Very MARY Christmas

Some Christians make too much of Mary, the mother of Jesus. The subject of Mariology has been the subject of study and debate for ages, with strong differences existing between Roman Catholics and Protestants.

Catholicism, of course, has long advocated Marian veneration. Not only do many Catholics pray to Mary and solicit her prayers for them, they view her as playing an instrumental role in the redemption of mankind, seeing her as "the gate of heaven . . . through which all find Jesus." Some even contend for adding her to the Trinity, supposedly forming some sort of "divine Quadrangle." Of course, to Protestants this seems biblically preposterous and theologically indefensible. However, it remains that while some have made far too much of Mary, others, I'm afraid, have made far too little.

At the very least, after her response to God's visitation Mary was promised that for all generations she would be called "blessed among women" (Lk. 1:42). There was indeed something special about this young Jewish woman, something we would be wise to consider this Christmas season. However, that uniqueness was not that she carried some superhuman composition, but rather that she was graced with an unusual responsiveness to God and his Word.

Mary's Questions

No one ever had a bigger "word" dropped into their soul (or lap, for that matter) than the one that came to a young lady in Galilee some two thousand years ago and described in Luke 1. While it was neither the first word God ever gave to a young person nor was it the last one, it certainly was the greatest.

Several years ago I caught a comparison of Mary's divine visit to that of our receiving of a "word" from God as Christ-followers that captured my fascination. I refer to a "dream" in this context as a "vision" or a "call" of some sort upon our lives to serve God; also, a "promise" from him to which we hold. Not only did I find those initial insights and comparisons unforgettable, I have found myself pondering and drawing more inspiration and insight from that concept ever since. The dream (or "word") God has placed in my soul and yours is for an appointed place and time and, if it is from God, it really—really—will one day come true. It is worth . . . the wait.

As Mary found out, a God-given word will overwhelm you. As soon as the thought of bearing God's "word" was presented to Mary, her insecurities and uncertainties surfaced:

"How could this possibly happen?" (Lk. 1:24)

"How can I have a baby?" she asked.

In other words, "I haven't had the necessary experience to fulfill this dream!" (She was, of course, a virgin.) In the natural, this dream seemed impossible; the word, just too much of a stretch to get her head around initially. In fact, on a human level, it was entirely impossible.

Not only was Mary taken back by the dream the angel delivered to her. She was immediately stricken by a daunting question, one for which she had no answer. In the real world in which Mary lived, there was one thing everyone knew, and knew for sure, about virgins—and that is, virgins did not have babies! This was an utter impossibility—Mary knew it, Joseph knew it, everyone knew it. And yet, here she was confronted with a dream—an impossible possibility. She had some questions.

This passage also reveals some things too wonderful about the tender nature of God to rush over. When the angel Gabriel was sent to Mary in Nazareth, he told her that she would have a significant role to play in God's plan, that her "dream" was somehow a part of God's grand scheme:

"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:

12/9/2012 5:00:00 AM
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    About Robert Crosby
    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).