Who was Mary?

3 12 2013

I love thinking about Mary!  What things must have been like for her; how she kept her faith strong.  I wonder if sometimes she wondered, “Is this real?  Me, highly favored?  The Savior?  Bottom line–there is a baby growing inside that I did not act to conceive.  Messiah or no Messiah!”

I imagine realities of everyday life from between the lines of Scripture, often devoid of the details of the story.  What did Joseph really say when he found out about this baby he did not conceive?  Who might have believed Mary’s story?  Who DIDN’T believe Mary’s story, and what was that like for her?  The stares, the gossip…did she knowingly choose that?

In a scene that I remember, from a drama some years ago, Mary’s father was teaching all his family the Torah and the Psalms—helping them to know the great God whom he and all his family and tribe and ancestors followed.  Mary would have learned about the promises to them as God’s chosen people—the angels’ promise to Abraham and Sarah of offspring to number the stars.  Hannah, who prayed for and was given a son, whom she then “gave back”, and sent him to serve in the temple full-time, away from her nurturing touch.  Mary knew the stories of God’s people and God’s word.  When she and Elizabeth greeted each other, both of them rejoiced with words from the Torah and praises from the Psalms which they knew intimately.

So…enter the archangel Gabriel, with the usual “Fear not” greeting—and now Mary knows why everyone needed to hear those words.  Power, might, truth standing right next to her!  A being, literally, from another world.  Do you suppose there was a recognition of the commonality between Mary and the angel, a certainty about the One who loved them both, that enabled Mary to listen to what Gabriel had to say, beyond “fear not”?  (Like when we meet someone very different from us but we share a common love, say, a certain author or food, and our person resonates with theirs:  “I love that too!”)  Not only to listen, but to believe that what she was hearing was true and possible, that she would conceive a child by the Holy Spirit who would be, indeed, beyond amazing?  The way had been prepared—she was ready, in her own way, for the coming of Jesus.

Ah, but here’s where I don’t share the awe and reverence many Christians are inclined to offer when we think about Mary.  She was among the “blest,” or highly favored ones, to bear a child in that culture.  But, as my mother-in-law said when I told her we were engaged, “It ain’t all roses, honey!”  We can’t know, and I don’t believe Mary knew, how the future is going to be, no matter what is told us ahead of time.  The challenge of relationships, the pain of childbirth, the heartbreak of seeing a loved one suffer, the indignities of poverty.  I don’t think Mary was a “superwoman” in God’s eyes who was uniquely equipped to carry out this task.  I, rather, like to think of Mary as the girl who did the “next right thing.”  She kept on saying “Yes” to God.

She knew she was being visited by God, that she was “chosen” to bear this child.  “May it be to me as you have said.”  Obedient and receptive, she stepped into pregnancy and motherhood.  BUT, as our between-the-lines dramas point out—then what?!  Joseph eventually came around, but needed a supernatural nudge.  Mary’s parents moved gradually from an earthly point of view to a heavenly one—at first thanking Joseph that he didn’t allow Mary to be stoned, then blessing their unique marriage.  So now Mary’s baby has a father and a family.  Then a trip to Bethlehem, 9 months pregnant?  A birth in a stable?  Oh, my friends, I am sure Mary did not always say “be it done to me as you have said” without any choice words to the God who conceived that child within!  She was not chosen because she was special, she became special because she was chosen by God, favored by Him, as are all those who believe on Him.

There was no record of Gabriel coming back with Messiah-raising instructions.  (But there were warnings of impending danger, middle of the night flight—and total uproar to family life because of that “Be it done to me as you have said.”)  She did not know what lay ahead!  And so she chose, as best she could, the next right thing.  She said yes to the angel.  Married Joseph.  Travelled to Bethlehem.  Nurtured her family.  Loved that child day by day, as is natural for a mom to do!  Said “yes” to God at each “next step.”

She obeyed the laws of the land, did the best she could, raised her son in the ways of her family.  She and Joseph taught Jesus the stories of the faithfulness of God to his people and the special promises and life experiences that were meant for their son.  They taught him to obey God’s laws and the laws of the temple and to obey his parents, to work with his hands and to pray.

She let him leave home when it was time.  Saw him become an itinerant preacher.  Asked him to use his “gifts” to enhance a friend’s wedding J.  How often as a mom I have brought my adult kids to an event, because I’m so proud of them and want my friends to know them as well!  She raised her other kids, and as all moms, I’m sure, dealt with their rivalries and helped smooth over their relationships—with their Messiah brother?!  In faith and obedience, she took each next right step.

Then, at some point, Mary joined her son’s itinerant band.  She feared for his life, as the religious authorities under whom he was raised turned against him and threatened him with dire consequences should he continue to preach and teach.  She saw his miracles, his peace-loving nature, and perhaps tried to shelter him from the violence and treachery.  Eventually, she would see him crucified.  Oh, no, she did NOT choose or foresee that!  She did not, with a supernatural vision or faith say, “Oh, sure, Gabriel, I’ll risk being stoned.  I’ll bear a son who will then be killed.  I’ll travel miles away from my mother and family just as the baby’s born, and moreover give birth in a stable.  I’ll live in Egypt for a few years.  I’ll watch everyone else’s babies be killed as the crazy king searches for mine.  I’ll watch my adult son, homeless, with this great Promise on his head, be disregarded by the religious authorities I was taught to respect, and someday, what he did will be recorded in the greatest book there ever was…AND we’ll save the world!”

As Elizabeth exclaimed, “Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!”  Mary was a God-fearing young woman who said “yes” to what God asked her to do.  Sometimes amazing, sometimes hard, sometimes wonderful.  Again, and again, and again.  I like to think she wasn’t so different from you and me.

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