A while back I saw an advertisement for a sermon series about significant Bible stories and people. Most of the characters featured were people who stood up against an evil force or person seemingly more powerful than themselves. We like such stories about David and Goliath, Elijah defeating the prophets of Baal, and Gideon prevailing against the Midianites. Especially in our culture that values power and strength, we love a story about the underdog whose might and courage overcome difficulty.
Mary doesn’t fit into such a stereotype. In fact, one of Mary’s most quotable lines is, “I am the Lord’s servant. Let it be with me just as you have said.” Hers is an attitude of openness and vulnerability. She is consenting to be the unwed mother of Jesus. To the world she would appear to be promiscuous, engaging in sex before marriage, which would be costly to her. Who would believe her story if she tried to explain her pregnancy?
Mary’s courage is not exhibited through might and aggression, but through her willingness to be misunderstood, wrongfully accused and vulnerable. This was no mighty warrior but a teenager, engaged to be married, who said yes to God without asking permission of her parents or her betrothed, Joseph.
Enuma Okoro, author of Silence and Other Surprising Invitations of Advent, observes that Mary found a supportive friend in her elderly and pregnant relative Elizabeth. Okoro says that we must be discerning in whom we invite to walk alongside us on our spiritual journeys. Mary and Elizabeth shared a similar faith imagination. They both trusted God’s action and love for them, whereas others might have discouraged them from such risky faith.
Had Mary asked her parents if she should consent to be impregnated by the Holy Spirit, they, in an effort to protect her reputation and theirs, likely would have discouraged her. She chose to believe that God would make a way for God’s word to be fulfilled. She was willing to be considered a failure, a disreputable woman because she loved God.
God does not choose to act in ways we consider safe or conventional. God is not bound by moral codes or reputation or our likes, dislikes or fears. God calls us to live lives marked by faith, not fear, by love, not propriety. Mary knew that it wasn’t what others thought of her that mattered, it was her sure knowledge of being beloved by God that sustained her and gave her the courage to say yes to God’s improbable invitation.
Do we know our own belovedness with such certainty that we are willing to say yes to God rather than worry about what others will think of us? Our willingness to trust this unconventional God may be what is needed for Christ to be born in each of us.