Let us look in on young Mary as she tends to her mending. It is a glorious spring morning in Nazareth, still cool and fresh. Mary has rushed through her chores, eager to find time to herself so that she can be alone with her thoughts. As she sits in the light streaming through the window, her bare toes rest on the freshly swept dirt floor. She picks up her sewing and begins to work.
At fourteen, she has just begun her year long engagement to Joseph. She wonders, “What kind of husband will he be, this Joseph? He seems kind enough and I’m sure that my parents have chosen a good man for me. I don’t really know him but I’ve seen him all my life. Oh, I hope that he wants many children! I can’t wait to hold a baby of my own!”
Mary pauses in her sewing. “I hope that I won’t be like my dear cousin Elizabeth. She has grown old and is still without child. What a sadness for she and Zachariah. I pray for her...”
With this thought she hears a rustling in the room which is suddenly filled with a strong light. An angel speaks… “Hail Mary, full of grace! The Lord is with you.” Mary is perplexed. Who is this and what is he talking about?
As angels do, he hastens to calm her. “Don’t be afraid, Mary. I come to tell you that God is happy with you. God has a surprise for you: You will become pregnant and give birth to a son and call his name Jesus. He will be great, he will be called 'Son of the Highest.' The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David; he will rule Jacob's house forever— no end, ever, to his kingdom."
Mary asks the angel, "But how? I've never slept with a man."
The angel smiles at the young girl and answers, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, the power of the Highest hover over you; Therefore, the child you bring to birth will be called Holy, Son of God. One more thing, Mary. Did you know that your cousin Elizabeth conceived a son, old as she is? Everyone called her barren, and here she is six months pregnant! Nothing, you see, is impossible with God."
Young Mary is filled with joy and God’s grace. She stands up and declares, “Yes, I see it all now: Here I am Lord, ready to serve you. Let it be with me just as you say.”
Oh, I wish we could spend more time with this remarkable young girl. I want to understand what God saw in her to honor her in this way. There were roughly 250 million people on earth when the angel Gabriel came to Mary. So God chose one out of 250 million people when he chose Mary. Those are slim odds. What was it about this one young girl, living in a remote backwater that caused God to say, “Her. I choose her, this nice girl named Mary? She is full of grace. She, alone of everyone on earth is worthy of this honor, to bear my son.”
I try to remember being a fourteen year old girl. It was a long time ago. Probably in our church today, only Jeff can really clearly remember what it was like to be fourteen (since it was just 3 months a go). I remember it as a time of change: my relationships with my friends changing as boys entered the picture, my body changing like crazy, and my brain feeling overwhelmed and confused about all that was going on. I seesawed between wanting to be noticed (and liked) to wanting to fade into the woodwork and hide. Do you remember being fourteen? It is a tough age.
I was a pretty good girl who went to church and tried to do the right things. But, there is no way that I was ‘filled with grace’! At just fourteen years old, what did God see in Mary that made her fit to be the mother of his son?
Perhaps the answer to this question lies not in Mary’s character but in the choice that God trusts her to make. Although it sounds as though the angel Gabriel is telling her what is going to happen, Mary does have a choice. She can run from the room, she can say, ‘no thank you,’ she can at least ask more questions. She can ask that age old question, “Why me?”
This future that the angel has described for Mary will be full of problems, the most immediate of which is that of a virgin suddenly appearing pregnant in her small village. She can be stoned to death for that alone. And what will Joseph do? Will he stand by her? What will her beloved parents say? Will they kick her out of the house?
Mary quickly makes her choice. She knows that nothing is impossible with God. She stands, perhaps on shaking legs and declares, “Here I am Lord.” I believe that God chose Mary for this greatest of all honors because he knew that she would stand, open and eager to accept his will.
What a good choice God made in Mary. Mary knows that her life is not going to play out according to her daydreams. God has thrown her a huge curveball and look how she responds. Mary is a wonderful role model for us here. Life never, never, ever goes according to plan, does it? Instead of whining and complaining, she stands up and embraces this wonderful new plan! Mary knows who is really in charge of her life!
Barbara Brown Taylor writes that Mary can choose, "Whether to say yes to it or no, whether to take hold of the unknown life the angel held out to her or whether to defend herself against it however she could." We have a similar choice in our own lives, Taylor says: "Like Mary, our choices often boil down to yes or no: yes, I will live this life that is being held out to me or no, I will not; yes, I will explore this unexpected turn of events, or no, I will not." You can say no to your life, Taylor says, "But you can rest assured that no angels will trouble you ever again." And, if we say yes to our lives: "You can take part in a thrilling and dangerous scheme with no script and no guarantees. You can agree to smuggle God into the world inside your own body."
Have you ever heard of a football play called the Hail Mary pass? When the game is on the line, when things are desperate, the quarterback steps back and throws a long, apparently impossible pass to the receiver. If it is caught, the game changes. When Roger Staubach threw this pass the first time, he actually prayed a Hail Mary, hence the name.
Perhaps, after centuries of trying to help people mend their ways, God knew it was time to take a desperate risk, time for a long shot, time to attempt an impossible task. It was time for a Hail Mary play! God decided to send his very own son down to help us. The angel Gabriel appeared to a simple girl with a game changing play and said, “Hail Mary!”
The angel tells Mary that nothing is impossible with God and she believes him. Do you believe that? Do you really believe that? We are called at Christmas to believe that God sent his only son down to our earth to change things. This seems to be impossible but we can choose, like Mary to believe in God’s power to do the impossible. We can believe in God’s power to help us when we most need it. We can believe in God’s power to heal broken families. Sometimes these things seem impossible but with God, all things are possible.
I’m going to paraphrase what Meister Eckhart writes about Christmas: ‘We are all meant to be mothers of God. What good is it to me to celebrate Christmas if the birth of the divine son does not take place within myself? What good is it to me if Mary is full of grace if I am not also full of grace? What good is it to me for the creator to give birth to his son if I do not also give birth to him? That is the mystery of Christmas: The son of God can be born IN us.’
Christmas is coming. We can be full of more than Christmas spirit, we can be full of Christ himself. Like Mary, let us sing out: “Here I am Lord!”