Synopsis: Humanity has been presented with an unexpected, overwhelming challenge with this pandemic. How do we respond? When Mary was presented with an unexpected, overwhelming challenge, her response was the most loving response possible: to accept what is. It’s simple, but not easy. How was Mary able to do it?
Scripture Reading: Luke 1:26-38
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The appearance of an unexpected event in our lives can challenge us spiritually. When that event is not only unexpected but also overwhelming, it’s even tougher to deal with. How many of us anticipated a pandemic at this time last year? Yet, this unexpected, overwhelming challenge is the card humanity has been dealt along with many other challenges that have come with it.
How do we respond to challenges like these? We focus a lot on the life of Jesus as an example for us, but Mother Mary provided a worthy example as well. Unlike Jesus, she was not “front-and-center,” but she was there, behind the scenes, shining her great light in a quiet, humble way.
Our gospel story takes place in Luke’s gospel, which was written for a Gentile audience. At the beginning is a dedication to someone called Theophilus. No one knows who he was, but most scholars believe he was an influential Gentile for whom Luke wanted to offer an historical account of the life of Jesus Christ and the spread of the gospel throughout the Roman Empire.
The conception of Jesus is not the only miracle in this first chapter. There is also the miracle of the conception of John the Baptist, whose mother, Elizabeth, was barren.
An angel appeared to Zechariah to give him the news of his wife’s pregnancy and the upcoming birth of a son. Since Zechariah doubted the words of the angel, he was struck mute until the angel’s words were fulfilled.
That takes us to today’s reading about the angel Gabriel’s announcement to Mary that she will give birth to the Son of the Most High.
Ladies – try to imagine yourselves in Mary’s shoes. You are a young woman – 12-14 years old. You belong to a respectable Jewish family. In fact, you come from Jewish royalty. You belong to the tribe of Jessie, and you are a direct descendant of King David.
You are betrothed to Joseph, who is also of the tribe of Jessie and a direct descendant of King David. Your father arranged your marriage. You were consulted about this after the fact, but only as a formality. Even if you said, “Him … ewwweh, no way!” You wouldn’t get out of it. All you’d get was a look of extreme displeasure from your father.
Next a public announcement was made, and you were officially “engaged.” During this time, typically at least a year, you still lived in your father’s house, and you were not allowed to lie with your betrothed.
Even so, your engagement couldn’t be broken off except through death or divorce. Your father, Joachim (YO-ah-kim), would have received a “mohar” – a dowry – as payment for you. The mohar was typically paid in cash, but sometimes it was paid in service.
Once the engagement period ends, the marriage ceremony will take place where you will be escorted to Joseph’s house to begin living with him. At that time, ownership of you will be passed from your father to your new husband.
Now, imagine that at some point during your engagement period, while you were still living in your father’s house, you are visited by the angel Gabriel.
You’re not only very startled by this supernatural greeting but also shocked at the news that you will give birth to the Son of the Most High who will reign over the house of Jacob forever. You have only one burning question, “How can I possibly be pregnant?” The angel’s answer is bewildering and astounding: The Holy Spirit will impregnate you, so the child will be the Holy Son of God.
The name “Jesus” is the Greek version of the Hebrew name, “Joshua,” a common name which means, “the Lord saves.” The symbolism of Jesus’ name would not have been lost on the people of his day. As Joshua led the people Israel into the Promised Land, Jesus will lead them into eternal Life.
As we know, the Jews lived according to Torah Law, which is found in the Pentateuch, or the first five books of the Bible. According to Deuteronomy chapter 22, if a girl is found not to be a virgin when the marriage is consummated, not only can her betrothed divorce her, but she can also be stoned to death for adultery.
Just imagine ladies: You’re barely a teenager, and now you have to explain your pregnancy by telling everyone about a vision you had from the angel Gabriel. Maybe you can imagine them looking at you, shaking their heads, and saying, “Sure Mary, the Holy Spirit made you pregnant.”
How scared might you be? How much might you wish this situation would just go away somehow? How much might you wish it was someone else, not you? But we all know Mary’s wonderful response upon hearing the angel’s message. She said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”
Mary’s response reflects the most loving response we can possibly have toward unexpected, overwhelming challenges and anything else that shows up in life – to simply accept what is. It’s simple, but not easy. How was Mary able to do it?
She said, “Here am I – the servant of the Lord.” Mary was able to respond with love because she accepted “what is” by first accepting who she is: a servant of the Lord.
We are experiencing ourselves as human beings who appear to separate from God, one another, and all of Life. The truth is that we are not separate – only different – and each with a specific function.
Just as the hand may be different from the foot but is not separate from the body, we are all part of the body of Christ with different functions all in service to God as an expression of who God is.
Mary accepted what is – the fact that she is part of the body of Christ with a specific function, and her function was to be the vessel through which Christ became manifest in the world of form by becoming a human being – Jesus.
God chose Mary for this task – a young, poor female. These characteristics might have made the people of her day doubt that anything good could come from her. But God created her for this purpose, so Mary didn’t say, “I can’t do this! I’m not worthy!”
You might think your age or lack of experience, education, or ability might disqualify you from God selecting you for any major task. But God created you. God knows your gifts and talents. If God selects you, then you should have confidence in yourself because He has confidence in you.
Mary was able to respond with love because she accepted another “what is” – that we are not all alone in this world. She knew that this was not the one-and-only time she would receive guidance from Spirit but that she would continue to receive this guidance on a regular basis.
How can we know that she believed this? Well, if she thought this one message was it, she probably would have asked a lot more questions than just “How can I be pregnant?” I think she would have also wanted to know, “How am I going to explain this to everyone? What will happen if they don’t believe me? Will I get stoned to death?”
Just like Mary, we are all capable of regularly receiving guidance from Spirit, but if we are not open to receiving this guidance, then we will not experience it. The main problem is that we don’t consider ourselves worthy enough to receive it, so we try to handle life’s challenges on our own.
Mary was able to respond with love because her trust in her connection with Spirit enabled her to stay in the present – with “what is” in time. At that moment, the only pertinent question was, “How can I be pregnant?” She didn’t ask any questions about the future because the future was not yet “what is.”
Most of our suffering is caused by our own thoughts and feelings, which create an alternate reality that is not “what is.” Our minds create stories about the past or future, and if we believe those stories, we naturally experience feelings, like regret or fear, that make those stories seem true. But feelings don’t make it so.
We so often feel like we are on our own because Spirit doesn’t “buy into” the alternate realities created by our minds. As far as Spirit is concerned, if the problem isn’t real, then guidance isn’t required. Spirit is available to us to help us deal with what is real – with what is happening now.
Mary said, “Let it be with me according to your word.” If this is God’s Will, then I accept it as it is. Mary was able to respond with love because she had the right attitude toward “what is.” No matter what is happening, life is always changing. Even if an external situation doesn’t change for a while, we can decide how we want to experience it internally. We can choose peace.
Mary was favored by God, but didn’t mean her life was easy as Jesus’ mother. Her fiancé came close to abandoning her, her peers probably ridiculed her, and her son would be rejected and murdered. Mary endured all these things trusting in God’s plan, even though she couldn’t see how it would all work out in the end.
Life is like a river. The river does what it does whether we like it or not. We can either go with the flow and be at ease or resist it and exhaust ourselves, but the river will always win. So, resisting life and being unhappy doesn’t change anything but our experience.
It’s human nature to have preferences, but the mind often turns those into likes and dislikes and insists that life always deliver according to its preferences in order to be happy.
So, I might simply prefer chocolate ice cream to vanilla ice cream, but if mind tells me that I like chocolate ice cream and dislike vanilla ice cream, and I chose to believe that, I will no longer be able to enjoy vanilla ice cream when I can’t have chocolate ice cream.
We resist half of life in this way when we forget that we simply have preferences and allow them to turn into strong “likes” and “dislikes.” I’m sure Mary would have preferred that Jesus was conceived in the usual way, but she was open to a very different experience.
We can notice the mind’s complaints and then gently remind ourselves everything is good and exactly as it should be. Nothing is lacking within you, within me, within others, or within life. When we can let things be as they are, we can let go, relax, and be at peace instead of always fighting “what is.”
Mary was able to respond with love because she allowed love to be her guide since love is “what is.” Love is all there is. She allowed the Mind of Christ to guide her, not the human mind, which generally takes us in the opposite direction of love. Love guided her actions and speech. She was the servant of Love.
We too are called to be the servant of Love and give birth to Christ in human form – in our human form. Jesus was the first to show us what Love looks like in human form, and now it is time for us to morph into the butterfly – to become the full potential of who we are.
Mary’s response perfectly illustrates a loving response toward whatever is happening in life: first, not resisting what’s happening which makes perfect sense since it’s already happening, so it’s too late to do anything about it anyway; second, trusting that life is essentially good; third, trusting that we are loved and supported, and finally, letting love be our guide.
It seems miraculous that someone as young as Mary had the wisdom to respond the way she did, but when we think about it, it is perhaps her young age that made it easier. She was still just an innocent child, and as Jesus said in Matthew 18:3 “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
There is no better time than this unexpected, overwhelming time we live in now to accept “what is” and let it be the catalyst that inspires us to become a Portrait of Love.
Let love be our guide. Like Mary, we are dealing with many judgmental, hostile people these days too. If we are tempted to say something that we know does not come from love, then we can choose to keep quiet. If we are tempted to do something that we know does not come from love, then we can choose not to do it. If we make mistakes or fail to resist temptation, we can choose love again and forgive ourselves.
Love is the strongest force in the universe, and it will save the world. One person shining the light of love can dispel the darkness generated by thousands. Just think of the saving power unleashed into the world by Mary’s loving acceptance of her task. That is how powerful we are.
Let’s pray together: Father, we are willing to accept the task of becoming the Portrait of Your Love that you created us to be by allowing the Christ to become manifest in our human form. Through the power of Your Spirit, help us to accept “what is,” trusting that You, the Author of Life, made Life good, and offer us all the loving support we need to be happy. AMEN.
Deffinbaugh, Bob. “Christmas Faith: Matthew 1:18-2:23.” Bible.org, bible.org/article/christmas-faith-matthew-118-223
Lake, Gina. Ten Teachings for One World: Wisdom from Mother Mary. Kindle Edition.
Life Application Study Bible (NIV), 3rd ed. Tyndale, 1 Oct. 2019.
Schauss, Hayyim. “Ancient Jewish Marriage.” MyJewishLearning.com, www.myjewishlearning.com/article/ancient-jewish-marriage/
“Who was Theophilus at the Beginning of Luke and Acts?” gotquestions.org, www.gotquestions.org/Theophilus-Luke-Acts.html