Recently, I’ve been thinking about the situation Mary found herself in when the angel Gabriel came to her with great news (or what we all now know to be the greatest news this world has ever or will ever receive). I try to put myself in her shoes, a young, likely early teenage, unmarried girl in a world in which a woman committing adultery came with a death sentence, and she hears she will bear a son by the Holy Spirit. Here is what it says in Luke 1, 26-37:
“In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there will be no end. And Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I have no husband? And the angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God…For with God nothing will be impossible.”
I cannot imagine the mix of emotions, from jubilation to terror, which Mary must have felt upon hearing those words from the angel. She is told that God will perform the impossible, and in doing so, she will not only be pregnant without any way of explaining it to the world, let alone her fiancé, other than that God performed a miracle. Then, if she is not condemned to death, she is given the great responsibility of carrying and caring for God’s only begotten Son throughout His entire Earthly life, which ultimately means raising Him in exile until he becomes a man and returns to His people, who mock him, deride him, torture Him, and kill Him, all in front of her eyes. And, in case this all seems like too much for a human to bear, the stakes that are riding on Mary’s acceptance of this great gift from the angel Gabriel is the salvation of all mankind. So, how does Mary respond?
“And Mary said, ‘Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38)
No wonder the angel says she is full of grace, because as far as I can tell, only grace would allow for the response Mary gives. Only grace could allow a human being to bear all Mary had to bear, and only grace could provide a gift as perfect as her son, Jesus.
And this brings me to us. None of us are given the gift or the challenge that Gabriel delivered to Mary, but we all are offered grace and we all are given the free choice to participate in God’s will. Do we?
I like to think that most us who believe in God do participate in His will. But, often I think it is only to a point. Maybe we are willing to read His Word or attend church every week. Maybe we are even willing to give a little money to charity or to the church, or maybe we perform acts of charity like volunteering at a soup kitchen or in prison ministry. But when God asks us to trust Him with all of our lives, even in the areas that are especially difficult to yield control, do we? Is He Lord of all our lives or just the parts that don’t have to do with our financial security, sexuality, child bearing, child raising, work, choices of entertainment, or countless other areas in which we feel we are safer if we keep control? Notice Mary did not offer qualifications to her response, but offered total submission to God’s message that the angel delivered.
Now, of course we could claim it would be a lot easier to know God’s will if we had an angel telling it to us. That is true. I often have wished I could have someone just tell me what I am meant to do in many situations, seemingly on a daily basis. While that is not offered to us, we do know His will through His Word and through the teaching of His church. Most importantly when we choose to accept Christ as our Lord and Savior, we are sealed with the Holy Spirit who guides and directs our lives. What God commands us to do, He empowers us to do. We can at least choose to listen to the Spirit and follow His Word, can we not? And in following that, we can form a right moral conscience that is attuned to His Voice in our hearts that leads us to His will. It certainly isn’t as easy as directly being told what to do, but the seeking is a part of our participation in His will and in our love of Him. Besides, being a follower of Christ is not easy. In fact, Jesus promised us it wouldn’t be.
“And he said to all, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake, he will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.” (Luke 9:23-26)
This task before us is beyond mere difficulty. It is impossible for us to do alone, but as Jesus says, if we let go of our lives and offer them up to the grace of God, we will not only find life, but we will find joy for all eternity. If it all seems overwhelming, just remember Mary, a fellow human being, full of grace in that moment when she was faced with the impossible said, “yes.” Can we?
The Lord promises, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor 12:9)