This Advent we prepare our hearts by reading the story of three women who lived the Christmas story: Elizabeth, Mary and Anna. In the previous post, we saw how Elizabeth’s story is evidence of God’s perfect providence. As far as we know, Mary was the only person present at the birth and death of Jesus Christ. From the beginning of his life, she knew that the life of her first-born son will cause her immeasurable joy, but would also pierce her heart. Nevertheless, Mary’s humility and unwavering trust in God inspire us to surrender our lives into the hands of our Saviour to use as he sees fit.
We read Mary’s story in Luke 1:27-55 and Luke 2:8-20.
Most of us know the story of Mary and her family well. Mary was a poor betrothed virgin from a one-donkey town. One day the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary to give her the news that she will become pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit and bear the Son of the Most High. We know how this story ends and it still looks unbelievable. Yet, Mary did not doubt the message. She accepts this magnificent but difficult calling on her life with humility and awe.
Imagine raising a child who is holy and never sins. Imagine knowing that this child has a big calling in his life that you cannot yet fathom. Mary had no idea what she was in for, but perhaps that was her saving grace.
A Humble Instrument in God’s Hands
On Nettie’s Confetti, we have studied many remarkable women. Through their examples we have seen that God can use a poor orphan girl and make her a queen to save his people; he can use a pagan Moabite widow to ensure the lineage of David continues; he can even use a Canaanite prostitute to be instrumental in securing the promised land for his people, and he can use a barren woman to be the mother of his greatest prophet.
But, perhaps the most significant of all, God can use a young, poor Jewish girl from Nazareth to be the mother of his only begotten Son (Luke 1:26-27). Scholars estimate that Mary was a mere 13 years old and she was betrothed to Joseph.
Mary must have known that she would risk disaster by having a child out of wedlock and could have been rejected by society. Most importantly, she could have been rejected by her fiancé’ Joseph which would have left her desperate and homeless. Mary did not know how God was going to carry her through this time, but she trusted that he would take care of her. Because of her faith, Elizabeth could bless Mary with the words “blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her from the Lord,” (Luke 1:45).
The 4 Stages of Growing in Faith
Mary’s response to the angel’s glad tidings serves as a sober example of how our faith can grow in response to the gospel. This process was insightfully explained by Tim Keller in his book Hidden Christmas which we studied last Christmas.
Stage 1: How can this be?
Mary does not respond to the angel Gabriel with blind obedience. She admits that her heart is “greatly troubled at these words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be” (Luke 1:29). Through her interaction with the angel she expresses doubt and questions, “how can it be?” She is a mirror for our first reaction to the Gospel.
This is in stark contrast to the response we see from Sarah in Genesis 18:13-14 when she laughed at the Lord when he tells Abraham they will have a child within the year. In response, God answers “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” Similarly, Zechariah as a priest in the Tabernacle, could not accept the angel’s prophecy that Elizabeth will have a son that will prepare the way for the Lord (Luke 1:5-24). As a result, he was speechless until John the Baptist was born. Zechariah showed the kind of doubt that is a sign of a closed mind – the message is impossible and unbelievable. Mary, however, doubted with an open mind. She was open to the truth and willing to “relinquish sovereignty over [her life] if [she] can be shown that the truth is other than what [she] thought” (Tim Keller, Hidden Christmas, Page 60).
Doubting is good, but we should doubt to understand and not disprove God’s word.
If you hear the true Good News of Jesus Christ for the first time you should have a response of disbelief. Tim Keller goes so far as to say “if you have never stood and looked at the Gospel and found it ridiculous, impossible, inconceivable, I don’t think you have really understood it” (Tim Keller, Hidden Christmas, Page 62).
Stage 2: I am the Lord’s servant
The next step is to ask for more information and then accept the message with the simplest (and toughest) attitude of “I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled” (Luke 1:38) Even though she (and we as Christians) don’t understand the message of salvation, we accept it from where it comes.
Stage 3: How my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour!
Next, her faith developed into an active faith from the heart.
As Mary ponders the implications of what the angel is saying, she is filled with wonder and authors the famous Magnificat. In this song of praise, she glorifies God for what is going to do in fulfilling his age-old promise. Similarly, if we begin to grasp the Gospel, we can only respond with praise and wonder about what God has done for us. Christianity is something done for you, not by you. If this truth takes hold of your heart you cannot help but wonder at the miracle of God’s grace in your life.
Stage 4: Mary kept all these things in her heart and pondered them often.
Mary’s next step is to surrender to the will of God as expressed by the angel.
Our surrender should follow the example of Mary, in that our motive should be to love God for what he did for us, and not what he will do in us. Mary surrendered to the will of God before she knew what Jesus would do for her. We already know the sacrifice Jesus made for us. Our service flows from this gratitude.
Mary did not have some special magical powers that strengthened her faith. In fact, one can argue that she had fewer resources to back up her faith than we do today. Unlike Mary, we can read the whole of Scripture and study the story of Jesus from Genesis to Revelation. We see how he surrendered himself to become the “Great Servant” – all for us. Mary did not have the full Bible – she probably couldn’t even read – and she did not know what the baby from her womb would accomplish years later. She did not have a church that affirmed the gospel and brothers and sisters in the faith who could strengthen her on hard days.
Life after Jesus: They all joined together constantly in prayer
The final testament to Mary’s faithfulness to Jesus can be found in Acts 1:14 where she is found after Jesus’ ascension with his Apostles. Here they are eagerly awaiting the pouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. Her devotion to God did not end at the cross, or even after Jesus’ resurrection, but continued until the end of her life.
Even though we are careful not to worship Mary as some beliefs do, we can look up to her humble example of faith and obedience. God knew the woman she would grow into through the process of becoming the mother of Jesus Christ. Similarly, He knows where we are going and how it will change us. Let’s follow Mary’s example and grow if faith in obedience through our response to his calling.