Reflection by Jane Hale
A Time to Say Yes: Mary’s Story
The voice came from out of nowhere, really. I had just helped my mother prepare the evening meal, and I was in the midst of cleaning up, when suddenly I heard it.
“Greetings, favored one!” it declared.
Now try to make sense of that, will you? First there was the fact that there was an angel in my kitchen. That was strange enough. But favored one? This angel was clearly lost!
Favored one. It made no sense.
I was only13. I had just helped my mother assemble the most meager evening meal. My hands and tunic were still covered in the flour I had ground, and, in my family’s mud-lined grotto, this greeting was so wildly out of place.
Perhaps the angel had taken a wrong turn in the jeweled city of Sepphoris, where there were plenty of beautiful and favored people. I was sure that this creature had stumbled into lowly Nazareth, by mistake. Do angels make mistakes? Perhaps he needed directions.
The problem was I could barely speak.
He must have seen the look on my face. I suppose you could say I was perplexed, but shocked-to-the-core is infinitely more accurate. I’d been cornered by an angel.
I opened my mouth to ask the lost angel for whom he was looking, and to determine whether or not I could help him find them, but before I could find my voice, the angel spoke again. “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found great favor with God.”
He called me by name. As impossible as it seemed, he was talking to me. Mary.
And then, right there in front of the hearth in my own home, that impossible angel laid out God’s whole impossible plan.
The Holy Spirit.
A son, in my own womb.
When I was a mere child myself.
More than that, the angel told me that this child would grow up to sit on mighty David’s throne! Not just a son, but a king! Not just any king, but the Son of God. The Christ. The long-awaited Messiah.
This was almost too much for me to bear. I thought of Joseph, the man to whom I was engaged. The risks were great. Neither my family nor I held sway in our town, let alone in our culture. We were nobodies. And then there was the small matter that unmarried pregnant women could be publicly stoned to death. Would my community disown me? Would my family disown me? Would Joseph disown me? Would I disgrace them all? And how well would all of this go over with the Roman authorities? How, on earth, was a common peasant girl like me supposed to bear the Son of God into the world? The stakes seemed so impossibly high.
In a quaking voice, I mustered whatever shred of courage I had left. “How can this be?” I asked the angel, who for a moment looked as though he, too, was uneasy about this whole idea.* But, to his credit, he collected himself and assured me that “Nothing would be impossible with God.”
And there it was. It came down to faith.
Faith in a God whose love surpasses all understanding.
Faith in a God who acts in, and for, the world God loves.
Faith that God will go to the ends of the earth to reconcile God’s creation with God’s self.
Faith that this crazy plan could somehow bring about a holy child named Jesus and with him, the kingdom of God without end.
Faith that God saw promise and holiness, even in the likes of me.
I’ll be honest with you. As I pondered this message, I wanted to do what anyone would have wanted to do in that situation. I wanted to close my eyes and pretend it wasn’t happening. I wanted to laugh it off, call it impossible, tell the angel there was just no way, that he was mistaken, that he was crazy, and that angels appearing uninvited in your kitchen announcing, “Do not be afraid,” did not actually ease one’s fear in the least. I wanted to run away and hide. I wanted to tell him that there was no way a poor, terrified, unwed peasant teenager from Nazareth could pull off such a miraculous feat. But there was an angel in my kitchen, telling me that this was God’s miracle, not mine.+ Telling me that God was with me, that God loved me for exactly who I was, that God believed in me, and that God was inviting me to bring God into the world in the form of a newborn peasant baby.
After some thought, against all odds, and in spite of all the excuses I could think of, I said yes. That yes changed my life, and along with it, it changed the whole world.
You know the rest of the story.
The long and difficult trip to Bethlehem under orders by the Emperor.
The birth in a cave designated for animals.
The swaddling cloths.
The bright star.
The lowly shepherds announcing his birth.
My beautiful, vulnerable baby, even in his first moments of life, drew people in from the margins. And he spent his short life turning the whole known world on its head, as he healed the wounded, freed the oppressed, comforted the afflicted and afflicted the comfortable. In him, people met the love of God face to face. In him, people could envision an alternative way of life that affirmed all people, not just a privileged few. In him people of all stripes saw themselves as part of God’s holy and reconciling mission with God and one another. In him, they were saved from the world’s incessant NO, and instead, were transformed by God’s own YES!
I look back on that visit from the angel back in Nazareth so long ago, remembering how strange it felt to be invited into God’s plan to bear Jesus into the world. But I realize now that we are—each and every one of us—invited to be God bearers. We are each invited to be people who, through the power of the Holy Spirit, birth Jesus into this hurting and hungry world through our own hands, our own hearts, our own lives. We are invited to bring Jesus and his healing justice and transforming love into the brokenness, into the messiness, into the margins, into the places that our culture would rather just forget.
It can be unsettling at first, and, in truth, it can be downright heartbreaking at times, but God believed in me, just as much as God believes in every one of you. We each have the opportunity to answer God’s unique call to us with our own Yes, and with that Yes, we have the chance to join God in the transformation of the world.
As we celebrate the birth of Jesus this Christmas Eve, I ask you to consider that, through God’s deep love and the work of the Holy Spirit, Jesus continually seeks to be born anew in you, if you’ll only let him in. We are made to be Godbearers, all of us. And, as a wise angel once told me, even at times when the odds make that seem so very unlikely, once you say Yes, absolutely nothing is impossible with God.
*Buechner, Frederick. Peculiar Treasures: A Biblical Who’s Who. San Francisco: HarperOne, 1993. p. 39.