Summary: Mary is a model of submission to the will of God
Rev Dr Robert Leroe, Cliftondale Congregational Church, Saugus, Massachusetts
I’d like us to focus on Mary’s response to the angelic announcement. Gabriel comes to her in the town of Nazareth and tells her that she will be mother to the Messiah. After expressing some initial confusion, vs. 34, she accepts her role in history. “I am the Lord’s servant”, Mary answers. “May it be to me as you have said.” She submits herself completely to the will of God.
One of our local Catholic Priests stopped by the church a few weeks ago and was admiring our sanctuary. He was surprised that our church has 2 stained glass windows with pictures of Mary. I gave him my assessment: Catholics give Mary too much honor, and Protestants don’t give her enough. Surprisingly, he agreed with both statements. The veneration of Mary began in the 4th Century—individuals began teaching that the way of salvation is through Mary (Alphonsus de Liguori, The Glories of Mary). While some people are guilty of Mariolatry, worshipping the mother of Jesus, others have over-reacted and have made her a non-entity. Perhaps part of the reason is that we don’t read much about Mary in the New Testament—she appears only a few times. Nonetheless, she is an important, significant person and she deserves our recognition and respect. Mary says in vs. 47, “From now on all generations will call me blessed.” That should include Protestants!
The angel Gabriel says to Mary in vs. 28, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” Catholic scholars have translated these words as “Hail, Mary—full of grace.” From this passage we get some of the text of the hymn “Ave Maria”. From this some also surmise that Mary is full of gifts of grace, and appears before God and humankind as a mediator to dispense gifts. But it is clear from the context that Mary is only the recipient of God’s favor in that He had chosen her to be the mother of Jesus. The words “highly favored” (caritousqai) mean that Mary has been literally “furnished with grace”; she has received special favor, a privileged role in the plan of God. Every Jewish girl hoped to become the mother of the Messiah. Mary is blessed, but she is not our mediator; nor is she a co-redemptrix with her divine Son. Paul tells Timothy, “There is only one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and people. He is the man Christ Jesus” (2:5, NLT). We don’t pray to Mary. If you were sick, who would you call—the doctor, or the doctor’s mother? Mary is not the “Queen of Heaven”, but she is worthy of honor, and we should not take her willingness to serve God lightly.
Scholars agree that Mary was a teenager, and more specifically thirteen, the average age girls were betrothed. It was common in Bible days for girls to marry very young, and to wed much older men. I suppose this gave couples more time to “be fruitful and multiply”; large families were the norm. Mary’s “yes” shows that young people are capable of profound devotion to God. The Apostle John was a teenager when Jesus called him to be His disciple. Solomon urges in Ecclesiastes, “Remember your Creator in the days of your youth” (12:1). Although adolescence is a time of change and turmoil, it can also be a time of commitment to Christ. Decisions made for Christ at a young age can profoundly affect the direction of one’s life.
“May it be to me as you have said” (vs 38). To live is to make decisions. When we are very young, we depend largely on our parents to make decisions for us. When we get older, we long for the day when we will be free to make all our own decisions. That can be a great day, if we are spiritually prepared for it. Our beliefs and values will influence our decisions, which will determine our behavior and destiny. People cannot be truly free to make decisions if they are enslaved to sin. Only Christ can free us from sin’s bondage. Real freedom is living within the restraining influence of God’s will. Mary showed tremendous maturity for her young age by submitting to the will of God, in spite of her uncertainty. When we surrender to God we discover an important lesson: “The will of God will never lead you where the grace of God cannot keep you.” Our response to the word of God (to His will) determines our inward condition.
Mary’s hesitation comes (vs. 34) because she doesn’t feel qualified. She is not doubting the angel, but she’s clearly confused. We don’t know if she was aware of Isaiah’s prophecy: “Behold, a virgin will conceive and bear a son and will call his name Emmanuel—God with us” (7:14). God uses people for His redemptive work, but He uses divine means; the Holy Spirit is the power that makes things happen. God does more than call us to serve Him; He enables us to be effective disciples. Paul said “It is not I who lives, but Christ lives in me” (Gal 2:20). What happened to Mary is a miracle; we need to understand that when God saves and transforms us, that too is a miracle. What have we accomplished that can only be explained by the power of God? Paul tells the Thessalonian church, “The One who calls you is faithful and He will do it” (I Thes 5:24). And so Mary is told that “the power of the Most High will overshadow” her (vs 35).