Editor’s note: “Look Back” is a series designed to highlight articles from the Good Faith Media archives that remain relevant or historically interesting. If you have an article from our archives that you’d like us to consider including in this series, please email your suggestion to email@example.com. A version of this article previously appeared at EthicsDaily.com on December 23, 2011. At the time of publication, Marshall was president of Central Baptist Theological Seminary.
I never played Mary in the Christmas pageant, probably because I could not sit in wordless contemplation!
Indeed, many little girls prefer to be an angel because at least an angel gets to do something.
Sitting in blue and white in calm repose (as if long travel and labor had not occurred), Mary is simultaneously “queen of heaven” and virgin mother. Laden with theologically heavy interpretations, the courageous, barely-a-young-woman from Nazareth shrinks from view.
Willing to entertain Gabriel’s startling message, and questioning it appropriately (Luke 1:34), Mary is the exemplary first disciple.
Her role in this love story of cosmic proportions is indispensable, and her consent matters. St. Augustine was fond of saying that God would do nothing “without our consent.”
God is not content to remain in heaven, but desires to make life among us. Truly, heaven cannot contain God’s overflowing love; it spills into the world.
God cannot wait for mortals to get it right (we never will), so God comes among us in the frailest form of human life, a male infant, and Mary is God’s first earthly home.
She has found favor with God. Why Mary? She is a person of fierce faith; she believed the promises of God to her downtrodden people.
Thus, she looked for the redemption of Israel through the coming Messiah. She well knew that only God could lift the heel of Rome from the neck of her people; she knew that only God could call the arrogantly religious to true faith.
So, God sends Gabriel with the great but disturbing news of how God will accomplish the salvation of God’s beloved people.
Martin Luther said that angels love to show up at one of two times: when one is busy going about one’s work or when one is at prayer. We do not know what Mary was doing, but we do know the message: The angel tells her that God is with her.
Mary believed before she conceived. She trusted that the Lord was really with her, which is why she can sing of the many reversals of injustice as if they have already taken place.
When she asked the angel how she, a virgin, could have a child, she trusted Gabriel’s word that the “Holy Spirit would come upon her, and the power of the Most High would overshadow her.”
Just as the Spirit of God brooded over the face of the deep, bringing forth new life, so it would be with Mary. What more unlikely place than a virgin’s womb to bear the Son of God?
Similar to the ancient doctrine of creatio ex nihilo (creation out of nothing), Luke is portraying the power of God to create life out of seeming emptiness. Her own great reversal of identity was a sign that God would do what she sang out.
She trusts enough in God’s love to believe that she will not face whatever happens next without companioning – God’s and the intimate circle with whom she shares her story. Her faith encourages Elizabeth as together they try to make sense of what love was birthing in them.
Love can only choose to come; it can no more be ordered to arrive on demand than a family can dictate the time of a child’s birth.
Mary waited – with heaviness, yet with profound expectation that God’s strong arm would put to rights the world’s injustice.
And now we wait for Advent’s longing to be met by the coming of love and justice. May we confidently join Mary’s song.