30 The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 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 ancestor David. 33 He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” 34 Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” 35 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 holy; he will be called Son of God. 36 And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.
As many of you know I spent Christmas in bed with the flu. However I decided to try and make good use of my time so I read and I prayed and I reflected. One of the things I read was my new book ‘Accidental saints’ by Nadia Bolz Webber, who is one of my favorite modern theological writers and thinkers, she is not to everyone’s tastes as she is very radical, and outspoken but I find her reflections on scripture refreshing and thought provoking.
I always find myself thinking about Mary at Christmas, this year more than ever as I began to write the Littlemoor nativity. Over the weeks leading to Advent I found myself returning to the following words which I wrote for the narrator;
Mary, who had seen it all happen, kept these things close to her heart and in years to come would often remember that special night.
Once again Mary had interrupted my thoughts as I reflected on all that she was, her obedience and her strength, her love and her courage as she carefully carried our Lord inside her, brought him into the world, loved him and raised him and continued to walk with him even to the very end. I considered all that she kept close, all that she held, both the blessings and the pain, all she was prepared to do all that she willingly sacrificed as she submitted to Gods will. I thought about this mother who I have always greatly admired and respected and from who I have drawn inspiration and comfort and as I thought about what I might have done and felt had I been in her place at any stage on her journey with Christ.
So when I came across a chapter dedicated to Mary in ‘Accidental Saints’ I was eager to read it and discover what Nadia would have to say about Mary. It is the reflections I have had on Nadia’s understanding of Mary that I want to share with you today.
When I think about the annunciation, I think about the faith it must have taken for Mary to believe that she was worthy of carrying Gods Son. The obedience to say; ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word’.
But Nadia sees Mary’s obedience through different lenses, she says;
‘I think Mary deserves our devotion because in her we see what casting our lot with and being blessed by the God of Israel really looks like. Namely that being blessed means seeing God in the world and trusting that God is at work even in things we can’t see, or understand, or imagine.’
She goes on to say that Mary says yes, thy will be done not based on her expectation of being blessed materially or socially but based on the expectation that God can create something incredible out of nothing. Mary was an ordinary young girl, she saw herself as nothing special but when God called her and told her that she would be; ‘blessed among women’ and that she was favored by Him’ she believed. Despite the fact that she saw herself as nothing she trusted that she was what God said she was. I wonder how many of us can do that? How many of us can say we believe we are who God says we are, believe we are capable of being the men and women who God has called us to be? Believe that the creator of the heavens and earth fully and totally loves us? Believe that if we were the only person in the world Jesus would still have gone to the cross just for us. If we don’t whole heartedly believe this, then consider this; what would our lives look like if we did, what freedom would we know, what amazing lives would we live? But sadly we do doubt and we do fear and then we doubt again. We lack confidence and we choose to see ourselves through the worlds eyes because to see ourselves through Gods eyes seems too good to be true, how could the almighty maker of heaven and earth love us when we are so flawed so insignificant, so unworthy. I remember when I first came to faith a mature Christian lady told me that all the negative things I believed about myself were lies, the lies of the enemy. I will never forget the feeling of both disbelief and wanting. I desperately, desperately wanted her words to be true but deep inside I was afraid, afraid that she was wrong and the voices were true – and then what would I do? Surely it was safer to remain where I was, believing in the ‘you cants’ rather than living out the ‘you cans’. I couldn’t believe that God could make something out of what I considered less than nothing.
But Nadia says this;
‘To be a people marked by the faith of Mary is to be a people, who say Ok, I don’t understand what’s going on and I know that my life isn’t going to end up looking like one I would choose out of a catalogue but I trust that God is at work in all of it. Blessedness is being used for God’s purpose more than it’s getting what I want or things being easy.’
That’s where the fear comes in, the lack of faith even the arrogance that if we do what we want, if we follow our agenda life will be easier, safer. Sometimes it is, but it is never, never as blessed as a life where we trust in God and follow Him, when we allow him to make something out of nothing, to take the broken and make it whole, to shine his light through our cracked vessels.
In the 4th century St Gregory of Nyssa wrote, “What was achieved in the body of Mary will happen in the soul of everyone who receives the Word.”
Because God is at work in you in much the same way that God was at work in Mary because we too carry in our body the blessing of God and having faith like Mary means allowing yourself to trust that. Daring to live it, refusing to see life through the worlds eyes and trust God to use us for His purpose not our limited ones.
Nadia finishes with these words, which is my prayer for you and my prayer for myself as I continue to reflect upon Mary and all that she was and all that she shows us about being people of faith;
So, may the God through whom nothing is impossible help you to be Marys….saying a fierce, or timid, or quiet, or confident yes. May it be with you all according to God’s Word. Amen.