There is a turbulent seven year phase in anyone’s life which often shapes the person you become. The twelve years of childhood give way to teenage years as you transition to adulthood. So much has been written about teenage years you could fill aircraft hangars with the books. One common theme emerges, they are not easy years. Even the most peaceful of teenage travelers will testify as to the struggles in finding a path to the future.
Somewhere in her teenage metamorphosis a young Hebrew girl named Mary had more to deal with than mere maturing.
She had reached an age where she could be betrothed to her fiancé, a local carpenter from the northern town of Nazareth. Betrothal was not like engagement today, it was as legally binding as marriage. The only way out of betrothal was devorce, betrothal was unconsummated marriage and well established in Jewish culture and customs.
Into this teenage betrothal arrives, first the message, then the reality of pregnancy, but not any pregnancy, Mary was to carry the Messiah, the saviour of the world.
Since no-one had experienced this before, and no-one would again, this teenager was to embark on a lonely, but not a lone path. No-one would really understand her (a common cry of teenagers) and no-one could possibly know what she was going through.
Yet she emerges as an amazing woman of stark contrast, profound paradoxes and immense strength. She should not be thought of as a vulnerable, fragile, frightened, cowering individual. The way she handled the conversation with Gabriel revealed an astonishing level of composure once she had got over the initial universal human shock at meeting an angel in the first place!
Mary’s final words in the conversation revealed her deep faith and profound insight. She had just been told, literally, the most unbelievable of stories. She could be forgiven for reacting like Zechariah, Elizabeth’s husband, with disbelief, or like Sarah, Abraham’s wife, with laughter, or even Joseph, with embarrassment, but her words were “I am the Lord’s servant, may it be to me as you have said”. (As a side thought can you imagine how painful it would have been for a woman as faithful as Mary to have been accused of unfaithfulness to here husband?)
Unlike many who were officially recognized professionally as “the Lord’s servants” such as priests, rulers, theologians of her day, Mary actually was the Lord’s servant and knew what that meant. Somehow and sometime on her short life’s journey Mary had come to see her primary identity as “Lord’s servant”. She had settled in her mind that this was her view of herself and it followed that if her Lord said something she would accept it. Perhaps this self-view was why the angel twice called her “favoured” once qualifying it with the word “highly” and second explaining “you have found favour”.
Mary had settled the biggest issue of all and she had settled it early in her life. “Who am I?” in her mind had one answer “I am the Lord’s servant” and that meant “His will be done” not as some pray “His will be shaped to mind”. These words would later find an echo at Cana when she told the wedding servants “whatever He tells you want to do – do it” – it was her life’s theme.
This self awareness reveals to you a key characteristic of Mary. She had a rich inner life. Dr Luke tells us that just after the birth of Jesus and the commotion of the breathless shepherds arriving in the stable, Mary, “treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart”.
Here is part of her many paradoxes. She was naturally a pondering, thoughtful, even private woman yet her life was going to be paraded, played out on the world’s stage, it still is.
Mary gives the clue to all women, that dealing with public, family and divine responsibilities requires a rich inner strength and a settling of the primary issue of identity.
Now hold tight for a surprise. This same teenage, thoughtful humble, servant of God who hides things in her heart, explodes into a controversial song with subversive, revolutionary lyrics. Why would she not, she’s a teenager?!
What we now call the Magnificat is a celebration of reversal. I can only summarise for you, there are at least four reversal statements, check them out for yourself. First there was a gender bias reversal. “From now on all generations will call me blessed”. For centuries generations had called Eve, the mother of humankind, cursed. Now, in Mary the mother of Jesus, she would be called blessed. This was not only about Mary but about women, motherhood and female dignity.
Second, is a mental revolution. Mary says about those who are proud in their inmost thoughts that God will scatter them. This was a teenager who was already clear about the importance of the inner-life. She reveals the divine scatterer of the proud hearted echoing the Old Testament statement that what we think we are- we become. Mary knows haughty thinking is dangerous.
Third, there in a power revolution in her song. Rulers brought down from thrones, but the humble lifted up.
Fourth, an economic revolution. Mary sings of a God who fills the hungry and sends the rich away empty.
These are surprising words from someone who is supposed to be quiet, but when Mary is singing these words she is already carrying the son of God in her womb. This is a love song to Him, a prophecy of what is to come, she carries the One inside her who has turned her world upside down and will do so for everyone else as He becomes a man.
Now a final paradox about this remarkable woman is this. The Christmas story for her was filled with joy. She is favoured, her soul glorifies the Lord, rejoices in her God. Yet in thirty-three short years she will be in her forties watching her Son die.
Her God favoured her with joy and sorry, He still does, and perhaps women feel this more keenly than do some men but Mary’s message to us all remains clear “I am the Lord’s servant may it be to me as you have said”.
Perhaps we should thank God that this remarkable woman stands right at the heart of the Christmas story, quiet and loud, young and mature, joyful and sorrowful, but above all, faithful.
The Birth of Jesus Foretold
26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”
29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”
34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”
35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. 36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. 37 For no word from God will ever fail.”
38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.
Mary Visits Elizabeth
39 At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, 40 where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! 43 But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!”
46 And Mary said:
“My soul glorifies the Lord
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
holy is his name.
50 His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
51 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
53 He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful
55 to Abraham and his descendants forever,
just as he promised our ancestors.”
56 Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months and then returned home.
19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.
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