“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary responded to Gabriel’s announcement. “Let it be to me as you have said” (Luke 1:38). With these words, Mary accepted not only an honor, but also a task – mother of the Messiah. With these words, she becomes a model for us, her fellow servants.
Epiphany is a good time to take a backward look at Mary, the most prominent player in the Christmas story after Jesus Himself. Perhaps our Epiphany perspective will put her in a new light.
At Christmas, Mary is often sentimentalized, sometimes worshipped, and at other times woodenized, a word I just made up to indicate the portrayal of someone as a stick figure or a cardboard cut-out, divorced from their humanity. But this Christmas season the movie The Nativity humanized both Mary and Joseph for many people. Joseph’s dilemma at his fiancé’s pregnancy, the reaction of the people of Nazareth, the journey to Bethlehem; in these events we see familiar Biblical figures as people with real flesh and blood, real feelings and fears.
Mary’s task was unique, and is the reason we rightly remember and honor her. But the tasks God gives each of us are also unique. No one has your unique combination of gifts and abilities, personality and experiences, all gifts of your Creator. No one else has the same combination of relationships that you do within your family, your work, your neighborhood and congregation, and among the strangers you meet. No angel announces our tasks, but our gifts and our relationships lead us to them.
Luke and Matthew relate the extraordinary events that accompanied the miraculous birth: angels, a star, travelers from afar, prophecies, and warning of danger. But the vast majority of Mary’s days were likely very ordinary. She carried the Messiah in her womb, and raised a child who would redeem all mankind, day by ordinary day. Although two centuries have come and gone, the concerns of Mary and Joseph as they carried out their responsibilities to family, faith and community are not unfamiliar to us, as they are shared by all God’s servants.
Amy Grant’s song “Breath of Heaven (Mary’s Song)” explores the loneliness and fear that Mary may well have felt at times, as well as her perplexity at having been chosen.
Do you wonder/As you watch my face
If a wiser one/Should have had my place?
But I offer all I am/For the mercy of your plan.
Help me be strong/Help me be/Help me.
The more we reflect on how God has chosen us for our individual tasks, the more amazement we too will feel, and the more frequently we will turn to Him for strength and guidance.
“The Mighty One has done great things for me” (Luke 1:49). Mary’s song of praise is our response, too. The Lord did a great thing for Mary in calling her to bear his Son. But he did a greater thing for her through that child–the life He lived and the death He died that removes our sin and failures, the victory over the grave he shares with us. None of us were given Mary’s task, but my tasks and your tasks are powered by the same joy of knowing that “the Mighty One has done great things for me.”