Luke 1:38 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.
Luke is sitting in a garden on a hill outside Jerusalem with Mary, the mother of Jesus, on a warm afternoon long past the death of Christ and the events of Pentecost. Mary's thick silver hair shows only remnant strands of the rich black locks that once adorned her head. It is mid-summer A.D. 55. The apostle Paul has recently been arrested and escorted to prison in Caesarea. Luke, Paul's physician and traveling companion, is taking this opportunistic break in his travels to hang out with Mary and the others who knew Jesus.
Luke, a Gentile, a marginalized man in Jewish society, is gathering the "Mary" stories and recording them on scraps of parchment that he carries in a leather satchel slung over his shoulder. He is journaling the stories that only Mary would know. He is asking the questions that other men would not ask. The witness of a woman, according to Jewish law, was inadmissible evidence so why bother?
But Luke knows in his heart that the “Mary” stories are keepers. He is capturing the oral tradition of the women pressing it into a permanent testament to their role in the story of Jesus of Nazareth, the story of God.
Luke and Mary are seated in a shaded area of the garden with their backs against the trunk of a fig tree lunching on bread and dried fish. Between mouthfuls, Luke turns to her and asks, "Tell me about the birth of Jesus."
Mary breathes a long pensive sigh
and gazes down the road and out across the valley below. She
remembers back to the time, a lifetime ago now, when she was a young
woman--still a little girl, really. “I was on my way to do some
morning chores for my mother when I was rather disturbingly
approached by a man. He said, 'Greetings, favored one! The Lord is
with you.' And I thought, what kind of greeting is that? From a
stranger, no less. I wanted to bolt and run back to the house. What
is this? What is going on here? This is feeling really creepy.
"But then, just as I was about to turn and run, he consoled me, 'Do not be afraid, Mary!'”
A little twinge of the memory of that fear crawls along Mary's skin. She shudders briefly, then turns to Luke smiling and adds, “Angels always say that, you know. As your legs crumple and drop you to your knees, your heart races, and you realize who is speaking clearly and directly into your soul, the messenger of God always says 'Fear not!' Funny really. For those words, as well-intentioned as they were, really only had the effect of calming my sheer terror down to a level of mere fear for my life.”
Mary strokes her forehead, closes her eyes, and wanders back into the memory. She allows the emotions of that moment to swirl back in her heart and soul. She is searching for words to speak. Then, looking over at Luke, she smiles and reflects, “In that moment, I went from wanting to run for my life to feeling that my life depended on staying. But it was still scary. This guy knew my name! And I knew I had never seem him before. I was skeptical. Looking askance I listened to him continue,”
You have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 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. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.
“At this point I think the only words I heard were 'conceive', 'bear a son', 'house of David' and 'kingdom'. Luke, it was every Jewish girl's dream to bear a son who would grow up to be the new king of Israel -- a new David to lead us out of the grip of this Roman Goliath. I knew Joseph was descended from David. I knew it could happen. But when this guy showed up claiming to be a messenger of God and said, 'Girl! You're the one!', it threw me. I think the fear combined with the expectation that I was in for the ride of my life resulted in doubt, skepticism, unbelief. All I could think to say was 'How can this be for I am a virgin?' My young teenage brain, while running ahead to the dream of being the mother of the King, was struck at the impossibility of it all. 'I'm a virgin. How are we going to get there from here?'
“I remember clearly this next part for I have carried these words within me all these years. The angel then said,”
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. 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. For nothing will be impossible with God.
“And I am thinking, 'What kind of answer is that?' This means I would be pregnant before being married. My parents won't believe me. Joseph won't believe me. No one will believe me. They'll all think I slept with another man, cheating on Joseph. Luke, the penalty for that is death … by stoning. Not a pretty thought for a little girl.”
Mary allowed the significance of that to sink in for a moment and then continued, “In my head, I compared the story of Abraham and Sarah with Zechariah and Elizabeth. Sarah was barren and yet bore the child, Isaac, who became the nation of Israel. And here, in Elizabeth, the story is being repeated. But why me? A virgin becoming pregnant by the Holy Spirit? How's that going to work? It's never been done like that before. I mean, Samuel, Sampson, Isaac--they were all borne of barren women, not virgins. God doesn't work like that … does He? Why not Elizabeth? She already has the barren-woman-bears-son thing going for her. Why me? Why me?
“You know what Luke? I could have just said, 'No thanks. I'm totally buried with the wedding plans and all. Besides I have chores to do. Gotta run. Catch ya later. Buh bye.' I had a choice. I could have just laughed and returned to my normal life. I could have walked back into the house and said, 'Hey Mom! You'll never guess what just happened to me!' … never realizing that what had just happened was that I missed the ride of my life.”
Luke stares at the ground allowing
the story to sink in. He wonders if this had been his story whether
he would have chosen to say 'yes' or 'no' to this assignment from
God. Saying 'yes' means a life leading to turmoil, embarrassment,
shame, and even possibly painful death. Saying 'no' means he can
return to his predictable, normal, self-controlled life.
Luke asks, “Mary, how on earth did you ever end up saying 'yes' when you knew that the yes-road was humanly impassable at worst and break-your-ankles rocky at best?”
“Luke, at that point, the breath of God washed over me and I felt a profound sense of peace. I think I finally realized who was speaking to me through this messenger. It was the One who created me. It was the One who created the angel. It was the One who created the very earth on which I knelt.”
Mary raises one eyebrow and looks back at Luke with a smile. “It's almost funny now. As a little girl I had no idea what I was in for. Not really. I had no idea what that one act of faith would lead to. But those last words of the angel, 'For nothing will be impossible with God' kept echoing in my head. I kept thinking of how God brought us out of Egypt, how He supported us for 40 years in the desert with miracles of water and manna, how He parted the water of the Jordan allowing us to enter this land. The history of God is filled with impossible things being done by normal, ordinary people who work intimately with One who created them. Why not me?”
“So how did you ever get around to saying 'yes'? How long did it take for you to weigh your options and make that incredibly difficult decision?”
Mary reaches over for Luke's hand. She looks directly into his eyes and says, slowly, “The very next thing I said was, 'Behold the ...'” And with tears gathering into droplets at the corners of her eyes, she switches to Greek, Luke's native tongue, and says, “doulē of the Lord!”
“Doulē !? Mary! That means female-slave! Really? You said that to God?”
“Yes, dear Luke. I told God to behold his new bond-slave, his handmaiden. And then I added, 'may it be done to me according to your word.' I said, 'Do it now. Make it so,' and then I sat in awe at the feet of our Lord God as the angel left.”
“Oh Mary! You are an amazing woman! I could never have done that!”
“Luke, I am not above anyone else who accepts an assignment from our God. It's just one act of faith. Anyone can do that. You can do that, Luke. Actually, it's not a matter of can, it's a matter of want. I wanted to be completely dependent on God for every decision made from that point on. I knew it was impossible with me in control. I knew everything would be possible with God. I knew I couldn't do it. I knew God could. If you start with wanting the assignment, wanting to work with God, what you can do together has no limits … and what you do together is eternal.”
Mary reflects that it seems so quiet now after the tumultuous events of the previous seven decades of her life. She looks back out across the valley and to the people and their wagons on the road below. For most of them, Jesus is gone. He's nothing more than recent history to them. He was a rebel. He was killed. End of story. She wonders if future generations are ever going to understand that He lives on. She wonders if her decision to bear the Savior is ever going to make any difference. The words of the angel from so long ago whisper on the wind, "For nothing is impossible with God." There is hope, somehow. Somehow God will find a way through this kind, Gentile man sitting next to her in this garden, to keep the story alive. And her son will find a way to live on in the hearts of those who submit to Him as their King.
She looks back to Luke and concludes, “Luke, you are a part of this story. Write it down. Make it permanent. I delivered a son who lived, died, and rose again to deliver me. Your job is to deliver this message to all future generations. Keep the story alive, my friend. For the story cannot and shall not die with us.”
Luke stands up under the fig tree
and holds out his hand to Mary. She accepts the assistance and rises
into his compassionate embrace. They share a holy kiss on the cheek
and turn to walk, arm-in-arm, into the sunshine, through the garden
and back up to the city.
I stand in awe of how that one selfless act of faith changed the course of history. That one sentence recorded on a little scrap of parchment by Luke on a warm afternoon in a garden near Jerusalem holds the key to the entire redemptive history that we are a part of. Make me your doulē -- do it now.
That one sentence is one I hear during Advent, but pay little attention to. Into the Christmas story pierces the voice of a young girl who had the faith not to wait. Innocently, without knowing its full consequences, she makes the choice, then tells the angel of the Lord, "make it so." A little Jewish girl had the faith one morning to pray "Lord, here I am. Make me your slave," and I want to skip right over that and run straight to Bethlehem to adore the baby Jesus along with the shepherds ...
… for it is so much easier for me to watch and enjoy the story than to allow myself to accept a part in it.
Can I mouth that same prayer and submit to His rule in me? Am I ready for this? Am I ready to accept whatever role God wants me to play to bring redemption and healing to His Creation?
Hmmm. That's a hard one. Can I get back to you on that?