Mary, a young and evidently poor woman, is chosen for this high calling of giving birth to the world's savior, before she is married, before she has children. In her time and culture a woman's status came from her husband and ability to rear children. Remember the poverty of Ruth and Naomi who had no husband? Recall the anguish of Sarah who was barren in her old age. Yet Mary is cherished, loved, chosen for herself. After she responded to God in faith, then came the promise of a savior for all generations. God's message to Mary is His message to you and me. Our status comes not from any attainment, skill, or connection. We are loved first, thus empowered we turn to God in faith.
Mary's faith was not a mindless, blind leap. She has the holy nerve to challenge the "messenger" or angel. So we, too, should not be ashamed of our questions, or testing the spirits, to discern if the message squares with the God who is revealed in Jesus. The Church of Jesus Christ does not require that you check your mind at the door as you live by faith. Mary lived out what her Son later advised. She was wise as a serpent, but gentle as a dove. Do not even suppose that a tender, sensitive heart means a soft head.
There is much in modern life that persuades us that obedient, humble faith like that of Mary is a sign of weakness. We are likely to respond to the story of Mary by saying, "If you are going to talk of faith, at least give us a model like John the Baptist." He seemed to fit our concept of strength. He wore his strength in clothes of animal skin, rock hard muscles, booming voice. Now that strength we can understand. Yet Mary who is falsely understood as weak and frail reveals the strength of God given to those who will quietly receive it. Is not Mary the pregnant teenager who made the rough trek to Bethlehem when she was nearly at term? How long did she have to savor the miracle of birth before fleeing into a strange country to escape a rampaging tyrant? Then there were long hours of loving a son she could not fully understand. Can you and I know the strength that came to her as she watched her son undergo the agony of the cross? Could we have believed that God was still alive in the world? Nevertheless, her strength glorified God.
Yes, she knew fear. Part of her fear came from the fact that God wanted her, that she was needed for God's purposes. That is a kind of awe that we know little of ... to believe in fear and trembling we have been grasped by the Holy. It is fear that comes every time something new is to be born in us. We know that with every fresh birth of courage or obedience, there is a death of an old lifestyle, an old way of coping or not coping. It's scary. Yet despite the fear, strength comes. Strength borne of suffering. For faith is not an inoculation against pain or disappointment. Mary was not spared her humanity; she was given the strength and faith to live it fully, redemptively.
So we have heard this story again, this time through the eyes of a woman of faith. Still there are questions, intellectual doubts that block our belief. Can we be like Mary who asked questions but did not wait until every doubt was answered before she risked herself in believing the fantastic story?
The times I have shied away from trusting God for my future, or from believing that God's will was superior to my plans and schemes were not times of intellectual doubt, but fear. I was afraid that believing God might mean losing something, giving up my own comfort, or security or familiar lifestyle.
Emil Brunner once said that, "Faith is obedience, nothing else; literally, nothing else at all." Faith is not dwelling on what we do not understand, but being faithful to the light we are given. Faith is not an act, it is a process It is committing all we know of ourselves to all we know of God in Jesus Christ. Both will grow. As we know more of who we are, there will be more to invest in a God who has come to us, and said, "Fear not!" Mary stands out on the corner of faith for she not only prepared the way of the Lord, she provided Him room!