“Mary asked the angel, ‘How can this be, since I have not had sexual relations with a man?’ The angel replied to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore, the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. And consider your relative Elizabeth – even she has conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called childless. For nothing will be impossible with God.’ ‘See, I am the Lord’s servant,’ said Mary. ‘May it happen to me as you have said.’ Then the angel left her.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
Have you ever been asked to do something that seemed impossible? How about this: Have you ever been asked to do something that was going to cause serious disruption to your life? The first you can’t do. The second you perhaps can, but you don’t want to. It is not impossible for you to accomplish, but rather is impossible for you to consider. Mary was asked to do both. What the angel asked of her on God’s behalf was both impossible as far as she knew, and the furthest thing from what she would have wanted to do given the plans she no doubt had for her life. How she responded has something powerful to say when God calls us to do hard things in our own lives. Let’s continue our Advent journey this morning by looking at what Mary was called to do, and what she did about it.
In most cultures across the centuries of human history, when a girl crosses the line of puberty, her mind starts to drift in the direction of marriage and the family she will one day enjoy. She imagines what her husband will be like and holding her babies. She envisions a long, happy life of being a mother and eventually grandmother, and possibly even a great-grandmother. That kind of thinking is entirely natural. It is why young girls play with dolls and pretend to be princesses. Every one of them wants to be scooped up by a prince and whisked off to a life of wonder and delight.
For a young girl named Mary living in a small village called Nazareth during the reign of Caesar Augustus, her story was unfolding just exactly like she hoped it would. She was perhaps fourteen or fifteen, give or take a couple of years. Her family was a faithful one and had built into her a fierce commitment to the Law and the righteousness it offered. She was betrothed to a good man named Joseph. In a year’s time she would be his bride, and the two of them would begin a life together that was very much like they imagined it would be.
But then one day as she was going through her normal routines, she turned a corner and came face to face with a heavenly being. Its greeting spoke of God’s favor and the promise of His presence, but that didn’t stop her knees from quaking with fear. Perhaps she had committed some unknown sin for which she was now to be judged. It could have been there for a reward of some kind too. Either way, beholding such a creature as this was a terrifying affair. It offered a quick word of assurance, but what came next was not at all reassuring.
“Now listen: You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus.”
It is easy to look down on cultures in our historical rearview mirror. Our temptation toward such chronological snobbery today is great indeed. But just because people in Mary’s day didn’t have access to all the scientific and medical knowledge that we have today doesn’t mean they didn’t understand the basics of how the world works. Most notably for this particular moment, they knew where babies came from. A woman who found herself to be pregnant didn’t wonder how it had happened. What this angel was saying to Mary, then, she immediately knew to be impossible. Thus, her question.
She was an honorable young woman. Her parents had raised her according to the commands of the Law and she sought to uphold them to the fullest extent of which she was capable. More specifically, she had not engaged in any kind of behavior that would result in her being pregnant. For this angel to tell her she was going to turn up pregnant, then, didn’t make a bit of sense.
But there was more here too. Because she had not engaged in any kind of behavior that would result in her being pregnant, particularly with Joseph, if she suddenly turned up pregnant, there were going to be some questions flying around about her, and they weren’t going to be especially friendly questions. Mary understood where babies came from and so did everyone else around her. If she was discovered to be pregnant, everyone in her world was going to come to the same conclusion about how it had happened. They may not be able to identify both of the parties involved, but they were all going to be thoroughly convinced of the identity of one of them. And the trouble with this is that given her marital circumstances, their identification brought with it consequences, most notably the charge of infidelity which carried with it the penalty of death by stoning.
In other words, if what this angel said turned out to be true, then no matter what the child would be called, her life was about to be turned not just upside down, but inside out and backwards as well. Everything she had spent her few years working toward in terms of her reputation and future prospects for happiness were going to be smashed into a thousand pieces with no real hope of putting them back together again. The whole situation was impossible on its face. It was impossible on medical grounds. It was impossible on cultural grounds. It was impossible on relational and social and economic and any other grounds you can think of. If this had been anyone other than an angel delivering this news to her, Mary may have done a quick 180 and run as fast as she could in the other direction.
But it was an angel, meaning this message was from God, and so Mary’s lifetime of training in obedience to God’s voice kicked in and after asking an entirely natural question about the mechanics of God’s plans, she only had one response: I am the Lord’s servant. May it happen to me as you have said. In other words, if God says so, then let’s go.
Mary may have been young, but she wasn’t stupid. She knew immediately the risks and burdens she was taking on by agreeing to this insane plan of God’s. She figured her relationship with Joseph was toast. She was likely to be kicked out by her family. Her support networks were going to be burned. She was going to have to try to start over in a new city as a single mom. That kind of thing isn’t easy today. It was impossible back then. She may even have to go on the run to avoid the possible punishment she would face when everyone around her came to the very natural conclusion about how she had gotten herself in the situation she was in. But somehow, she had the courage to say, “Okay.” Nothing about any of this made any sense, but God’s ways and thoughts were higher than hers so who was she to question them? If God says so, then let’s go.
Friends, Mary is an example to us for a reason. Her story has been told and retold for centuries on purpose. She was not lost to history because her faith shined too brightly to be forgotten. When she was facing the reality of God’s taking a wrecking ball to all of her plans for what her life would look like, she simply said, “If God says so, then let’s go.” And the world has never been the same. It never will be. She didn’t understand all the details. We are told multiple times that she simply took it all in and reflected on it because she didn’t know what to do with it. Well, that’s not quite true. She did know one thing to do with it: Move forward in faith. If this was something God was doing – and He kept giving her indications that this was indeed something He was doing – then He would work out the details along the way. If He decided to share those with her, great, but even if He didn’t, she was still going to trust Him and move forward in the direction He was leading.
That’s actually something not to miss here. Mary didn’t have all the details as she went. She didn’t have a full map of where all of this was going to go and how it was going to unfold. She was living it one day at a time just like we do our own lives. And many of those days would have been hard. Excruciatingly hard. But she kept putting one foot in front of the other, running hard on the line, “If God says so, then let’s go.”
In our own lives, God doesn’t give us all the details of His plans for us. We don’t know where those plans are going to take us and what will be the result of our sticking with them in spite of their apparent difficulty in the moment. And not having those details can be extraordinarily frustrating, especially when what we can see points us clearly in a different direction. But if God says so, then we need to go.
We need to go because what we can’t see could eventually be a really big deal for the advancement of God’s kingdom. Our being faithful in the mundane could result in hundreds or thousands or even tens of thousands of people coming to faith in Jesus one day. We don’t know. We can’t know. But if God says so, then let’s go. His plans are for our good and the good of the world, and He is big enough to make sure they come to pass and that we are able to fully play the role He intends for us to play in them. It may seem like a bit part, but if it advances His plans for His world, it is anything but insignificant.
As you move forward in this season of waiting for Christ’s coming, may you find in Mary’s story the encouragement and hope to keep pursuing God’s plans for your life and the lives of the people around you. They won’t always be easy – in fact they usually won’t be. But you’ll always, eventually, be glad you did. If God says so, then let’s go.