“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)
A huge part of preparing for Jesus’ arrival means preparing ourselves for Him to do things that only God can do. In saying that, I don’t just mean we must prepare ourselves intellectually for His acting in unexpected or unbelievable ways. We need to prepare ourselves to join Him in those actions. We must prepare ourselves for a life of total obedience rooted in faith. Without that, we aren’t going to experience much of anything He wants to do. This kind of willingness is what started Jesus’ whole journey on earth. Let’s talk about it this morning.
We rightly celebrate Mary’s faith in being willing to be the mother of the Messiah. Her willingness to go along with God’s plans is simply stunning. But we don’t very often think too much about what all she was signing up for in calling herself “the Lord’s servant.” Let’s do that for just a second this morning.
For starters, she was signing up to be accused of adultery. I don’t think it’s possible for us to fully appreciate just how big of a deal this would have been in that culture. Our culture tends to treat adultery fairly lightly. We don’t necessarily celebrate it (although sometimes we do if the affair is with the person you are truly in love with as is the case in just about every Nicholas Sparks novel that has been made into a movie), but neither do we have the kind of cultural disapproval of it that we once did. There is actually at least one dating service that explicitly encourages it. Their slogan is, “Life is short. Have an affair.” In Mary’s culture, though, to be accused of adultery was to be fixed with a permanent scarlet letter. You would never be able to escape that and the shame it brought to your family. And in an honor-shame culture, that was a much bigger deal even than the adultery itself. What’s more, if the law was followed to the letter, it meant possibly facing death by stoning.
Legal consequences weren’t the only challenge facing Mary. She was engaged. Turning up pregnant while you are engaged and when your fiancé isn’t the father is not a good look. In fact, there’s pretty much only one conclusion anyone is going to reach (especially your fiancé), and it isn’t that you became miraculously pregnant by the action of the Holy Spirit. She had every reason to expect that her relationship with Joseph was going to be toast when he heard the news. And, once she was labeled a cheater, no one else was going to be interested in marrying her either. In her culture, this possible fate meant a whole lot more than merely being single all her life. Without a husband, she would have no means to support herself. Once her parents died, unless she had other family members willing to take her in (which, given her social stigma, was by no means a guarantee), she was facing life on the streets, begging to survive.
Let’s add one more burden to her load here just for fun. Given that Joseph was not at all likely to stick around once he heard the news, she was facing the meaningful prospect of being a single mother. Now today, we celebrate single moms. We celebrate single moms almost too much. A woman who is a single mom is a sign that something has gone wrong. We should cheer on and support her courageous, sacrificial willingness to give her child the best chance possible at a happy, successful life, but single motherhood is not a status we should celebrate on its own merits. We should focus more attention perhaps on celebrating dads who make sure their wives are not single mothers. None of this was the case in Mary’s day, though. Single mothers were adrift in a big sea filled with ships that had neither desire nor intention of picking them up. And, their children really didn’t stand much of a chance at life either.
All of this was what was facing Mary when the angel came and revealed God’s plans for her. Perhaps at the age of fifteen or sixteen – or perhaps even younger – she didn’t yet fully have the capacity to think through all of these possible outcomes of her situation, but she could imagine at least the contours of them. None of them sounded very promising for her. Maybe she was going to give birth to the Messiah, but that was no promise that her life was going to be made easy by such a thing.
And she said, “Yes,” anyway.
Her “yes” to God’s plans is why you have a relationship with Jesus today. She gave her yes in spite of all the dangers and burdens she knew it would bring, and her faith and faithfulness is what brought us Christmas in the first place.
As you continue to prepare for Jesus’ advent throughout this special season, you need to be aware that when He comes, He is going to have some things for you to do. There’s a pretty good chance some of those things aren’t going to fit with what you are planning for your life. Some of them may be hard. A few of them may seem downright impossible (like a virgin getting pregnant without losing her virginity). The question before you in that moment is the same question that was before Mary: how will you respond? Will you respond with doubt and skepticism? Or will you respond with faith and hope? A “yes” to Jesus is no guarantee of an easy life. In fact, it is often a guarantee of a more difficult one on this side of eternity. But speaking of eternity, it is a guarantee of experiencing eternity with Jesus rather than spending it apart from Him. Your willingness to step into obedience makes all the difference. So, what is something God has asked you to do and which you haven’t yet been willing to obey? Take a small step of obedience today. Begin building your faith muscle so that when the bigger opportunities come, you are ready to go gladly with Him as He advances His kingdom.