How many girls do you know have been painted by DaVinci and sculpted by Michelangelo…who’ve been serenaded by Bach and Schubert… who’ve been praised by Augustine and Aquinas… who’ve been venerated over the ages by a constant stream of devotions? Or more to the point, can we ever hope to know anyone after they have been so endlessly exalted? This Sunday let’s try. And let’s see what we can learn from Christ’s earliest and closest earthly companion.
In the first chapter of Luke, we meet Mary before all that, long before she becomes swathed in centuries of sentimentality. We meet her as a kid…a very, very good kid … but still only a kid. She’s scared. She’s stunned. But she is not overwhelmed. This is her first encounter with an angel. But it is obviously not her first encounter with God. He is not an abstraction to her. He is a constant presence in her life. Even as a teen, she defines herself as God’s servant. Pastor Rick Warren would say: She has “A Purpose Driven Life.” She knows we are here to serve God… even if that means becoming the mother of the Messiah: Let it be with me according to your word.
Scripture gives us this stark portrait of a resolute Mary in the moment, not a mushy Mary of myth. In the most mind-boggling circumstances, she stands her ground… momentarily confused by the message and the messenger… but confident in the goodness of God, giving herself reflexively to his service. She was called to greatness. And she was equal to the task.
For all our maturity, how many of us have such a clear grasp of life’s ultimate reality? We are here to serve God. That is our own personal call to greatness… not greatness as the world sees it, but greatness as God wills it to be… and not in response to a sudden call from angels, but to a constant inner call from God’s grace.
We get to answer that call everyday in countless ways — in our respect for others, in our kindness, in our generosity, in our forgiveness, in our family responsibilities, in our professional ethics, in our fearless, unrelenting witness to Christ’s love. Doubtless, none of us will be sculpted or painted by masters. Choirs will not sing our praises. But God will. He rejoices in the goodness we give back to him. He knows the obstacles we must overcome. He knows the sea of secular cynicism that surrounds us. He knows we can be confused and distracted. That is why scripture gives us the wisdom of Mary, the kid who was surprised, but then quickly focused… the kid who knew she was God’s servant and knew that God would see her through.
This gospel also teaches us that God’s gifts are not predictable. They don’t come in neat little packages. Sometimes, right from the first, they are a pure joy. But more often they come as trials. They are opportunities wrapped in disappointment. They are confusing… frightening… even overwhelming. That’s the time to trust in Jesus. That’s the time to remember Mary.
In putting these thoughts together, I was reminded of our family friend, Fern Hill, whose young son Timothy was run down and killed delivering newspapers. In her torment, the grieving mother remembered that she was God’s servant… first, last and always, come what may. She and her husband Jerry went on to found The Timothy Hill Children’s Ranch which for over forty years has given new life to hundreds and hundreds of abused, abandoned and troubled children. In crushing pain, she answered God’s call to greatness. .. just as she is answering his call today… protecting, caring, nurturing…witnessing Christ’s love wherever it is needed most.
When blessings come disguised as challenges… when the call to love is shrouded in pain and distorted by doubts… I pray that we share the serenity of Mary… I pray we embrace her willingness to serve. I pray we join in her song: My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.