And the angel Gabriel said to Mary, “Greetings, favored one.” When I think of being ‘favored,’ I tend to think that I have done something that has pleased another person. I also think that I what I have done has been better than others around me. It makes me wonder, “Did Mary actually do something that made her stand out so that God picked her from among all the other young Jewish women in Israel?”
The word for ‘favored’ – in the Greek comes from the same word as grace – and the word is a passive form of the verb indicating Mary was a passive object, there wasn’t anything Mary did to receive this ‘favor,’ or honor. She didn’t earn the title, Mother of God. She was favored by having the honor of giving birth to the child that would change the history of the world. Mary received God’s favor in the same way we have been favored because there was nothing we did to earn God’s grace in giving Jesus Christ to the world.
God’s ‘graces’ aren’t always what we consider ‘gifts’ by this world’s standards. Not many young Jewish girls would consider pregnancy before the wedding to be an honor or a blessing from God…quite the contrary. But isn’t that like God? God takes what the world sees one way and turns it upside down. Whoever would believe the Son of the Creator of the Universe would be born in a smelly animal stable and laid in a feeding trough? A pregnant virgin, a king on a cross. God has a funny way of making contradictions out of the world’s ways of thinking.
Can’t you hear Mary say, “Thanks a lot for the favor, God, but that’s a total commitment of my body for nine months, then labor, then raising a child. And your timing seems a little questionable. How about favoring me by letting me sing in the choir, or being an usher at church on Sundays, something that doesn’t take my whole being and life. Or don’t make me do something that is uncomfortable or that takes too much of my time. My time is already planned.”
But God had a purpose for Mary, and that was the gift. Mary allowed God to use what she had – where she was in life – for the good of the whole world.
Mary’s qualifications to be the mother of the Messiah were not impressive. Her only future as a Jewish girl in those days was to be a Jewish man’s wife, to have his children, to care for the children and for her husband. God used her within the confines of her patriarchal culture, used her abilities and what gifts she had. Her gifts must have been to be a caring and loving mother and wife. And her greatest asset was that she was faithful.
Part of Mary’s thinking had to include this: “I don’t understand a bit of this. But you are God, and I serve you…I’ll do whatever is your will.” Her words in the Greek are this – “I am the slave girl of the Lord.” Our modern translations soften the sound of that concept of slavery. We say ‘maidservant’ or ‘handmaiden’ or even just ‘servant.’ But the Greek word literally is ‘slave.’
Graced by God to be a mother. And she said ‘yes.’
Maybe it’s easier for someone who is poor financially, for someone poor in spirit, who’s humble, to say ‘yes’ to God, to say ‘yes’ to slavery. Maybe it’s easier for a poor person than for a rich person to see themselves as subservient to a Lord and Master. The rich, the self-sufficient, the independent, and those who are in control of their own lives must find it very difficult to give up control, independence, and self-sufficiency in order to follow the purpose of God and improves the lives of many people.
In baptism, we received a message just like Mary received from the angel. That message in baptism was: “Do not be afraid, for you have found favor with God. God wants his Son to be born in you and to live and grow in you.” And in order to be truly favored, our response has to be the same as Mary’s response to the angel when she said: “I am the Lord’s slave. May it be to me as you have said.”
All who say ‘yes’ to give birth to goodness and harmony in the world with whatever gifts and assets they’ve been given will bring Christ to life.
May God favor you by using you to bring goodness to the world. Come, Lord Jesus, come.