By Dick Barrett
Conference Minister

26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” 29 But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. 30 And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

34 And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”

35 And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. 36 And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her. — Luke 1:26-38 (ESV)

Having been raised in and spending the first 20-plus years of my life in the Roman Catholic Church, I struggled with the veneration of Mary, the mother of Jesus. There was a lot in the Catholic tradition about Mary about which I just could not find biblical support, especially the belief in her perfection and perpetual virginity, both before and after Jesus’ birth. Unfortunately, for the second quarter of my life I failed to give Mary the honor she was due. It’s only been during the past 20 years that I have come to appreciate who she was and the model she represents.

Now, being part of the Mennonite Church, which puts so much emphasis on discipleship, I find Mary to be one of Jesus’ disciples, if not the greatest of them. In fact, it is not her perfection that makes her so appealing; it is her humanness. I marvel that God would choose someone from such a low position, a young, poor, virgin girl, to incarnate the gift of his Son, Jesus Christ. Mary found favor with God not because of her perfection or anything she had done. Mary found favor with God because God chose her. And it appears that the only reason God chose her to incarnate his Son to the world was that he knew what Mary’s response was going to be: “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”

In the Annunciation and Incarnation of Jesus in Mary we find the entire Gospel message. Henri Nouwen expresses it this way in his book, Jesus: A Gospel:

“God chose to take flesh in the woman who had found favor in God’s eyes and had responded to that favor with a full ‘yes.’ Her response was not only an initial agreement but a lifelong obedience to God’s redemptive presence. In this obedience she followed Jesus in the most perfect way. Her life was a life of always fuller abandonment to the divine will, a total emptying in faith, a full entering into the darkness of her Son’s death. There is no other human being in whom we can see so fully what it means to receive the love of God who loves us so much that he sent his own Son. She has known more blessing and more suffering than anyone else in all humanity. In her we see most fully what it means to be redeemed.”

The same opportunity that God gave Mary to have his Son born within her has been offered to everyone. Will we say ‘yes’ to Jesus being made incarnate in us, and will we allow it to be done according to God’s word, God’s will, and God’s way? That is the main reason for the season of Advent and Christmas which we are about to enter into. May we respond in the affirmative for the glory of  Jesus’ name.