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Mary was from a peasant family, living a typical life of a Jewish girl in a rural village, far from the religious center of Jerusalem. We don’t know much of her personal life previous to the angel visitation, but we can assume she would have worked and helped her mother and other woman in their community with cleaning, weaving, collecting water, and gathering firewood to pull their weight in their insignificant village. And we know that she was espoused to Joseph, which was more than just engaged to him, it meant that they were already legally bound together.
Because of Isaiah’s prophecy, for centuries, many young Jewish women had dreamed and wondered, “Will I be chosen as the mother of the Messiah?” But it is likely that Mary was not one of them because she knew and made comment on her “low estate.” As Nathaniel even asked, “Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46). Which makes Mary all the more relatable when it comes to bridging the gap of how we see ourselves versus how God sees us. What we think we are worthy of versus what He already has strategically and profoundly planned for us.
God passed by the rich and noble families of the Jewish people, and went instead to an insignificant village, to a poor virgin bound to a poor carpenter. He sent an angel to reveal the truth of who she really was and what was in store for her.
We can see ourselves in, and be inspired by, how to move forward when we feel insignificant, unqualified, or less than. I see myself in those feelings; I have been there often.
And this was not something Mary asked for. Unlike Zacharias and Elizabeth, this was not a result of faithful prayers. This came to Mary under very different circumstances, not to fulfill petition, but to show God’s will for her. This was God intervening for a complete redirection and life change when everything was on the line. I can see myself in her with this, being shown and asked to do something different than what I had in mind. How many times I have been asked by God to do something but I’d say, “This isn’t what I asked for,” as I struggled to know why or if I was going to move forward with it. I didn’t ask to move across the country. I didn’t ask for several bouts of unemployment. I didn’t ask for serious health complications when I was pregnant with my third child. I didn’t ask to be houseless as a family of five when our house fell through after we already drove across the country.
I can see myself in the course correction and in the sacrifice. I have been there often. Deep sacrifice and life-changing direction change is not foreign to me. I have been there when I got baptized at age twenty; a choice that cost me my family. It was them or God. But could you even choose? Could you choose a God you just met over those you’ve always had? Were raised by? Loved by?
I see myself in Mary when she was asked to sacrifice and to leave behind. When God asked me to move away from the only way of living I knew of, in New York, to across the country to a place I had never been before, where I didn’t know a single person. And to find out my journey following the Spirit did not mean it would be easy and definitely not smooth. Doing what God asked of me meant that what to come was even harder. I see that with Mary, too. I was ripped away from anyone I’ve ever known and loved, in a new state by myself, only to be treated so painfully by others when getting there, because of things I could not change— my appearance. Despite my faith and actions, I still hear from others that God could never love someone like me, “I mean look at you.”
And Mary. Having to move forward with things she cannot change, having to walk around with the appearance of sin, assuming public shame she would have likely endured as an unmarried mom-to-be.
Joseph was told to fear not, but that fear had so many logical layers to it. It wasn’t just fear of what other people would think of him, nor was it just fear of being a father to a baby that was conceived without him. It was also fear of Mary’s life. If Joseph was not the father while they were already bound together by law, that would fall under adultery. Joseph was in fear of what would happen to her. She’d be ostracized, shamed, divorced, and no one would go near her. She’d be a tainted, impure woman all her days. Being a “just man,” Joseph would try to protect her by divorcing “her quietly,” precisely so that she would not be potentially stoned, just like another familiar bible woman we know of. I see myself in Joseph. Having layers of logic, weight, and fear of what God has brought me. I have been there often.
We see a girl trying to grasp and understand her unique call from God in a moments time. And with all of that—the seeming insignificance of her life thus far, the different, the course correction, the sacrifice, the potential punishment. With everything on the line, Mary responded, “I am the handmaid of the Lord. Let it be done unto me according to your word.” Mary didn’t hesitate; she didn’t ask for a sign, nor proof, neither more time to think. Considering all that was required to this poor, unsuspected Jewish girl of an insignificant village, I am the handmaid of the Lord—I am someone who does the will of God—is what she commits to no matter what was required of her, even if it meant losing everything. A commitment that comes that readily with that steep of sacrifice and change can only come from a commitment that was made long before any angel appears to her. And instead of being burden by the task and uncertainty ahead, she “rejoices!” She considers herself “blessed.” Almost as if it is a privilege to be part of it all, even the hard and unwanted ache that is going to follow. In fact, Simeon even prophesied to Mary that “a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also” (Luke 2:35). And yet, she “magnifies the Lord.”
“Let it be done unto me.” Let it happen to me. Allowing God to be God; giving Him the opportunity to show her just how great He really is. And what is it that happens when we allow God to be God? Something we never imagined for ourselves. Something greater. How?
Mary trusted, believed, and then acted regardless of not knowing the details of how she would fulfill what she was given; “How?” was the only question she asked.
“The Lord is with thee,” is how. And the “power of the highest shall overshadow thee,” is how. “Nothing is impossible,” is how. And Gabriel, telling her about Elizabeth who is 6 months pregnant in her old age, was not just another item on a list of miracles, but seeing His hand in her life also showed Mary that it wasn’t just her. It meant she wasn’t alone.
Little did humble Mary know what exactly would all unfold. Turns out humble, poor, and seemingly no different than any other young Jewish girl, is one of the few women mentioned in scriptures and the only woman whose life and ministry were prophesied about centuries before her birth. She wasn't sinless or perfect, she was a regular woman who allowed God to take her somewhere better and making something more of her. And because of that, she became Jesus’s first disciple. Early Christian churches gave Mary the title of theotokos, the “bearer or mother of God,” as a reminder of the important part that she played in the Father’s plan. She is one who is now even mentioned in the Quran more often than in the Bible— two of the longest chapters being named after her and her family—because of how highly esteemed she is by so many.
She wasn’t just someone that birthed the Savior of the World, although quite the feat on its own. Because of moving forward with God and God’s will, she was part of something so much bigger than that one moment. A whole life and a life hereafter that was full of blossoming magnifications. Regardless of others and regardless of the cost, she allowed God to use her in an extraordinary way. God calls ordinary men and women and uses them in extraordinary ways to help build His kingdom and give them something better.
There are times I know we wonder, well who am I? I’m no different than anyone else, I don’t have much. I come from little and can’t seem to see anything significant about me.
But little do we know. Little do we know what we are capable of doing and becoming and what will blossom and magnify because we are His. The entire purpose and existence of God is to bring us to the better and make us better. And regardless of how we see ourselves, regardless how others see us, regardless of our situations, our backgrounds, the sacrifices, and the unexpected, we are deserving of everything better and blossoming simply because we are His.
When we feel unfit, unworthy, and fearful, let us see ourselves in Mary. Although seemingly ordinary living in insignificance, Mary was in fact part of the royal lineage of David, just as the Messiah was prophesied to be born to. And for us, regardless of where we are and what we are doing, we really are in fact offspring of God (Acts 17:29), direct lineage to the most powerful Being to ever exist. And little do we know what’s in store; the greater magnifications that come when we allow God to be God, simply because we are His. And He is showing us who we really are and what is in store for us. And it is grand! Better than what we had in mind for ourselves.
God may bring us to something hard. He may bring to us something that is not what we asked for, but we are part of something so much bigger than the right now, so much bigger than what’s right here. We are not alone. There are others. God is with us. He gives us power. We, every one, have reason to rejoice. So “fear not.” Absolutely nothing is impossible.