The angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and told her she had found favour with God and was going to give birth to God’s son. Mary wondered how this could possibly be true since she was a virgin but responded with the words, “I am the Lord’s servant, may it be to me as you have said.”
Her immortal “Yes” has been painted, written about, and celebrated ever since. But what if Mary had said, “No.” What if, in that moment, she pulled the plug on the most beautiful aria in history. Imagine the pained look on Gabriel’s face if he had to tell the hosts of heaven to pack up shop. Would that have been the end of the story or would they have hastily gone looking for another young woman to take Mary’s place?
But Gabriel did not come to ask Mary if she wanted to bear the Son of God. He simply announced what would happen: the Holy Spirit would come upon her, the power of the Most High overshadow her, and the One born to her would be called Jesus.
It seems to me that if Mary didn’t want to hear Gabriel’s news and told him to go away, she still would have gotten pregnant and given birth to our Lord. But Jesus would have been born to a mother who didn’t want him, didn’t love him, and would not have encouraged him to be himself. He would have grown up to do all that God asked him to, while bearing the sorrow of being rejected by his own mother. Isaiah 49:15 would have become prophetic: “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion for the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you.”
If Mary had interpreted Gabriel’s message as a burden foisted upon her, she would have gone down in history as the woman who missed the opportunity to enjoy mothering the Saviour of the world.
Mary’s story pierces our hearts because we too have been presented with a great opportunity. Whether we choose it or not, we have been overshadowed by the Holy Spirit who finds one way or another to be born in us. Everything in life has the potential of opening us to God. And God uses these things to enter the core of our being, so God can love us and be loved by us. The Holy One comes to us… whether or not we see it.
The question is not: will I allow God’s kingdom to come—for it most surely will—but, will I, like Mary, believe I have found favour in his sight? Will I praise God for his coming to me?
How silently, how silently,
the wondrous Gift is given!
So God imparts to human hearts
the blessings of His heaven.
No ear may hear His coming,
but in this world of sin,
where meek souls will receive Him still,
the dear Christ enters in.
– O Little Town of Bethlehem
I love the artwork you choose for your posts Esther. They make me stop to consider your words a bit more deeply. Thanks.
Thanks. It’s great to have such great art to use.
I really enjoyed this article Esther. I sang “Holy is His Name”, based on the Magnificat, Mary’s prayer of praise and acceptance for Christmas service during communion. Happy New Year!
Nice to hear from you! I can imagine you singing that with your beautiful voice. Happy New Year to you too.
I have been wondering lately about whether Mary had a choice over whether or not to be the mother of God. A post I read recently on the internet, by an atheist writer, described Christians as believing in a God who, amongst other crimes, goes around raping virgins. Obviously, Christians do not believe that God takes human or animal form to have sex with humans, like the gods of Greek mythology. But making a woman pregnant without her consent is surely just as much rape as having sex with her without her consent. (In a science fiction novel I read, the characters discuss whether a man who has been fathering illegitimate children with eggs stolen from a fertility clinic, without the mothers’ consent, can be prosecuted for rape.)
I discussed this with my partner, who suggested that, as God knows all things, God knew that Mary was the sort of person who would be proud to be the mother of the Messiah, in spite of all the dangers involved. As a patriotic teenager passionate about social justice, Mary was excited at being the mother of the liberator who would overthrow the oppressors (which, at the time, she probably expected him to do by bringing about political revolution against human tyrants, rather than by dying in order to defeat Satan himself). If Mary had been someone who just wanted a quiet life, God might well have challenged her to do something outside her comfort zone, but probably wouldn’t have landed her with the news: ‘Like it or not, you’re pregnant.’
In a book of howlers I read, there was one line ‘When Mary heard that she was to be the mother of Christ, she sang the Magna Carta.’ (For any readers who aren’t students of mediaeval British history, this was a document which a group of 13th century noblemen forced the King of England to sign, granting them legal rights, which later came to be a key inspiration both for 17th century English campaigners arguing against absolute monarchy, and for American colonists.) But the Magnificat is far more left-wing. Whereas the barons who wrote the Magna Carta were mainly concerned about the rights of freemen and particularly barons, Mary sings of a God who casts down rulers from their thrones and lifts up the humble. She certainly wouldn’t have responded like this if she had considered herself to be the helpless slave of a cosmic tyrant.
Thank you for your thoughts. I hear that you are pondering how much choice Mary had and whether God’s will is forced. I like your last line. I hear in it that Mary saw God as loving and herself as having agency, Indeed, Mary’s response tells us a lot about how she saw God and herself. I hear in that an invitation for us to see God how God truly is: Love and to see ourselves made “from love, of love, for love” (Jacqueline S Bergan and S Marie Schwan). When we see God wanting to birth Love in us and our very nature made to love, why would we, in our truest self, choose anything else? As we each bear Christ in the world in our own unique way, God is granting us the deep desire of our hearts.