“Then Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’” – Luke 1:38 (NRSV)
This response by Mary comes directly after she is visited by the angel Gabriel and is told that 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 holy; he will be called Son of God” (Lk 1:35 NRSV).
In order to understand how radical Mary’s response is, we must get a grasp of the context. Even though Mary was not technically married to Joseph, scripture tells us that they were “betrothed” (Lk 2:5). In Jewish culture, as with today’s western culture, the first step towards marriage was “engagement.” This was when both the father of the man and of the woman would agree to marry their children. The next step was betrothal. This meant that the man and woman entered into a covenant of faithfulness to each other, but were forbidden to have sexual relations until after the marriage ceremony. That Mary is “betrothed” to Joseph is significant because it tells us that Mary was publicly and spiritually committed to Joseph and to be seen as unfaithful would have meant public humiliation.
But public shaming was not all Mary would have to endure.
You see, Mary lived in Nazareth, a seemingly insignificant town in southern Israel (Jn 1:36). Nazareth, like many small rural villages in Israel was very conservative and held closely to the Law as laid out in Torah. Beyond being scripturally legalistic, Nazareth was part of the larger patriarchal culture that did not see women as reliable and viewed them largely as second-class citizens. This combination of legalistic adherence to Torah and the distrust of the testimony of women did not bode well for Mary and her child. The men and religious leaders in Mary’s community, who would have had the power to execute judgment on her, would have viewed her pregnancy through the lens of Deuteronomy 22:20-21, which says:
If, however, this charge is true, that evidence of the young woman’s virginity was not found, 21 then they shall bring the young woman out to the entrance of her father’s house and the men of her town shall stone her to death…So you shall purge the evil from your midst. (NRSV)
Mary could have interpreted this proclamation from the angel Gabriel as a humiliating death sentence, and rightfully so. But she doesn’t. Despite being painfully aware of her situation, a situation that could very well lead her down a shameful path toward death by stoning, Mary responds with a faith not yet seen in the entire history of her people (Gen 18:13-15). Mary does not hesitate, she does not pity herself, she does not laugh at God in disbelief, she does not question God’s plan; Mary simply presents herself as a living sacrifice in order to follow the will of God. This does not mean that she was without paralyzing fear, overwhelming anxiety or a deep lack of clarity on how all of what was told would be accomplished; however, it does mean that despite these things she clung to her belief that God is good and His promises are true.
Mary’s faithfulness to the call of God on her life foreshadows the One who is eternally faithful, Jesus Christ.
Like Jesus, Mary is willing to take on the identity of a sinner despite her innocence in order to accomplish the will of the Father. Like Jesus, Mary submits to God’s will with the beautiful words “let it be with me according to your word,” preparing the way for the later words of Christ on the eve of his death “yet not as I will, but as You will” (Mt 26:38 NRSV). Like Jesus, Mary exhibits “faithfulness unto death” in taking up this call that very well could have led to her death (Rev 2:10).
Mary’s radical humility and faith in the face of what seems to be a death sentence given by God provides us a glimpse of the kind of veil-tearing, cosmos-flipping, paradigm-shifting faithfulness Jesus will usher in when he takes on the actual death sentence of the cross on our behalf.
This advent season, let us at New City reflect on Mary’s faith and how it ultimately points to the perfect faithfulness of our savior, Jesus Christ. Let us reflect on how God accomplished His good and redeeming purposes through the radical, humble faith of a teenage girl living in obscurity and what this teaches us about how God desires to use each of us to bring redemption and reconciliation in the world. Let us follow Mary’s, and ultimately Jesus’, example and respond to God by saying “Here I am, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”
Here are some practical questions to think about this first week of Advent:
- Are you listening for God’s invitation so that you can play a role in His great story of redemption?
- Is there anything in your life keeping you from responding to God’s invitation like Mary did, with radical humility and obedience?
- How is your life, your response to God’s invitation and call, pointing towards Jesus Christ?
- There may be what feels like a “Death Sentence” in your life. Whether it is medical issues, financial burdens, marital problems, or family dysfunction, do you believe, like Mary, in God’s faithfulness and His good promises in this difficult season?
 Keener, Craig S., et al. The IVP Bible Background Commentary. IVP, 2010.
Mike Terry, New City Stories Contributor