In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, ‘Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you.’ But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 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 ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.’ Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I am a virgin?’ The angel said to 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 holy; he will be called Son of God. -- Luke 1:26-35
Imagine hearing a knock on your door and an unfamiliar person in a rather official-looking outfit standing there with a very serious look on their face. Is it the police? Has someone been in an accident? Is it the IRS or INS? A travelling salesman? A scam artist? Then imagine sitting on your own patio when suddenly someone shows up in the same kind of get-up, and what would you think? A murderer, rapist, stalker, thief or other person bent on mayhem? Paparazzi? Unless the person has lots of balloons and a big piece of cardboard looking like a very official check, it sure isn't someone from Publisher's Clearing House. Then imagine you are a simple country girl, sitting just outside (or maybe inside) her humble house, minding her own business when suddenly a very official-looking being shows up and gives you a message that is shocking, astounding, impossible to believe and totally incomprehensible all at the same time. What would you think? How would you feel? What would you do?
One thing we hear often is about Mary's sweet submission to the will of God, her total, complete acceptance as if God had asked her to bake a loaf of bread or knit a pair of socks. What God asked of her was unheard-of and, in that culture, it was almost like familial suicide not just for Mary but for her entire family. Even though betrothed, there WERE standards to be upheld. If Joseph weren't responsible, he could cancel the deal for the marriage and then where would Mary be? Unless she were raped and the rapist forced to marry her, she would have been truly a sunk duck and so would her family because nothing ever affected just one person; everything that happened affected the whole family. So for her to meekly submit without a second thought or even more of an argument than "How is this gonna work? I'm not married and ....", it's almost incomprehensible. But the story portrays Mary as meekly and sweetly submitting and that, it seems, is her biggest grace, the example held up to women as the perfect example of righteous womanhood doing precisely what she is told, no arguments, no bickering, no negotiating, no refusing.
Mary is a central character in this Advent run-up to Christmas. Without her, the whole thing would not have happened -- or perhaps another woman would have been the selected young woman, maybe someone who argued a bit more, wanted a few more details, or exercised an option to say no. But Mary said yes, and the rest is history. After Christmas she will fade into the background, appearing only a couple of times years later in the story, but for now, Mary enjoys a sort of center stage, and, until recent years, was the only woman character whose story was widely read in church and whose name almost everybody knew.
What can I learn from Mary? It's always a good thing to submit to God, but how can I be sure the messenger really is from God? I doubt Gabriel carried legitimate credentials for Mary to examine, but maybe it was the wings that gave him away. Sometimes very negative-appearing situations can bring a lot of good, even if it takes a while for it to all come to fruition. Most of all, don't be afraid to say yes if it truly is God's messenger comes calling.
Say yes. That's all that's necessary.