It’s amazing that Mary heard anything past “conceive in your womb.” As a young teenager, wouldn’t that be just a little scary? Add in the part about your son ruling over your nation forever, and you might just have a few things to say to this angel: “What in the world are you talking about? You’ve got to be kidding. There’s no way I could be the mother to the man who’s going to reign forever. You said ‘forever’? I’m too young. I can’t do it. I’m not even married yet. How do you expect me to explain this to Joseph? Who are you, anyway?”
But Mary didn’t respond this way. She simply asked, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” In other words, “How will this be accomplished?” 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 the Son of God…. For nothing will be impossible with God” (1:34-37).
Do you know how Mary replied? She said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word” (1:38).
She’s absolutely amazing!
- Mary receives the angel’s word.
- She trusts that the word is true. She believes what she hears. She understands that the Holy Spirit will overshadow her. (As a result, her child is holy.)
- She accepts that nothing is impossible to God. As a result, she discovers that this is true.
- She responds with humility. She declares that she’s God’s servant and promises her life to God.
- Mary is willing to fulfill God’s will -- and does.
When we hear an angel message from God, which is our response?
- Right away, God! I’m happy to serve you. I’ll do whatever you tell me!
- Are you sure about that God? Is that really you? You can’t really want me to do that, can you? Maybe I’m not hearing God; maybe I’m just hearing voices!
Mary was completely welcoming of and open to the Christ, the Son of God. Do we have the same humble receptivity to Christ as Mary had? Do we have the same sincere conviction in God’s power to overshadow us -- to overcome any sense of ego, will-power, pride, fear, worry, doubt, etc. to which we’re clinging; to fill us with spiritual inspiration and insight? Are we joyfully preparing our hearts, homes, and lives to receive the Christ?
If we really want to experience the light of Christ in our lives every day -- which is experiencing Christmas -- then this is indeed what we must do.
What enabled Mary to give her life to God, to receive the Christ?
All young Jewish women would have grown up knowing the prophecy of a savior who would free the Jews from oppression. Of course, one young woman would be the mother of the savior. But it took more than just knowing about the prophecy. Everything about Mary’s being -- her sincere, humble willingness to let God work through her, her sense of purity -- helped usher in the Christ and heal the world through love.
As Jesus’ human mother, Mary shared significant values with her son. Let’s look at the nature of the woman who lovingly took care of Jesus, heard words of hate directed at him, witnessed his amazing healing work, struggled as she watched him be crucified, and rejoiced in his resurrection and ascension. Mary really set the precedent for Jesus.
- She knew God’s love. The angel called her “favored” and told her, “God loves you dearly” (1:30 Phillips). Jesus must have grown up in a home filled with love, filled with the knowledge that God loves him. Indeed, the Holy Spirit confirmed this when it relayed this message to Jesus right after his cousin John baptized him: “You are my dearly-loved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (3:22).
- Mary welcomed and rejoiced in the Holy Spirit. When she visited her much older cousin Elizabeth, who was also expecting (with John the Baptist), Mary exclaimed, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior” (1:47 NRSV). Because Mary was joyful about the Holy Spirit overshadowing her, taking over her whole being, transforming her nature, the whole world has been blessed.
- She committed to doing God’s will: “I belong to the Lord, body and soul” (1:38 Phillips). Right here is the precursor to her son’s same humility, which he expressed in the Garden of Gethsemane before his crucifixion. While he would have preferred not to be nailed up on the cross, he echoed Mary’s words: “it is not my will, but yours, that must be done” (22:44 Phillips). This is the same spirit, the same willingness that Jesus imparted to his disciples when he taught them how to pray: “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven” (Matt 6:10 KJV).
What would our lives be like if we really knew how much God loves us? God does love us -- infinitely! What would happen to our lives if we let the Holy Spirit completely overshadow us, overwhelm our very nature, infuse itself into our being? What would our lives be like if we truly committed ourselves to doing God’s will?
We’d discover that the true spirit of Christmas is with us every moment of every day. Any excuse for not feeling loved, for not responding to the light of Christ, for not doing God’s will would fall away. Sometimes it does seem difficult to put our own will aside and embrace God’s will, especially when the world is constantly trying to stop the Christ, trying to X out the most important part of Christmas.
The most wonderful thing about Christmas is that nothing can stop the Christ. Herod tried to kill the Christ, thinking that if he could kill the baby, he’d be able to stop the rule of the light of Truth. But he couldn’t do either. Years later, the Jewish officials and populace could not kill the Christ. Even when they thought they had him on the cross, they couldn’t get rid of him; he resurrected in three days. People today are still trying to wipe out Christianity in many different ways. But the Christ is still with us -- and always will be.
If we really understand the truth, light, and power of the Christ, then we will open ourselves up wholeheartedly to receive the Christ into our lives. And we will do whatever is necessary to feel inspired by the Christ. Jesus’ disciples did. When they watched their teacher ascend into heaven, they also heard him tell them to wait together “for the promise of the Father” (Acts1:4 NRSV). They were rewarded for their obedience on the day of Pentecost: “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit” (2:4). They let themselves be overshadowed, and their lives were transformed. In turn, they transformed others’ lives.
A beautiful fact about being overwhelmed by the Holy Spirit is that once you feel it, you have to share it. We, too, can be filled with the Holy Spirit. We, too, can receive the Christmas spirit.
How? Well, how did the angels convey the message?
They first said, “Fear not.” They told that to Mary; they told that to the shepherds. This “fear not” became part of Jesus’ ministry. The angels are still telling that to us. We don’t need to fear anything; we don’t need to fear what will happen if we stand up to others and kneel down in humility to the Christ.
Why not fear?
The angels are bringing us “good news of great joy for all the people” (Luke 2:10 NRSV). God is in control. The presence of the Christ is here now. The kingdom of heaven is within us now -- not without, not later, now. Plus, we have everything we need. Mary, Joseph, and Jesus had everything they needed. They had the manger; they had the warmth of the animals around them; they had the meekness that is necessary for true strength. They even had gifts which the Magi presented them, gifts which supported them financially through the first couple years of life with Jesus.
Therefore, we can rejoice just as Mary rejoiced. We can rejoice in the Christmas spirit, in the light which brightens the dark places in people’s lives. Nothing can stop the light. Nothing can keep the Holy Spirit from overpowering us. Nothing can stop the Christ. Nothing can keep us from hearing this Christmas (and for the rest of our lives) the message the angel is conveying to each one of us from God:
You are my beloved child in whom I am well pleased.