During Advent, we are featuring devotionals written by clergy of the Greater NJ Annual Conference of the UMC. For this third week, we are focused on reflections related to Mary, based on the Gospel of Luke.
26 When Elizabeth was six months pregnant, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a city in Galilee, 27 to a virgin who was engaged to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David’s house. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 When the angel came to her, he said, “Rejoice, favored one! The Lord is with you!” 29 She was confused by these words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 The angel said, “Don’t be afraid, Mary. God is honoring you. 31 Look! You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be great and he will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of David his father. 33 He will rule over Jacob’s house forever, and there will be no end to his kingdom.”
34 Then Mary said to the angel, “How will this happen since I haven’t had sexual relations with a man?”
35 The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come over you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore, the one who is to be born will be holy. He will be called God’s Son. 36 Look, even in her old age, your relative Elizabeth has conceived a son. This woman who was labeled ‘unable to conceive’ is now six months pregnant. 37 Nothing is impossible for God.”
38 Then Mary said, “I am the Lord’s servant. Let it be with me just as you have said.” Then the angel left her.
The language of the Holy Spirit overpowering Mary in this passage has at times made me uncomfortable. What’s that about? What about the fact that here she is, a teenage girl who is poor and unmarried, and she’s encountering an angel who represents the God of the universe? Isn’t there a power dynamic going on there? What does it have to teach us about God and ourselves, about God’s power and our power?
After more consideration of this story, part of what is so amazing to me is that God doesn’t have all the power either. God is about to come into the world in the form of a tiny baby who needs to eat and sleep and be nurtured and raised. God is about to take on the vulnerability of a baby who is dependent on its mother to survive. So God’s invitation to Mary is actually one of giving her power, power over the life of Jesus. It is one of letting her step into her capacity to have an active role in God’s work in the world.
Which means that what we see here is the deepest mutuality. God respects Mary enough to give her the choice to say yes in trust that whatever risk it is for her, God will be there with her. God chooses to trust Mary—her body and her heart. God comes into the world through mutual vulnerability and trust. That’s how the God of the universe shows up. Mary says yes to God, and God says yes to Mary’s capacity to birth God in the world.
By the Rev. Alison Van Buskirk Phillip
For Pondering & Prayer
Where in your life have you felt like a fellow collaborator or fellow creator along with God? Where has God invited you into having agency and responsibility?
Prayer: God of Power and Grace, as Advent continues, give us wisdom to seek mutuality in our relationships. Give us courage to say “yes” to your invitations in our lives in trust that you are with us. Help us use our power in ways that respect one another and you. Amen.