top of page

As Mary Was, May We Be

And [Gabriel] came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a Son, and you shall call His name 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 father David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.” And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.

- Luke 1:28-33, 38

The season of Advent begins on Sunday, a time set aside to focus our lives on waiting and expectation. Christians around the world are waiting for the appearance of Christ – or at least, we are supposed to be living in preparation for that eventuality. What are you looking for this Advent season? How are you preparing to welcome Christ with you and in you? Are you preparing, and do you expect Him?

We want God to come and to act in our world, to correct wrongs and set us back on the pathway to what is right and good. Mary, the Mother of Jesus, can teach us a great deal about waiting and preparing to receive God afresh and anew in our lives and in our world. Pregnancy is the quintessential example of productive waiting – expectation in tandem with increasing loss of control of one’s body to the baby not yet born. This was Mary’s time of preparation and waiting while she carried God in her womb as the living vessel bringing Him into full humanity in her Son.

We Protestants don’t really know what to do with Mary. To the extent that we think of her at all, it tends to be through a lens of sweet nostalgia. She was a young, barely grown, woman, maybe fourteen or fifteen years old who gave birth to Jesus in a stable. All true, but none of it was sweet or nostalgic. The reality was terrifying, and Mary recognized that as the Scripture says she was troubled and sought to understand why Gabriel arrived and addressed her with elevated praise from God. Annually, we debate the Christmas song Mary, Did You Know? It’s a beautiful song, but it reflects how misguided and disconnected are our knowledge of Scripture and our opinions about Mary. Yes, Mary knew. See the passage above. Gabriel told Mary Who she would be carrying when she walked in the shadow of God.

A year or two ago, during one such discussion online, a woman – clergy, if I recall correctly – admonished debaters to “let it go; if it helps people connect to Jesus, then just let it be.” That attitude is the greatest challenge to Christianity today. What we believe doesn’t matter as long as we feel good about Jesus, or rather, as long as Jesus makes us feel good. How far that is from the reality of the Gospel! Jesus was not a warm, fuzzy kind of Savior. He was a “take on our sin and death and defeat them on our behalf” kind of Savior. What we believe about Jesus matters, as does what we believe about Mary.

Mary was young, but not in way we view young today. Life expectancy was much shorter, and having reached the age of menses, Mary was considered a woman fully grown. Her betrothal to Joseph was a binding legal agreement between families, and although not yet wed, her future had been clearly set. Our inclination is to think of Joseph as a young man, but in actuality, he was a widower with sons from his first marriage. Jesus’ brothers were Joseph’s sons. The earliest Christians knew this because Jesus’ brother, James, was the leader of the church in Jerusalem until he was stoned to death in AD 62. The Apostle James, son of Zebedee, traveled to Spain to spread the Gospel and seed churches, while the other Apostle James, the son of Alphaeus, did the same in Egypt. The earliest accounts of Mary and Joseph escaping to Egypt with the Child tell of a young James traveling with them or leading the donkey on which Mary sat.

Although most of us have been taught otherwise, we can know with a good deal of certainty that Mary’s only Child was Jesus. Under Jewish law, the eldest brother in line behind Jesus would have been responsible for Mary after His death. Instead, as He hung on the cross, Jesus said to John, “This is your Mother,” and to His Mother, “this is your son.” (John 19:26-27.) There were no sons or sons-in-law after Jesus to take responsibility for Jesus’ Mother and to provide for her as she aged even though James, Justus, and Jude were all named as Jesus’ brothers. In addition, writings from the time agree that Mary traveled with John to Ephesus and lived there with him until her death.

Mary’s experience was costly and humiliating. Early writings widely agree that Mary was taken to the Temple at age three and dedicated to serving there, meaning she grew up virtuously in the Temple in training to serve. Her betrothal to Joseph was the guarantee of future provision. Therefore, when Mary turned up pregnant, it could have been no small scandal. Any woman who became pregnant outside of marriage could legally be stoned to death. Joseph had the right to demand that minimally, she should be ostracized – quietly put away (Matthew 1:18-25) – if he didn’t call for her stoning. She would be permanently alienated from people in her family and of her village when they discovered she was pregnant, which may explain her decision to visit her cousin, Elizabeth, for three months. It would also explain why Joseph took a very-pregnant Mary to Bethlehem for the census, an action that seems strange on the face of it. Nearly full-term, she could have been left behind with Joseph’s other children.

The wonder, the awe, the admiration we should hold for Mary arises out of respect for her obedience and trust in God. He gifted her with the mystery of divine life inseparably bound to her own physical reproduction, the Creator of all submitting to be created, God in an embryo. When God created the heavens and the earth, the Word called creation forth from nothing saying, “Let there be…” The new creation, the restoration of the whole, began with Mary’s echoing, “Let it be with me…” The salvation and redemption of the world nestled beneath her heart and grew there until the time came for His birth.

We want Jesus to be active in our world today, to battle against the rising tide of evil, and to make Himself known. Some even predict the second coming is near. If we want Jesus to come anew within ourselves this Advent and to impact our generation with His powerful and life-giving salvation, then we need to take our example from Mary. She was pure – the Virgin Mary – and she was virtuous. These are not traits encouraged or admired in our culture, but these are traits that are required for Christians who desire to know God more fully and seek to grow in Christian life. She was obedient to God, to His will and plans, even when it altered the trajectory of her life and demanded sacrifice from her. Finally, Mary accepted the suffering that would come from bearing God’s salvation to a world that would not understand or accept Him.

These are the necessary conditions for Christians today if we want Jesus to live in us and work through us. When we call Him to come be among us and to do something about our world, our culture, or even our families, then we begin by striving to be pure and virtuous in our hearts and minds. These qualities go hand-in-hand with obedience to the will of God and the sacrifice of our own plans to embrace His purposes. Like Mary, our response to God should always be, “Let it be with me according to Your will.”

Christianity is not an easy faith nor is it a warm fuzzy feeling. But Christianity is salvation and life for the world, starting with us. So often, we want Jesus on our own terms – to help us with some matter or to grant us some request. He does do that, but He also calls us to be His people, a virtuous people who are pure in heart and obedient to the will of our Father. When we wonder what God is or isn’t doing in our world, our questions should first be turned toward ourselves. Why isn’t God acting in me? Why hasn’t God worked through me? The odds are that we are not reaching for Him as Mary did.

Entering the Advent season, may our prayer be, “As Mary was, so may I also be.”

In Christ –

Rev. Elizabeth Moreau

© 2023

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page