This reflection was part of the Advent Prayer Series we led in our hometown and church. The series was entitled Transforming Fear into Trust.
Luke 1: 26-38; 46-55
Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And coming in, he said to her, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” 29 But she was very perplexed at this statement, and kept pondering what kind of salutation this was.30 The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; 33 and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.” 34 Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” 35 The angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God. 36 And behold, even your relative Elizabeth has also conceived a son in her old age; and she who was called barren is now in her sixth month. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 And Mary said, “Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.
46 And Mary said:
“My soul exalts the Lord,
47 And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.
48 “For He has had regard for the humble state of His bondslave;
For behold, from this time on all generations will count me blessed.
49 “For the Mighty One has done great things for me;
And holy is His name.
50 “And His mercy is upon generation after generation
Toward those who fear Him.
51 “He has done mighty deeds with His arm;
He has scattered those who were proud in the thoughts of their heart.
52 “He has brought down rulers from their thrones,
And has exalted those who were humble.
53 “He has filled the hungry with good things;
And sent away the rich empty-handed.
54 “He has given help to Israel His servant,
In remembrance of His mercy,
55 As He spoke to our fathers,
To Abraham and his descendants forever.”
From the Gospels account, we don’t know the whole arc of Mary’s life. Her presence in the gospel story begins with this passage. We hear that Mary has found favor with God, and that God is with her. The ancient church has always held the tradition, most likely passed on orally and originating with direct relationships with Mary in the first century, that her entire life was one of saying yes to God all throughout her childhood and life up to this point. This great “yes” to bearing Christ emerged out of an entire lifetime of yeses, of learning to consent and trust in God in the small things of daily life. Moment by moment, in every event and circumstance, she developed the practice of consenting to God’s will and action in her life. When the time came for the great ‘yes’ that would change the history of the world, that habitual response of trust and opening was already woven into the fabric and fiber of her being. We hear this great ‘yes’ – “May it be done to me according to your word.”
Something we can forget due to our ease and familiarity with this story, is that Mary’s ‘yes’ was at great personal risk, at least in relation to her outer circumstances. It may have even been a death sentence – it meant she would be pregnant as an unwed mother, and betrothed to someone who wasn’t the father. She could have been stoned to death as part of the law of her community. Saying ‘yes’ was an act of trust, saying ‘yes’ to God, over and beyond what looked reasonable, possible or safe by the outer circumstances.
Following this great act of trust, we have this marvelous passage of Mary’s proclamation, the Magnificat. Not only did Mary say ‘yes’ to God in the face of a mysterious and probably terrifying angel, she then saw the consequences of God entering the world through her. She foretold the overturning of the powers of the world the way they were. The hungry would be fed and the rich sent away empty. The mighty will be cast down from their thrones and the lowly lifted up. She didn’t only say ‘yes’ to this new life within her. She saw what that would mean for humanity, for God to truly dwell among us, for God to be born through her into the world. This would change everything, and the whole world would be turned upside down. That’s the vision that came out of her consent.
In terms of prayer, one way to think about Mary in this time of Advent is as an archetype for our soul. There’s what Mary said ‘yes’ to 2000 years ago that we remember and honor, but there’s also a way in which each one of our hearts is a place where God can dwell. God can be born anew from the realm of the infinite spirit into the realm of flesh. Our own divided hearts and particular circumstances probably aren’t ideal for God to come into. Like Mary we can say yes even in the midst of what may feel like very challenging circumstances. Just like her life of receptivity and trust allowed God to be born in human form, we can trust and open to God’s action on a level that is beyond what we can see or imagine.
Mary had nothing to do or say other than be utterly receptive, no matter the consequences, and allow God to do the work and create within her. We can think of God’s action within us in the same way. Our primary task in the spiritual life is not what we do, it’s what we allow God to do in us and through us. If we really believe that God does the work through us, our basic stance in life will be one of receptivity to God’s active presence. We won’t just be trying to do good deeds for a God that’s off somewhere else, who approves or disapproves of our behavior. Can we allow this living, vital incarnate God to act in and through us? That’s the invitation of Mary. Allow God to be conceived and born through us. Christ came once through Mary in flesh and comes again through every heart that allows God to be born again, ever more deeply in us.
May we say ‘yes’ to God becoming incarnate through our hearts this Christmas!
Prayer practice: Centering Prayer
- Choose a sacred word as the symbol of your intention to consent to God’s presence and action within.
- Sitting comfortably and with eyes closed, settle briefly and silently introduce the sacred word as the symbol of your consent to God’s presence and action within.
- When engaged with your thoughts (including thoughts body sensations, feelings, images, and reflections), return ever so gently to the sacred word.
- At the end of the prayer period, remain in silence with eyes closed for a couple minutes.