Mary is my girl. I’ve been sitting with her during Christmas for years now, and each Advent season, I come to learn more about God, her and myself through her story. I’ve preached on Mary as the pregnant teenager in my high school homeroom, as a brave young woman resolute in her faith, and as each one of us journeying into the unknown. I have studied her through art, scripture, and song, and I keep coming back to her like reconnecting with an old friend over a cup of tea.
Several years ago at a church leadership gathering, we were introduced to the concept of “call to serve” by looking at a variety of images of the Annunciation–the announcement of Gabriel to Mary that she would bear the Christ child.
I sat with the various renderings for quite some time but could not move past John Collier‘s contemporary version. It unsettled me. It made me feel uncomfortable. Was it because I saw myself in her at that age, the bookish girl, naive and unsure. Was it because the artist portrayed her as such, rather than as a young woman knowingly nodding at an angel as if to say, “I’ve got this.”
As a part of our leadership activity, we were asked to select which picture captured how we felt about our call to serve. I was so haunted by Collier’s image, I could not choose it, and instead, I selected Julie Vivas’ painting from the children’s book, The Nativity.
I mean, look at her. Mary as a homesteading woman sitting around her kitchen table sharing stories with Gabriel. A perfect fit!
And yet, for the entire retreat and the Advent season following, I couldn’t move past Collier’s piece and its blatant reminder of Mary’s youth and inexperience.
Why is it that we envision Mary as somewhat older, somewhat more self-assured, somewhat more prepared? Is it because we believe that Mary had to be an “old soul” in order to have that kind of faith in God’s call for her? Is it because we can’t bear to think of a girl in her mid-teen years having to take on such a socio-cultural burden? Is it because it’s more comfortable for us to look up to Mary as a role model if she is stronger or more knowing or more comfortable than perhaps she really was?
The beauty of the Collier’s painting is that it captures the essence of what God teaches us about faith, not only through Jesus, but through Mary as well. We don’t have to be perfect or wise or resolute to ponder what God is calling us to do. We can be uncertain of or intimidated by God’s choosing us. We may even feel unworthy–who am I in all my messy chaos to be chosen for a purpose such as this?
This morning in my Celtic Daily Prayer book, I was catching up on the last few days of scripture and commentary. On December 11, they note:
God is not easily impressed, but then He never asks us to try to impress him. It is as if he turns to us when we are consumed with our own unworthiness and are tempted to avoid meeting with Him, and He cuts across all of our excuses and says, ‘Relax, I already know you.’
I wonder if Mary felt that as she stood there with Gabriel receiving his message–the comfort of being hemmed in by God in preparation for a journey unknown. The expectation, not to be perfect or “just right” but to be faithful and trusting.
The young Mary can be that reminder for us in the story of the Annunciation: God already knows us. We just have to be willing to stand there humbly, meeting God as we are, and say, “Here I am. Let it be with me.”