The annunciation is a beautifully put together story that can evoke strong emotional reactions.
The main theme of the annunciation as it is called – literally the announcement to Mary that she had been chosen to be the mother of a baby who would change the world – is Grace.
Where the traditional translation of the words of Gabriel to Mary says “You have found favour with God” the word favour has the same root as the word for Grace – Charis.
“You have found grace with God”. The defining characteristic of Grace is that it is completely unmerited – completely unearned.
What was special about Mary, what had she done to merit being chosen? The answer is, absolutely nothing. Mary does not earn or deserve the honour of bearing Jesus any more than any other woman. That is the whole point.
Mary was an ordinary young girl from a non-descript town in Northern Israel, who was engaged to be married like most young girls of her age. More is said about Joseph than about Mary.
That the point is God’s grace of course reveals doctrines like the so called immaculate conception of Mary (trying to convey specialness) as the ill thought out pious irrelevance that they are.
Why was she chosen? Well God chooses who God chooses.
There is a lovely scene in the film “Fiddler on the roof” when the village is cleaning up after a pogrom in Tsarist Russia where the main character Tevye raise his eyes to heaven and says. “Lord I know we are the chosen people, but once in a while, couldn’t you choose someone else?”
If the main theme of this story is Grace then the second great theme is Mary’s response to God’s Grace – God choosing her and not others.
Mary says “Let it be to me according to your word”.
Without knowing where saying “yes” to God would lead her though probably having a strong hunch that it wasn’t going to be easy Mary says yes.
She is obedient to her calling. Feminist theologians have often complained that Mary is depicted as too passive, especially as she later became a kind of religious model of ideal womanhood, but Mary here is an idealised role model of human response to God’s grace, not specific to men or women. It is a model of how we all should respond to God’s call. To stop continually fighting against God because it is inconvenient or socially uncomfortable, and abandoning ourselves to him. To let God work in us, so that we, all of us, men and women can metaphorically give birth to Christ in our lives, made real in our attitudes and sense of compassion and service.
In the original Greek Mary says “Here I am, the slave of the Lord”. Not an image that sits well with people nowadays. This was modified to “Here I am, the servant of the Lord”. But in more modern times still, this too doesn’t sit well with people.
I suggest that a better wording for modern times, replacing both slavery and servitude might be something like “Here I am, the willing agent, or the vessel of God’s Grace”.
In my view, Mary is actually not passive at all, she is an active participant with God. She collaborates with God to achieve God’s ends. After all, what would have happened if Mary had said “No”. Well presumably eventually someone else would have been chosen.
God chooses who he chooses. He has chosen us to be active agents of his Love and Grace in this world. Agents as Neil said last week of God’s salvation. The question is, do we “no thank you” and stifle God’s work or like Mary, put ourselves at his complete disposal to use as He sees fit and say “Yes. Here am I. Let it be to me according to your word”