She was there from the beginning. Literally. When the time came for God to act, to finally send His Son to save and redeem humanity – he chose her. Think about that for a moment. This young woman, engaged to marry an older man (probably) whom she may or may not have loved (they did arranged marriages in those days) was singled out by the Almighty for an out of this world assignment. Thankfully, her betrothed turned out to be a nice guy.
So God sent an angel – and not just any angel, but one named Gabriel, who is half of all the named angels in the Bible (1/3 if you count the bad one). Gabriel shows up in Mary’s house and scares the daylights out her. Not many of us have experienced such a visitation, so we can be kind to her. The angel Gabriel says hello and tells her that she is highly favoured. Stop here. Highly favoured. This means that she is someone who God really, really likes. She is someone who God has sought out, among all the other possible contenders on the planet, pointed his finger at, and said, “her”. She’s that highly favoured. And she didn’t even know it.
So Gabriel keeps talking, and Mary just listens. Oh, she asks a few questions (wouldn’t you?) but for the most part she’s just taking it all in. Once she’s over the shock of it all and she thinks she’s got the message, she just says, “Okay, if that what God wants, I’m in.” Now hold on a minute. The text doesn’t say anything about Mary actually seeing the angel. Some scholars say that the text simply implies that she heard Gabriel speaking. Imagine! Mary is alone in her room and hears a voice (was it only in her head?) and then she carries on this conversation with said voice. Doesn’t that sound a bit unstable to you? But Mary isn’t deterred. She knows what she’s heard and she (probably) figured, “If God is for me, who can be against me?”
Well, her fiancé for a start. At first blush, Joseph doesn’t take to the idea of his virgin bride being impregnated by the power of the Holy Spirit. In fact, he starts thinking about divorce (before the marriage has even been legitimized!) But thanks be to God, Joseph has his own encounter with an angel and he changes his mind. He’s on board now too.
So Jesus is born. It’s a pretty unremarkable birth initially, happening in a cow stable and all. Except for the brilliant star, the angelic choir, all the shepherds who came running and eventually the sages from the far east bringing their strange gifts. Then there are the pronouncements! In the early days there were several who prophesied over the little guy, praising God publicly for his arrival on earth, portending that this was incredibly good news for everyone, and potentially heartbreaking for his mother.
And Mary just took it all in, tucking it away in the deep recesses of her heart.
Eventually their son grew and showed himself to be a pretty brilliant kid. He sucked up the Scriptures and asked some pretty darn good questions, stumping his mom and dad on several occasions (probably). One time when they went to Jerusalem for a festival and they lost track of him, finding him three days later engaged in a deep theological discussion with the priests. Relieved to have found him at last, Mary just took his hand (probably) and said, “It’s time to go home now.”
But she pondered. She never stopped watching him. Listening to him. Wondering about him. And she was among the first to believe in him.
It was at a place called Cana. Mary and her family had been invited there to attend a wedding and it was going to be a big celebration. Jesus was also invited, and he brought along a bunch of his new friends – disciples, really. They ran out of wine curing the celebration and Mary felt bad for the hosts, who were going to be incredibly embarrassed by this miscalculation in their guests’ ability to imbibe. Mary was filled with compassion and her heart went out to them.
Then she thought of Jesus. She approached him and asked him to do something. At first he was reluctant, saying something about the timing not being right. But after speaking with him, Mary turned to the waiters and told them to do whatever it was that Jesus was going to ask them to do. I think that when Jesus saw his mother’s faith, it moved him to rethink his timetable. Within a few moments there was plenty of wine for everyone.
It went on like that for a while. Jesus did incredible things. He healed people with leprosy. He restored vision to people born blind. He touched people who couldn’t hear or speak and suddenly, they could. People who couldn’t walk, walked. Incredible things. He released people from the torment of demonic possession. He even raised the dead on occasion.
But not everyone believed in Jesus, and at one point Mary got caught up with the group of those who just couldn’t buy into the whole Son of God thing. Mary let some of her other kids, Jesus’ own brothers, talk her into questioning his mental stability. They set out to perform an intervention, showing up unexpectedly after he has spent time preaching and doing miracles. They were worried for him, saying, “Let’s bring him home and get some help”. But he didn’t go with them.
They were right to be worried. Things went from bad to worse and soon Jesus was rubbing the religious leaders all the wrong way. Before you knew it, Jesus was betrayed by one of his own and turned over to the Jewish and Roman authorities, who just wanted to get rid of him. So they did. On a cross. Nails driven through his hands and feet, he hung up there for hours for all to see.
And she was there. The thing that had been foretold by the aged prophet was coming true, right before her eyes. Her heart was being ripped out of her chest. She had been unable to save her son, the one miraculously born all those years before. Besides the unspeakable grief that comes with the loss of a child, did she also bear the weight of having failed God? Had his trust in her been misplaced?
She watched her son die. She watched him be taken down from the cross and laid in a stone tomb by a couple of friends as the sun was setting. Unable to attend to his corpse properly, she agreed to return after the Sabbath with some other women to embalm and prepare his body so his death would not be so completely ignoble. How empty her soul must have felt at that moment.
We don’t have a record of what happened next for Mary. She must have been lost for a few days, like all the others. But we do know that she was there, in Jerusalem, on Pentecost, fifty days after his resurrection. Along with her other son, James, she became a believer, a disciple of the very son she bore, Jesus Son of God. She was there when the rush of the Holy Spirit came, speaking in tongues, her heart filled with boldness and passion to tell everyone of the incredible good news of her Jesus.
And that is her story. A remarkable one when you think about it. She was there from the very beginning – when Jesus Incarnate was still on the Father’s drawing table. She was there at the end, wailing (perhaps) as his blood-drained body lay dying on the tree. And she was there at the new beginning – witnessing the resurrected Lord, Jesus, in his glory and power. The onset of his glorious kingdom.
She had been his mother, but she became his follower, his disciple. A witness to others about the truth of his life, death and resurrection, and the hope that anyone might find in him. Has there ever been a human being like her? Wasn’t God right, when he pointed his finger at her two millennia ago and said, “her.”
May you and I be more like her. May you and I learn from her devotion, sacrifice and faith. May you and I be as remarkable as she, when all is said and done.