In the story of the Annunciation, Mary’s faithful reply, “Let it be unto me, according to your word,” has long been heralded as the epitome of trusting God. Without any real understanding of what the Lord is asking of her, Mary nevertheless gives unequivocal consent to God’s action in her life. But it is good to keep in mind that this wasn’t her first response. Before she was able to find such faith within herself, Mary, like all of us, first had to work through her initial fears.
Mary was not only troubled by what she didn’t understand, but “greatly troubled,” as Luke expresses it (Luke 1:29). Her body language, so lyrically expressed in Alessandro Botticelli’s 15th century painting, reflects something of the apprehension Mary likely felt. There was too much coming at her and she wanted nothing more than to stand back from it all, to hold it at bay.
We too can recognize similar times in our lives – times when we can’t control what is about to happen. We just want everything to stop. Like a child who is attempting to go down a very high slide for the first time, we brace ourselves against the sides, unsure if we really want to let ourselves go. Like any of us in such fearful situations, Mary’s first instinct was to put the brakes on life.
Seeing her obvious apprehension, the angel assures Mary, “Do not be afraid,” and then announces that she will soon give birth to a child who will be called the Son of the Most High. This might not have been the most consoling information to add, but it did allow Mary time to compose herself.
Mary’s next response is familiar to us in how we too deal with our fears – she wants to reason with God. She asks, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” It’s a fair question and one that we could see ourselves asking as well. “Help me understand so that I can believe.”
But unfortunately, faith works the other way around – it is only through believing that we come to understand. We can learn all we want about the faithfulness of God, but it is only by putting that theory to the test that we will ever experience just how faithful God really is.
The angel goes on to shed some more light for Mary. He speaks to her not only of her own destiny but also that of her cousin Elizabeth, who, though barren, has conceived a child. At this point, Mary is more reconciled to the idea of trusting God. She has moved from a troubled spirit, to reasoning with God, and finally to a more faith-filled acceptance of God’s word.
“I am the Lord’s servant,” she answers, “Let it be unto me, according to your word.” In other words, “I accept that You know better than I do what You are asking of me. And I am prepared to trust Your judgment more than my own fears.” Isn’t this all God is asking from any of us?
The rest, as they say, is history. God honours Mary as blessed among women simply because Mary has honoured God with her unequivocal trust. This, it would seem, is what the Lord looks for in us as well. And if we don’t get stuck at either the fear or the reasoning stage of things, this is the type of faith that we too can hope to end up with.
Mary’s words, “Let it be unto me, according to your word” do express something of a perfect posture of faith. But let us also remember that even Mary, the mother of Jesus, had to first work through her initial fears before she could get to that place of unequivocally trusting God’s ways with her.
Rob Des Cotes directs Imago Dei Community in Vancouver. This piece is part of the Canadian Baptist Advent Reader, published this year.