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Mary's co-operation with God

Mary said, "Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word." Luke 1:38

Mary committed herself willingly to co-operate with God's plan. That is an important message for us. She was not overwhelmed and made to do what God planned; but rather she chose to co-operate. She was a willing servant -- Here am I, the servant of the Lord. God allowed her freedom and she consented positively -- let it be with me according to your word. This commitment came after she questioned what the angel said, and after she had listened to an explanation and reassurance regarding her part in what God was doing.

Mary received the message of the angel Gabriel with good grace, although with some surprise:

At first she was perplexed and puzzled by the greeting of the angel:

She had heard the message clearly, strange and striking though it was: she was to be the mother of a king, and more than that, one who would be called the Son of the Most High, which means the Son of God:

When she said, How can this be, she was told of the work of the Holy Spirit:

The angel said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. -- Luke 1:35

Her child would be called the Son of God because he would be holy through the work of the Holy Spirit; and she was assured of the power of God to accomplish far more than people expect when the angel pointed to the sign of her cousin Elizabeth becoming pregnant when it was thought impossible.

To get the point of the story, you don't have to know how it happened. It was a cause of puzzlement, something to wonder about, especially to those most intimately involved. Indeed, however it happened, that is the nature of a miracle; it is what the word miracle literally means: something to wonder at. The object of wonder was the power of God. But see how subtle this power was and still is. God invited Mary to co-operate. If she is willing she will come under the influence and protection of the Spirit of God: The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.

She would already have understood herself to be a servant of the Lord, and it is on this basis, as a servant of the Lord, that she accepts the role in spite of her puzzlement and wonder:

So she became the mother of our Lord, as a servant of the Lord, in co-operation with God in the work of the Holy Spirit.

That is how it is always when any servant of God allows the Holy Spirit to do his work in our lives. It depends upon our co-operation. We are not subject to God's will mechanically, like a robot, automatically doing what we are programmed to do under specific instructions. In co-operation with God, we retain our own will power and may choose at any time to act differently.

That is important, because sometimes people are deceived into thinking that religious commitment destroys a person's powers of rational thought, discernment, responsibility and freedom. Religion is not the same thing as faith in God. Religion can be bad as well as good. Some sects manipulate their followers and abuse them by demanding absolute obedience, and the leaders seem to behave, we might say, "like gods" and make oppressive demands on their followers, but that is not like the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who seeks our willing co-operation, and leaves us free not to choose his way. That is how it was with Mary, and God's ways with us are the same though we may be called to more humble tasks than she was.

Indeed, Mary continued her puzzlement and had cause to wonder many times in the future, as for example when she and Joseph found the boy Jesus in the temple talking with the teachers there [Luke 2:48-51], or when he seemed to be acting strangely after he began his ministry in Galilee [Mark 3:31-35]. She did not always understand, and sometimes she was mistaken. Mary is a very human character [Matthew 13:54-57; Mark 6:3; John 6:41-42] in the New Testament. Her will was not always in accord with the will of God. But, what can said for her is that in spite her lack of understanding, she remained loyal to him.

Mary was one of the few who was still there at the end as he was dying on the cross. She shared her lack of understanding with the other disciples, and she was one of them [John 2:1-5, 12; Acts 1:14], but her puzzlement and wonder at it all never seemed to fall into doubt and despair as with the others disciples. Her willingness to say let it be with me according to your word remained. Some say she was the first Christian when she first spoke these words to the angel Gabriel; however that was, she was certainly a faithful servant.

Let Mary's readiness to co-operate willingly within the freedom God allows, be an inspiration for us. Today, especially, God needs servants who can be relied upon to be there when it counts in loyalty to Christ. And you cannot be loyal to Christ without being loyal to his body, the church. There have been testing times in the past; and a few faithful have always been found to carry on the witness to the truth in the face of enormous pressures to conform to the ways of the world. This is one of those times. We need the kind of loyalty that Mary had, the willingness, in spite of our puzzlement and lack of understanding, to say:

"Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word."

So may it be with us, to the honour and glory of God. Amen.

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Appendix

Mary the Mother of Jesus

Look for the character of Mary in these themes in the New Testament record of her life and witness:-

Humble servant and social radical (Luke 1:26-56);
Wife and virgin mother (Matthew 1:16-20; Luke 1:34-35; 2:1-7);
One who shares in the recognition of our Lord (Matthew 2:11; Luke 2:8-39);
Caring and anxious mother (Matthew 2:13-14; 2:20-21; Luke 2:41-51; Matthew 12:46-50 Mark 3:31-35; Luke 8:19-21);
One of the early group of disciples (John 2:1-5, 12);
A representative of ordinary humanity (Matthew 13:54-57; Mark 6:3; John 6:41-42);
Witness to Christ's passion and death (John 19:25-27);
Among the apostles at the birth of the church (Acts 1:14).

Elizabeth exclaimed with a loud cry, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb." Luke 1:42

And Mary said, "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour."  Luke 1:46-47

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