Mary provides a great example of God working courage and faith in a person who is open to the wild ways of God. This Advent season, we can learn of her example and see that God is trustworthy and can lead us forward even in our questions or confusion.

When earth drew on to darkest night,
you came, but not in splendor bright,
not as a king, but the child
of Mary, virgin mother mild.

Lyrics from Creator of the Stars of Night, translated by J. M. Neale

She Trusted God Even When She was Afraid or Confused

We don’t know Mary’s age when she is betrothed/engaged to Joseph, but it is highly likely she was a teenager. She has not been with a man and now she has received word that she is pregnant and the child she will birth is the Messiah.

To be an unwed pregnant woman during that time would have placed Mary in a very difficult position. It’s no wonder we read that she was afraid. Luke writes that Mary was “greatly troubled” by the words of the angel Gabriel. “And [Gabriel, the angel] said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus.'” (Luke 1:30-31)

Similar words were spoken to Joseph.

Can we trust God even when we are afraid or confused?

Even in her fears, confusion, and questions, she trusts God’s plan for herself and the world. She goes so far as to say, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

The grace and power of God work in Mary to enable her to trust God’s mysterious plan even when is initially afraid and confused. So too, the Spirit empowers us to trust God as we do the right thing.

She Remembered the Faithfulness of God in the lives of her people

Mary is empowered by the Spirit to walk in faithfulness because God has been active in her faith formation for her entire life. She has been taught by her family and religious community that God is active in the world and that God has always been faithful in the life of those who have gone before us.

In the presence of Elizabeth, she speaks what we call the Magnificat, in which she praises God as, “The Mighty One who has done great things for me and holy is his name. God has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of God’s mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors.” (Luke 1)

Mary would have been taken to Temple and Synagogue by her family. She would have regularly heard the Scriptures read and taught. She would have prayed and sung the spiritual songs we find in the book of Psalms. She would have sang and prayed those songs and prayers around her house.

Mary realizes she is not an island of faith unto herself, but that God’s people, including her cousin Elizabeth, also experience the faithfulness of God.

It is incredibly important for the Church to understand its important role in the formation of the “faith memory” of those under its care. Ministers should regularly call to mind how the congregation has experienced the goodness of God in the recent past as well as in years past. God has continually been working in our location/city, our congregation, ourselves, our family and our friends.

Mary Realized God’s Work is Personal

It’s quite a remarkable realization–God is not only at work in the world and not only has God been at work in my family and congregation, but God also has a place for me in this world!

Obviously, Mary’s work in the salvation plan of God is integral. Notice, though, that God is not using her up like a “human resource,” but God is working in her heart and soul, moving and shaping her into a devout follower. Over the course of her life, the Spirit has worked and she has remained open to the wild and mysterious ways of God.

In Heidelberg Catechism asks, “What is true faith?” And the answer follows, “True faith is not only a sure knowledge by which I hold as true all that God has revealed to us in Scripture; it is also a wholehearted trust, which the Holy Spirit creates in my by the gospel, that God has freely granted, not only to others BUT TO ME ALSO, the forgiveness of sins, eternal righteousness, and salvation. These are gifts of sheer grace, granted solely by Christ’s merit.”

An incredible change happens in our relationship with God when Christianity is not what others believe, but it is God’s work in me, when it is not that God gave the world Jesus, but is “God gave Jesus to me.” When we see God as interested in us and that God has given us gifts, passions, and skills that we can use in this world.

Mary understood God’s work in the history of her people. She also understood God takes a personal interest in each of us.

She Exemplifies Faithful Surrender and Trust

If I had to pick one word to summarize the example of Mary and Joseph, I would use the word “surrender.” God has tenderly and magnificently worked in their lives to where they see God as trustworthy. They surrender, and they give themselves to God’s revealed plan.

To surrender to God is necessary if we are to grow, yet it is not natural. This is something that is worked in us by the repeated preaching of the gospel.

What I love about Mary’s response is that she insists that God is the hero, not her. God is the hero of the world and God is the hero of Christmas. God is the one who sees the humble and the poor and the abused and God is the one who decides to act in ways that defy the imagination. God lifts up the poor and the broken and pursues justice to those crushed by unfairness. God is with “the contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the upright.” (Isaiah 57:15)

This is not what God did; this is what God does, and Mary (and Joseph) have seen it be true. They know this from the stories of Scripture in which time and again humans show their frailty and God shows faithfulness.

It’s hard to surrender when you have no reason to believe God is faithful or God. But because family, friends, and faith community have educated her and because the Spirit of God was at work in her, she is able to see God as worthy of her trust and her life.

The same God that shaped Mary’s heart, shapes ours. May that gracious and good God give us long memories. May we see God’s faithfulness in the past, so we may trust God for the days ahead.

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