If our lives are touched by the grace of God, and we are to go forward in applying it, how is it applied in the context of a relationship with him if things get more complex? Here I think there is a lesson to be learned from a young Jewish girl two thousand years ago.
As I noted previously, Mary was approached by Gabriel and told that she would conceive the long awaited Messiah of Israel who would bring freedom and it would be in a way that is very expansive. Mary was indeed full of grace which included a life filled with some sense of purpose. When God challenges us, those things that are truly of him doing not really go away but are put in a context like gold that is refined in the fire. When we are refined in a divine conversation of God, it is only for our good and that of the world around us as shown below.
“But Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?” And the angel said to her in reply, “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 called holy, the Son of God. And behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren; for nothing will be impossible for God.” Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her (Luke 1:34-38).
How can this be…?— It is important to see that this is not a matter of doubt on God’s agenda being carried out for two reasons.
First, since God is impartial, she would have been punished if she doubted the word of God in this season since Zechariah the father of John the Baptist was struck mute for doubting that miraculous conception. The difference is that Zechariah inserted that the natural decay of death was stronger than the author of life. For him in that moment, natural law was an end in itself.
But for Mary there was the principle of consecration. There is a strong case to be made that Mary was promised to God as a temple virgin and aged out of serving directly in the temple when she gained her menstrual cycle. Far fetched? Not so much if one sees celibacy as part of a spiritual life and law.
Imagine there is a wedding shower and there are comments that one day the bride to be will have a baby shower. Then the bride says, “How can this be? There is no sign of a stork nest being built outside my window and that is required for having a baby”. There would be an uncomfortable silence as people wondered who is going to explain the biology of marriage.
The commentary of the Ignatius Study Bible explores this further.
“The Greek text literally says, ‘I do not know man’, which refer to Mary’s virginal status rather than her marital status. Her concern is not that she is unmarried but that she is a virgin at present and that she is a virgin at present intends to remain one in the future.”
There are doctrinal and devotional applications to this interpretation of that verse. Doctrinally, in the subset of what is called Mariology, we see a great case for her perpetual virginity which was believed by Luther, Calvin and Wycliff. There is also scriptural foundation for a husband to know of a wife’s pre-existing vow and endorsing it by silence (Numbers 30:11-13).
But for the personal devotion life of the believer there is something important for individual, spiritual formation. Mary answered back defending the beautiful premise that saving herself sexually for God alone was important to her. Is your calling to be a spouse, celibate, celibate but looking? Bring God into that. Cherish his will for your life with an attitude of thanksgiving.
The holy Spirit will come upon you—- This line goes toward the profound establishment of God’s kingdom with wording that is reminiscent of the dedication of Solomon’s Temple. God came in a cloud on that temple and an anointing was put on the king who was referred to as the meshiach or “Anointed One” where we get Messiah. Mary would be the first person in the New Testament who would be a true worshiper because she would carry the Son of God truly and not as an honorific title for the Davidic dynasty.
Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived.—- I have long cherished an African proverb, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” The encouragement Mary receives is that she is not alone and and God has a plan for her to be worked out in community. God calls all of us beyond ourselves first to Him but in the faces of others.
Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.—— Being at piece in her consecration to God, her mission more specifically in God and her place in community Mary is in a very mature place to give an informed yes and live it out. Our names, circumstances and callings in life may be different but the principles are there. We can benefit from all those principles so that we can be flexible when God knocks on our doors and calls us to make a new ways for Him. The absence of such are the only things stopping us from those even quieter conversations with God when he comes knocking in our lives.