The angel Gabriel told Mary that she was conceiving a child even though she was a virgin. Understandably, Mary’s virginity is the headline-grabbing bit of this story for lots of readers. After all, that’s not how human reproduction works.
Lots of ink has been spilled insisting that this was a miracle or a metaphor or a myth. As odd as it may sound, I’ve begun to think that arguing about whether or not a virgin could conceive can distract us from the central point of the story. Mary’s story challenges us to change the fundamental algorithm of our lives.
We can spend all of our time asking, “Did this happen to Mary or not?” Condemning those who refuse to believe or scoffing at the naïveté of those who do. All along, we’ll manage to avoid the basic question for a Jesus-follower. What does this tell me about living like Jesus on this planet every day?
Here’s where to start. Mary said, “Yes.” Mary was willing. She was willing to give her life—her body, her time, her energy, her reputation—to bring healing to a wounded, aching world.
Okay. I admit. Mary did ask, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” (Luke 1:34) But it doesn’t seem to me that she was asking for a causal explanation. In fact, I think she was actually acknowledging reality:
Mending all the world’s broken hearts, shattered lives, and fractured relationships is beyond her ability. She will not fill every hungry body, comfort every lonely soul, or liberate every captive through the force of her own will.
She doesn’t have the power to establish perfect justice and lasting peace. But God does. And God chooses to do so through frail and fragile people like Mary and you and me.
Her power lies in the ability to say “Yes” to God doing these things through her. And that’s where our power lies. It’s what Paul was getting at when he said, “Power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)
Mary said this in her own way a few months after Gabriel’s visit. When she met up with her pregnant cousin Elizabeth, she said, “[God] has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant….; for the Mighty One has done great things for me.” (Luke 1:48-49)
Jesus-like power does not take the form of being willful. Of pushing and conniving and coercing to get our way. A Jesus-follower’s power takes the form of being willing to bring Jesus into this world in response to God’s very specific urging to each of us.
God called Mary to bring Jesus into this world in a way unique to her. God calls each of us to do the same. To give our ordinary, everyday life—our body, our time, our energy, and our reputation—to bring healing to an aching world.
The decisive question for each of us about Mary is not what happened to her, but what we will do right now. Will we say yes to bringing Jesus into the world?