Episode 31. Mother Mystery: Mary’s Remarkable Belief

November 29, 2021

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I'm Morgan Strehlow - writer and host of the Sanctuary Woman podcast.

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It’s Advent… The Promised One is finally on his way. 

But he’s not here. Not yet. So we wait… and in this Advent series, we’re going to sit with Mary while we wait… and wait expectantly with her. 

A few years ago, while I was pregnant with a son of my own, I walked into a Christian bookstore in anticipation of Advent, looking for a book or a study about the mother of our Messiah, Mary. I wanted to walk through Advent with a kindred, a scared first-time mother who didn’t exactly plan for this baby she was carrying. I couldn’t find a single book that focused on the person of Mary. Well, I found a coloring book. And I bought that Mary coloring book. And I colored my way through Advent with Mary, slightly disappointed that a Christian bookstore was nearly absent of the mother of our Christ Jesus, of the very first Christian to ever live as she welcomed him into her very self. 

For me, it’s inconceivable to celebrate Advent without the woman – the mother – who helped make it possible 

Mary has been a remarkable mystery for me in the few years since that first Advent when I was drawn to her as a model and guide for how her faith led her to accept Christ, body and soul. 

“May it be done to me according to your word.”

I’m not going to sit back and pretend these words were easy for Mary to say.

I’m not going to suggest that it would not be a sacrifice to echo these very words in our own lives. It absolutely is. 

I really struggle putting myself in Mary’s place. Especially with the worldview of an empowered and liberated woman in the United States of America in 2021 who could have very well said “hell no!” and been celebrated for the bravery of my no. 

It’s… complicated. 

That’s not lost on me.

And if you’re sitting here in the messy part of Mary’s story not knowing what to do with it, know you’re not alone. 

“May it be done to me according to your word.” 

Here is what I do know: body and soul, Mary welcomed the Savior of the world into herself. 

And that’s precisely why Mary is so remarkable and mysterious and worthy of our attention.

What have you learned about Mary?

What do you notice about Mary? 

What makes you uncomfortable about Mary?

The gospel story is far from a nice and tidy fairy tale of our childhood storybook Bibles. It’s uncomfortable. 

But with the strangest peace that surpasses all of my own understanding, I really do love the gospel. That gospel begins with Mary.

Mary points us to Jesus. Well, she can. If we let her. If we only spend a little time with her. Growing up as a protestant, Mary was only mentioned as a supporting character of the Christmas story. But I’ve learned since that she was very much a strong female lead. She’s not God, but Mary is a critical guidepost to the heart of God, a God who became human inside of Mary’s womb. It’s not possible for Mary to NOT be spiritually formed in extraordinary ways by carrying Christ within her for as long as she did. I know I need to look to Mary as I too look to be spiritually formed by the Christ whose image I now bear. 

So let’s look at Luke 1… and we’ll use the practice of Lectio Divina, an ancient liturgical practice for praying the scriptures. It is a Latin phrase that means “sacred reading.” It is a way of praying and listening for the still, small voice of God speaking through gentle reading or listening of scripture.  Lectio Divina has also been known as “listening with the ear of the heart.” 

As you settle into a place of loving openness, in a posture or position to listen more deeply, I will read the stories of the annunciation, incarnation and the visitation.  There will be a moment of silence for reflection after the passage is read. 

While you listen, listen for a word or a phrase that draws your attention. Consider how this passage touches your life today. Then consider if there is an invitation for you from this reading.

The Visitation Luke 1:26-45 (MSG)

26-28 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to the Galilean village of Nazareth to a virgin engaged to be married to a man descended from David. His name was Joseph, and the virgin’s name, Mary. Upon entering, Gabriel greeted her:

Good morning!
You’re beautiful with God’s beauty,
Beautiful inside and out!
God be with you.

29-33 She was thoroughly shaken, wondering what was behind a greeting like that. But the angel assured her, “Mary, you have nothing to fear. God has a surprise for you: You will become pregnant and give birth to a son and call his name Jesus.

He will be great,
    be called ‘Son of the Highest.’
The Lord God will give him
    the throne of his father David;
He will rule Jacob’s house forever—
    no end, ever, to his kingdom.”
34 Mary said to the angel, “But how? I’ve never slept with a man.”
35 The angel answered,
The Holy Spirit will come upon you,
    the power of the Highest hover over you;
Therefore, the child you bring to birth
    will be called Holy, Son of God.

36-38 “And did you know that your cousin Elizabeth conceived a son, old as she is? Everyone called her barren, and here she is six months pregnant! Nothing, you see, is impossible with God.”

And Mary said,
Yes, I see it all now:
    I’m the Lord’s maid, ready to serve.
Let it be with me
    just as you say.

Then the angel left her.

39-45 Mary didn’t waste a minute. She got up and traveled to a town in Judah in the hill country, straight to Zachariah’s house, and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby in her womb leaped. She was filled with the Holy Spirit, and sang out exuberantly,

You’re so blessed among women,
    and the babe in your womb, also blessed!
And why am I so blessed that
    the mother of my Lord visits me?
The moment the sound of your
    greeting entered my ears,
The babe in my womb
    skipped like a lamb for sheer joy.
Blessed woman, who believed
 what God said,
    believed every word would come true!

Belief in the unbelievable is glorified this time of year. And that’s for good reason. What I wish we would talk more about, though, is how hard-fought belief is for many of us. How belief is often coupled with fear. How belief can be a daily process of holding faith in one hand and doubt in the other because our questions are too big and the answers we’re given are too uncertain, too mysterious. Pregnancy is kind of like that, especially in the early days, with expectancy and fear tangled together in the already, but not yet.

May each one of us be mothered by Mary’s remarkable belief, and may hers be enough to carry us through the days when the ‘not yet’ feels more like ‘not ever’. The days when we want to reject the mysteries of our faith rather than embrace them. 

Grace and peace to the woman whose unbelief creeps back in this time of year. You, too, are blessed. You, too, are beloved. And you, love, are not left alone. 

The promised one is on his way. 

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