And the angel answered [Mary], “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. . . For nothing will be impossible with God.” And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:35-38, ESV)
Mary is so young – perhaps 14 or 15. But God once chose a boy named David to be king of Israel over his strapping, mature older brothers. The old prophet Samuel said, “The Lord sees not as a man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:1-13).
What did God see in the heart of Mary that she was chosen to be the mother of the Son of God? I make no pretense of having God’s perspective, but in her brief encounter with the angel Gabriel there are qualities that shine in this remarkable young woman. The first is that Mary has ears to hear the Word of God. She is receptive.
It’s often said that it’s harder to hear God today, that our modern distractions and entertainments drown out His voice, but I’m not sure it’s any harder to hear God now than it ever has been. The truth is we don’t hear God because we’re not listening. On the night Jesus was born the sky was filled with angels bellowing at the top of their lungs, but only a few shepherds took notice. The vast majority went right on sleeping through the silent night.
Medieval artists portrayed this quality in Mary by depicting the impregnating Holy Spirit entering her body through her ear. This seems strange to modern eyes, but the artists had a serious theological point. The Bible says, “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ (Romans 10:17). Faith is not something we initiate; it is given by God, but we must be receptive. Mary showed her faith in her receptivity to God’s Word; she was open to what God would say and do.
The same is true of anyone who would receive Christ today. We don’t control Him. Listening is passive. When God speaks into our lives it is something that happens to us. The virgin birth means Jesus was born by God’s initiative, and it is the same today if we would receive Jesus into our hearts. The only thing we can do is be still and open ourselves to listen and trust. We cannot compel God any more than we can catch sunlight in a sack. We cannot give ourselves new life. We can only receive it.
I pray for you this year a very Mary Christmas. Be like Mary. In Jesus Christ, God came to speak his love and grace into your life. Are you listening?
Come, Lord Jesus! By your Holy Spirit, give me ears to hear your Word. Give me a faith like Mary, to be still and know that you are God. Give me eyes and ears to see and hear you in your written Word. Amen.