Say the word ‘Mary’ and the phrase ‘meek and mild’ springs to mind. Yet when I actually think of Mary, meek and mild are the last words that describe her. Feisty, gutsy, bold and daring are words I’d associate more readily. Mary is an adventurer.
You probably don’t need me to tell you the story. Mary (depicted in a book from my childhood as pegging out the washing at this point) is visited by an angel who tells her that she will become supernaturally pregnant and give birth to the Messiah, as long as she is willing to do so. The obedient picture of Mary comes through her affirmative response ‘I am the servant of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word.’ (Luke 1:38). But her reply isn’t given until after some pretty intense questioning of the angel and careful consideration. It reminds me somewhat of when children (or, y’know, sometimes adults) elongate their parents’ title:
‘What do you want?’
Mary is greeted with the words, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.”, and like a parent she’s wondering what the follow-up question will be (Luke 1:28). She seems savvy. She knows she needs to have slept with a man to conceive a baby, and this is her main line of questioning. In a society where premarital conception could have meant death or at the very least ostracisation, she doesn’t even consider these to be the problems. She was a woman who lived during the oppressive time of King Herod, a king so insecure on his throne he murdered his own wife and children; she agrees to carry a child who will have a kingdom without end. If that’s not a threat to Herod, what is? And who of us, if God asked us to give up physical comfort, family stability and a straightforward life, would quickly agree? Mary does.
Mary’s depiction as the dutiful and obedient woman is at odds with the Mary described in scripture. She is never depicted as conducting household-y tasks, and in fact comes across as an intrepid adventurer. She finds out she’s pregnant, and then morning sickness and all, travels around 80 miles each way to see her cousin Elizabeth. She recognises God at work in their lives and goes to share their joy together.
Over the course of the next few years, Mary (with Joseph and Jesus) travels from Nazareth to Bethlehem (70 miles), from Bethlehem to Jerusalem and back (12 miles round trip), Bethlehem to Egypt (at least 40 miles) and finally Egypt back to Nazareth (106 miles). I am too often guilty of assuming people in the past didn’t travel: Mary definitely did, with none of the mod-cons. She was a refugee, she moved away from home, she did it all with a baby, then toddler, then child in tow.
She parents the son of God, giving him what for when he disappears and doesn’t tell them where he’s gone to (Luke 2). And at the end, she watches her son, the one promised to have kingdom without end, die horrifically and painfully on a cross. If that doesn’t take strength, I’m not sure what does.
Her life is dedicated to God, in more ways than one. She is a bold adventurer, giving her potential life of relative comfort up in order to do what God asks of her, all the glorious, unexpected and unimaginably awful parts of it. So this Christmas, I’m going to spend time reflecting on this. If God asked me to give up physical comfort, family stability and a straightforward life, would I unquestioningly agree? Is my faith like Mary’s, bold and encompassing all God asks of me?
This Christmas, I’m praying I start to learn the patience of Tamar, the faith of Rahab, the dedication and hope of Ruth, the grace of God as shown to Bathsheba and the confident, without concern for my own comfort, obedience of Mary.