And Mary said, “Behold I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).
As Luke introduces us to Mary, he tells us a story in which Mary has very little to say.
Most of the talking is done by the angel Gabriel. Gabriel has figured prominently in Luke’s gospel, having already appeared to Zechariah in much the same way as he appears to Mary. Gabriel – as we might expect of God’s messenger – carries the major speaking role in the drama. Mary only speaks twice.
She asks a question (“How can this be?”).
And she speaks a prayer (“Let it be to me according to your word”).
Don’t miss that. Our questions and prayers belong together.
Somehow, we forget this. We assume that people who have questions about God’s will and God’s ways don’t pray, or that those who pray don’t have questions about God’s will and God’s ways. We are wrong to think this way. Good questions make the stuff of good honest prayers.
“How can it be” and “let it be done” make good neighbors.
“How Can This Be?”
It’s worth pondering that both Zechariah and Mary responded to Gabriel’s message with a question. Mary’s “How can this be” is matched by Zechariah’s “How can I be sure of this?”
We see that Zechariah’s question was an unwillingness to believe (1:20). We get no trace of that in Mary. Understandably, Mary is “greatly troubled.” The NLT Bible describes her as “confused and disturbed” (1:29). Her question is not resistance, but true wonderment.
The story of Mary is the story of a literal conception. Cells divided. An embryo took shape in her womb and a heart began to beat. Fingers and toes, chin and nose, the body of a boy. This was Jesus. This was the body of the one whose mouth would speak God’s thoughts and whose touch would heal. This was the body that would one day be crucified.
We ask Mary’s question: “How can this be?” The answer we receive in scripture ignores cellular biology. This happens by the Spirit and Power of God. At the creation of the world, the Spirit hovered over chaos and brought forth life. In Mary’s womb the Spirit came with power and created life.
In Mary we see a perfectly legitimate question. And yet, her question never gets in the way of faith and trust.
“Let It Be As You Say”
Gabriel may get all the good lines in the dialogue, but Mary gets the last word.
After her questions, after Gabriel’s very brief answer about the Holy Spirit and the power of the Most High, Mary yields herself to what she cannot fully understand. She never insists on being able to make sense of what God is doing. She questions but she doesn’t interrogate.
She stands before God with open hands and a willing heart.
“Behold I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (1:38 ESV). The NLT again is helpful here: “May everything you have said about me come true.”
Mary is all in. Even with her questions.
In Mary we see the model of a prayerful life. We may not know exactly what God’s will is. We do not always receive assurances as to what will happen and explanations as to how. We lay the matter that concerns us before Jesus and we leave it there, knowing that he will do what is good, even if we don’t understand it.
Now it’s your turn. What matter do you bring before Jesus today?
What will you leave with him trusting that whatever he does will be good?
What are you facing that eludes figuring out, refusing a clear answer or resolution?
Listen carefully to Mary and borrow her prayer, confident that God will do what is good. Ask your questions and open your hands.
Do what you will to do, Lord God. In the midst of what we cannot understand or figure out, teach us to trust you, knowing that “You are good and what you do is good” (Psalm 119:68). We come before you today with our honest questions. And we come with yielded hearts, praying in Jesus’ name. Amen.