Christmas Stories: Theotokos (God-bearer)

Scripture: Luke 1:26-38

You may have imagined it was night when Gabriel came to give Mary the big news, but it wasn’t.  It was broad daylight when he met her, at the well outside town where she came to draw water.  Mary was running a little late that day – drama at home with her younger siblings – and so she came alone, when it was already late morning, long after all the other women of Nazareth had drawn their water and gone home.

The first thought Gabriel had as Mary approached the well, empty water jug in her arms, was how very young she looked.  He knew it wasn’t so long ago that she had been just a kid on the streets of Nazareth, with unruly hair and scuffed-up knees.  Some people would say that God had chosen Mary for this job because she was pure, pious, and deferential.  But the truth was Mary wasn’t known around Nazareth for being any of those things.  Mary, instead, had a little bit of fire to her.  She was tough, stubborn, willing to break the rules for a good cause.  She was always ready to stand up for someone less powerful who was being or hurt or taken advantage of, even if it got her in trouble. That, Gabriel thought, was why she had found favor with God, even if she often exasperated her parents and made the neighbors talk.  Of course, Mary was a woman now – about to be married – and the days of childhood scuffles and adventures were behind her, her tangled hair and scuffed-up knees now well-covered.  A woman – with all the expectations that came along with that.

He watched her as she approached.  From a distance she looked slight, even wispy, but as she got closer Gabriel could see how she walked with her shoulders straight and head held high.  Gabriel had relayed a lot of divine messages to powerful men in his day, but out of all them, this young woman was someone he sensed you didn’t want to mess with.

She stopped short when she saw him.  In their tradition, love stories often took place at wells.  But Mary, though young, wasn’t stupid.   This was real life, and in real life a woman had to be careful.

Gabriel got up.  “Greetings, favored one!” he said with a flourish.  “The Lord is with you!”

Confusion – maybe even fear – flashed across Mary’s face momentarily, as she wondered what he was getting at with this greeting and perhaps realized at the same time that this man standing before her wasn’t quite human.  But she regained her composure and looked Gabriel straight in the eye.  “Who are you?” she asked.  “What are you doing here?”

“Mary,” Gabriel said.  “Don’t be afraid.”

“I’m not afraid,” she said, and though Gabriel knew that this was probably a lie, her voice didn’t falter or give her away.

Gabriel continued.  “Mary, I’m here to tell you that you’ve found favor with God.  This is what’s going to happen: you’re going to get pregnant and you’re going to have a son, and you’ll name him Jesus.  He will be great and powerful and reign on the throne of David forever.”  He finished the speech he had prepared, and waited.

Mary stared at Gabriel, eyes narrowed, as if sizing him up.  “I’m not married yet,” she said, a hint of challenge in her voice.  She stepped forward, as if to walk past him and continue on her original mission of drawing water.  But before she lowered her jug into the well she looked back at him, skeptical – but intrigued.

“We’ve got it all worked out,” he said.  “You’re going to conceive by the Holy Spirit.”

She just stared back at him.

“Mary,” Gabriel said. “The baby you’re going to have will be holy.  He’ll be the Son of God.”

Mary held his gaze for what seemed like a long time.  Gabriel could imagine the thoughts that were going through her head.   Wondering if all of this was for real, if she was being played somehow, if she was imagining things. Wondering if she really had a choice.  Thinking about the consequences – what her family would say, what Joseph would say, what everyone would say.  If she would be ruined, if she and her baby would be consigned to a life of poverty, if they’d have to beg, if she’d have to do dire things to keep them both alive.  If she even wanted a kid who was supposed to reign on the throne of David and would probably meet an untimely end like everyone else who aspired to power around here – instead of you know, just a regular kid, who would run and play on the streets of Nazareth.  There was always, thought Gabriel, a risk involved in answering the call of God.  Sometimes a big one.

Gabriel wished he could tell her that the risk would be worth it.  That this was her chance for her life to be something bigger, to mean something more, to be part of God’s greater plan for the world.  That there would be sacrifice, and heartache, plenty of it – but also so much love and beauty.  There always was, in answering God’s call.  “Don’t be afraid,” he wanted to tell her again, more gently this time.

But Gabriel stuck to his lines.  Sure, God had a way of chasing people down when they ran away from God’s call.  But in the end, he knew, the answer had to come from Mary, uncoerced.  He had presented his case – or rather, God’s case.  He simply offered these last words of comfort: “Your cousin Elizabeth is pregnant, too, even though she was called barren.  Nothing is impossible with God, Mary.”

Then Gabriel waited.

After a long silence Mary took a deep breath as if to prepare herself for all that was to come.  And then she said, clearly and firmly: “I’m in.”

For a long time afterward, Gabriel wondered what had made Mary say yes.  Maybe because she already knew what he had wanted to say, about being part of something bigger, about heartache and beauty.  Maybe it was simply because in the end, when God calls, you answer.

As he left, he saw what looked like fire in her eyes.

Let’s do this, he whispered to himself.  This young, fierce woman was about to bear God into the world.

Gabriel thought of all the people he’d delivered divine messages to before, and all the people he would in the future: important people, normal people, scared people, broken people. All called, in their own way and their own time, to bear God into the world.  He knew not all of them would be as bold and brave as Mary in accepting that call.

But he hoped they would be.

He wished her well, and vanished.

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