Excerpt from Meditations on the Birth of Jesus
Here am I, the ser­vant of the Lord. —Luke 1:38

Rec­om­mend­ed pas­sage for Lec­tio Div­ina: Luke 1:26 – 38.

Ask the Lord to help you enter the scene. Pic­ture the place where Mary was and what she was doing when the angel Gabriel appeared.

What do you see? What do you smell? What do you hear?

Notice the change of expres­sion on Mary’s face as she catch­es sight of the angel­ic mes­sen­ger. How does he appear? Observe his expres­sion as he engages Mary in con­ver­sa­tion. Notice the move­ment of their bod­ies as the con­ver­sa­tion unfolds. 

Imag­ine your­self in the place of Mary. What goes through your mind as you receive the angel’s straight­for­ward announce­ment of God’s intent? How does it strike you? 

The break­ing in” of God does not have to be a fright­en­ing expe­ri­ence. It can be an awak­en­ing moment, a deep­en­ing moment.

Might this have been Mary’s expe­ri­ence?

The angel declares, Greet­ings, favored one! The Lord is with you” (v. 28). This salu­ta­tion tells us quite a bit about Mary. She dwells in the shad­ow of the Most High. For her, God is not far off. She knows who she is — a child of an infi­nite­ly good, wise, and pow­er­ful heav­en­ly Father whom she desires to please. 

Mary’s heroes are Abra­ham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Miri­am, David, Deb­o­rah. She loves the way God works through ordi­nary peo­ple. She dreams about Messiah’s arrival: What would he be like?

Mary is engaged to a god­ly man named Joseph, a descen­dant of the great King David. She eager­ly antic­i­pates the day when they will mar­ry and start their own fam­i­ly in Nazareth. 

These things are not far from her mind when the angel arrives. His sud­den appear­ance is star­tling, his mes­sage more so. With­out pre­am­ble, Gabriel announces that the time has come for God’s promise to be ful­filled. Mary will become preg­nant and deliv­er the Son of the Most High! 

Mary nev­er imag­ined such a con­ver­sa­tion tak­ing place with any­one on earth, much less her. She was an appre­cia­tive spec­ta­tor of divine events, not a participant. 

How can this be, since I am a virgin?”

Unlike Zechari­ah who asked, How will I know that this is so?” (v. 18), Mary’s ques­tion to the angel comes from a pure heart. She desires under­stand­ing, not proof.

Gabriel replies that her vir­gin­i­ty pos­es no prob­lem what­so­ev­er; the pow­er of the Holy Spir­it will over­shad­ow her so that the child she bears will be called the Son of God. 

It is a tall order for Mary to believe the news of this eter­nal­ly unprece­dent­ed event. So the archangel bol­sters her faith with a tes­ti­mo­ny — her bar­ren rel­a­tive Eliz­a­beth is now preg­nant in her old age, for noth­ing will be impos­si­ble with God” (v. 37). 

Noth­ing is impos­si­ble with God. 

There is no time for Mary to con­sult with Joseph, her par­ents, or even Eliz­a­beth. Gabriel awaits an answer. She must decide. 

This is not the future she imag­ined. This wasn’t in the plans. The angel’s words were less request and more mes­sage — news of God’s bet­ter way. Still, like Zechari­ah she must choose how to receive it. 

When God breaks in we have a choice: embrace or reject, believe or doubt. Either we aban­don our­selves to God’s path, the steps of which are only revealed as each foot is lift­ed in obe­di­ence, or we cling to our own path with its illu­sion of certainty. 

Mary choos­es to embrace and believe: Here am I, the ser­vant of the Lord; let it be with me accord­ing to your word” (v. 38). 

We can see why Mary enjoyed God’s favor. Favor con­sists in our close con­for­mi­ty with the order estab­lished by God; we accept God’s choice for us.

It is hard to believe that God’s redemp­tion plan depend­ed upon the obe­di­ent coop­er­a­tion of a teenage girl. Yet it did. And in the course of ordi­nary events, souls still today are called by God to a life of per­fect sub­mis­sion where we have a role in God’s ongo­ing work. It seems risky, but it is God’s way. 

On the sur­face, there is lit­tle about Mary that would rec­om­mend her. She lived a hid­den, ordi­nary life. Her exalt­ed sta­tus under­scored in Gabriel’s greet­ing only becomes vis­i­ble in her com­plete aban­don­ment to the will and pur­pose of God.

When Mary vis­its Eliz­a­beth (vv. 39 – 56), she is filled won­der and grat­i­tude for being includ­ed in God’s eter­nal plan of sal­va­tion. She has lit­tle clar­i­ty about what this actu­al­ly entails, but she is cer­tain that God knows. And for Mary, that is enough.

Visio Div­ina

Spend a peri­od of time in per­son­al reflec­tion on the art­work below. You may find these steps of Visio Div­ina helpful: 

  1. Request. Ask God to guide your thoughts and impres­sions through the Holy Spirit. 
  2. Gaze. Take in the paint­ing. Notice its struc­ture, the place­ment of the peo­ple and objects in the art­work, the shape and form, the use of light and shad­ow, the emp­ty spaces. What catch­es your attention? 
  3. Reflect on what you see. Pay atten­tion to your impres­sions, thoughts, and feel­ings. How does the image deep­en your under­stand­ing of the text? 
  4. Respond and Receive. Car­ry the details of the image with you through the com­ing week in the way you might car­ry a word from Lec­tio Div­ina with you. You may find that God is invit­ing you to pray as the appro­pri­ate response to what he has shown you. What is God’s invi­ta­tion? Receive what God has shown you and rest in a pos­ture of obe­di­ence and devotion. 

The Ital­ian Renais­sance artist Fra Fil­ip­po Lip­pi paint­ed The Annun­ci­a­tion in the mid fif­teenth cen­tu­ry. Fra Lip­pi was a Carmelite fri­ar who lived a com­pli­cat­ed, trou­bled life but paint­ed devo­tion­al sub­jects with under­stand­ing and clar­i­ty. The view­er is drawn into the inti­mate scene by the semi­cir­cu­lar struc­ture of the paint­ing. The use of per­spec­tive com­mu­ni­cates that this is a real event. Visu­al sim­plic­i­ty is achieved by plac­ing the two kneel­ing fig­ures oppo­site one anoth­er. On the right Mary is hold­ing a book, sym­bol­iz­ing the Word of God become flesh. Gabriel, eas­i­ly iden­ti­fied by his gold­en wings, is hold­ing a lily, a sym­bol of puri­ty. The diag­o­nal rays of light extend from the dove toward Mary as she lis­tens humbly as Gabriel declares, Greet­ings, favored one! The Lord is with you.”

Going Deeper

  1. Look at the pic­ture of Mary’s con­ver­sa­tion with Gabriel. What do you notice? How does the image illu­mi­nate and deep­en your under­stand­ing of the bib­li­cal text?
  2. Has there been a time when you expe­ri­enced the in-break­ing” of God? What has been the last­ing impact of your response?
  3. Do you see your­self as hav­ing a part in God’s unfold­ing plan? What might it mean for you to say, Here am I, the ser­vant of the Lord; let it be with me accord­ing to your word”?
  4. At the end of the day, make a list of times you felt God’s pres­ence. You may be sur­prised at how many times God broke into your life today.

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Excerpt­ed from the Ren­o­varé resource Med­i­ta­tions on the Birth of Jesus, copy­right 2019 Miri­am Dixon and Mar­garet Camp­bell. Down­load it free or pur­chase phys­i­cal copies.