I hated her. My mother would never let me use that word, but I hated that girl anyway. She was the one who said, her eyes and tone revealing disgust, “I like your pants.” They were hand-me-downs that I got from an older cousin, not quite up-to-date in terms of style.
That girl had new clothes all the time. She was the first one to get a pair of fashion boots. My legs were too skinny for fashion boots. Her hair was long, blonde and pretty. Parted in the middle, she could feather it back evenly on both sides. My hair was short, dark and dull.
That girl was popular. She had big birthday parties. She got a 10-speed bike before anyone else. Her family had a boat and went on vacations. She had everything. She was too perfect, so I hated her because I was not.
Maybe that’s why I find Mary to be so approachable in “Martin Luther’s Christmas Book.” She appears to be about as far from perfect as you can get. She’s not at all the girl I would have chosen to be anyone’s mother, much less our Lord’s. In fact, at first glance, using Mary seems like a really poorly devised plan.
According to Luther, she was awfully young, maybe as young as 13. We never think that girls having babies that young is a good idea; at that age they just don’t have the maturity it takes to raise a child, right?
Maybe if she had the support of her family, it could work out, but Luther strongly suggests that Mary was an orphan. Who would help her learn to care for a baby?
Mary belonged to an oppressed group of people, with zero social status. She was poor, probably performing household work just to get by.
No one around her had much to live on, either, so where was she going to come up with the resources to feed a child?
What was God thinking, sending an angel to speak to this girl from Nazareth?
There had to be better options available in the big capital city of Jerusalem, where all the really holy people hung out. Certainly there were plenty of other women there who had a great deal more potential for taking on a project of this magnitude.
Nothing to offer
As a candidate for the job Mother of God, Mary seems to have nothing to offer.
Nothing, that is, except her faith, and even that seems to be slightly less than ideal when she questions the angel, “How can this be?” (Luke 1:34). The fact that she even entertains such a ridiculous proposition is incredible, no, it’s inconceivable to me. But patiently she takes in the angel’s explanation; “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you (Luke 1:35).
So how does Mary respond? She doesn’t say, “Let me think about it and I’ll get back to you.” or “I can’t help you with that because (fill-in-the-blank). She says, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).
Mary was far from perfect from our perspective, but maybe that’s exactly what made her God’s perfect choice. She had nothing to offer but her very self. Through her faith and the work of the Holy Spirit, she serves as a vessel by which God brings forth a Savior.
Now, if God could initiate a plan to redeem the whole world through a nobody like Mary, what could God do with us? Mary isn’t the only one who has the Holy Spirit working in her. We, too, have received the Holy Spirit through our baptism. Imagine it! What has God conceived — in us?
When God calls to invite us to use the gifts we have been given, the ones that have been growing and developing in us, being fed and nourished by the power of the Holy Spirit, how do we respond? First, are we listening? If we do hear, do we ask for help or do we just make excuses?
Well, if you’re anything like me, you try to argue that you are lacking in time/talent/faith/money or whatever gifts you think someone else has more of.
But if we look to Mary’s example, we see that our argument doesn’t hold up, because it’s not about what we could do if we had more. It’s about what God can do with less.
“When the power of man fails, the power of God begins, provided faith is present and expectant.” (“Martin Luther’s Christmas Book”)
Let it be. Watch and see.
Anita Nuetzmann is a member of St. Petri Lutheran Church, Story City, Iowa. Anita is better known as the “churchlady” on her blog, “A Front Pew View.”
You might also want to read:
Finding favor with God
Joseph and Mary’s search for shelter comes to life
‘Let it be to us according to your Word’