Ordinary Girl, Extra-Ordinary Grace
Ordinary Girl, Extra-Ordinary Grace
“You did not choose Me, but I chose you…” (John 15:16)
If I could give the teens I love one gift this Christmas season, it would be to have a heart like Mary. She doesn’t earn or even understand why God chooses her to be the mother of Jesus. She only needs to accept the gift.
Our kids today inhabit a culture of competition. They strive for awards, accolades and applause because everything must be earned; success in every arena seems to be the product of hard work, talent and drive. Praise be to God, He does not deal with His children by their merit, and our kids desperately need to know it. Here is how God works: “The Lord did not set His love upon you or choose you because you were more in number than any of the peoples… but because the Lord loved you…” (Deuteronomy 7:7)
God doesn’t love us because we are “more” in any way. Being smarter, stronger, prettier, or funnier will not qualify anyone for more or less of His love. He loves us because that is who He is. This is uncomfortable for anyone who wants to earn His esteem.
Mary shows us a better way.
When the angel Gabriel comes to her, Mary is extraordinarily ordinary. We know that she is a descendent of David and engaged to Joseph. But Mary is otherwise a mystery to us in terms of personality, accomplishments or temperament. Scripture doesn’t tell us any of these things about her, because there isn’t anything else we need to know. She’s just a girl, addressed by an angel: “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!” Incredibly, God chooses an insignificant young Jewess in a remote province of the Roman Empire to be the mother of His only child. By His sovereign will, she has the lineage to fulfill prophecy, but surely there have been thousands of other young women descended from David; her family tree is none of her doing, anyway. What on earth has Mary done to enjoy God’s special favor and blessing? As far as we are told, absolutely nothing. It’s a bit of an affront to the can-do hard-working American way.
Here is where ordinary Mary becomes extraordinary: she says, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.”
So what makes Mary remarkable? Nothing more than this: when she hears that she is chosen, she believes it.
Given grace, she simply accepts it. This enables her obedience. This enables her to mother the Messiah. This enables her to prepare His body for burial and to rejoice at His resurrection. She loves Him because He first loved her; God choosing her enables her to choose Him back. Daring to believe she has been chosen means Mary can fulfill the calling God has given her.
Equally remarkable is what Mary does not say to the angel. Other than wondering how a virgin birth will be accomplished, she says nothing. No protest that she doesn’t deserve such an honor, no argument that she isn’t qualified. She never mentions her parents, though she must have wondered how they would handle the news, nor does she suggest that her future with Joseph might not go as planned. Martin Luther writes, “She might have doubted, but she shut her eyes and trusted in God who could bring all things to pass, even though common sense were against it, and because she believed, God did to her as he had said… The virgin birth is a mere trifle for God; that God should become man is a greater miracle; but most amazing of all is that this maiden should credit the announcement that she, rather than some other virgin, has been chosen to be the mother of God.”
What would it take to teach our kids that they, like Mary, are “His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that [they] would walk in them?” (Ephesians 2:10) In Life of the Beloved, Henri Nouwen says that while he was parented and mentored with great patience and encouragement, he still struggled to grasp the truth of his “belovedness.” According to Nouwen, “we have to dare to reclaim the truth that we are God’s chosen ones, even when our world does not choose us… The great spiritual battle begins – and never ends – with the reclaiming of our chosenness.”
Nouwen suggests three helpful tools we can give our kids. First, understand that this world always sells the lie that we are not enough, that we need to be more in order for God to love us. Second, seek friends and mentors who give grace rather than burdensome expectations. Third, practice gratitude, which trains the mind’s eye to see His love at work in our everyday lives.
I would add that the more familiar our kids are with the real people who populate the Bible, the more they will understand that God really does choose people simply because He loves them. He loves (and works through) every kind of misfit sinner imaginable – but remarkable things begin to happen for those who, like Mary, choose to believe that God has set His love on them.
Finally, the best way to teach our kids to accept God’s unmerited favor is to accept it for ourselves. “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light…” (1 Peter 2:9)
Let us each unwrap that gift for Christmas, and may it make us very merry indeed!