Jesus, God of Gracious Condescension
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be.
As stories go, everything about Mary’s seemed impossible. It seemed impossible that, after four hundred years of silence, God would send a messenger to a young girl probably no more than fifteen. It seemed impossible that a girl would find favor with God. And it seemed impossible that through a virgin would come “the Son of the Most High” (Luke 1:32).
It certainly seemed impossible to Mary.
An Ordinary Girl
It’s hard to picture it—an ordinary Mary. A Mary without a glowing halo. A Mary without that expression of demure solemnity we’ve come to associate with her virginity. But the truth is, Mary was just that: ordinary—a no-name girl from a no-name town, living in an insignificant corner of the Roman Empire. Still, we struggle to accept her ordinariness. “But Mary was humble,” we object. Or, “She was holy,” we tell ourselves.
No matter how we put it, we all do it. We buy into the idea that God chose Mary because there was something about her that made her extraordinary. Something that made her worthy of God’s notice. Something that made her special. But that’s not the picture of Mary we get from the gospel of Luke. Far from it. When Gabriel appeared to Mary and called her “favored,” when he exclaimed, “the Lord is with you,” Mary didn’t know what to do with it. Surely Gabriel had made a mistake. Surely he’d got the wrong girl. Mary, the gospel tells us, “was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be” (Luke 1:29). Mary’s story seemed impossible. It seemed impossible to her, and it should seem impossible to us—but because that, of course, is precisely the point.
But For Grace
Mary’s story is impossible.
It’s easy to come to Mary’s story and be so overcome by the miracle of the virgin birth that we forget about the miracle of grace. We forget that it was grace that sent Gabriel with a message of good news to a no-name town under Roman subjugation. We forget that it was grace that looked on Mary, an unimpressive, ordinary girl, with favor. And we forget that it was grace, through the power of the Holy Spirit, that made it possible for a virgin girl to bear the very Son of God—Jesus, the rescuer of humankind. Grace is the outpouring of God’s condescension, the bridge that connects the ordinary and the impossible. It did in Mary’s life, and it does in our own.
We live within the limitations of our ordinariness. Maybe we have ordinary skills. Maybe we have ordinary jobs. Or maybe we have ordinary relationships. But we can find comfort in knowing that the same grace that moved in Mary’s life is the grace that moves in ours. It is the grace of a God who bends to look on us with favor. That has nothing to do with us and who we are and everything to do with Jesus and who He is.
It is because of grace that Gabriel could say to Mary, “Nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1:37). And it is because of grace that God says the same to us.
Reflection: Do you really believe God graces the ordinary? Or are there places you strive to be better than ordinary in order to earn God’s grace?