I never know what to do with Mary. I'm in good company: The archives of history and the echoes of ancient sermons never quite knew what to make of her, either. She has been venerated in shrines, prayed to—worshipped, even. Botticelli, Cassatt, da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael, Bellini, Caravaggio, Dalí, and thousands of artists have imagined her on canvas.
For some traditions, Mary is an afterthought: a means to an end. She is rarely discussed other than to occupy a figure in the set-up of the annual crèche, where she occupies her demure place in Biblical history.
The dominant understanding of Mary is as a young woman who played the noble role of giving birth to Jesus. She's most often represented as poised, quiet, and responsive. She does her duty alongside Joseph and then fades to the background.
If we pause the traditional narrative for a moment and sit with the context of her story, we discover that no one in all of human history has had the sort of divine interruption that Mary faced and experienced. To be sure, the pillars of Biblical faith like Abraham and Moses found their lives divinely interrupted. If we walk faithfully through the pages of Scripture, we find story after story of God's work in the lives of people. That work interrupts and startles almost every time. But none held the Son of the living God in the way Mary did.
Luke 1 tells us that Mary found favor with God.
(Read Luke 1:28-30.)
What does it mean to be "favored"? I have favorite snack foods and movies, favorite sweatshirts, favorite sports teams and seasons of the year. But that's not the same as having God's favor. Mary is about to become very "un-favored" in the eyes ...
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