Mary – young, poor and female, but ‘highly favoured’

Mary Copping, 19 December 2021

Micah 5: 2–5a; Hebrews 10: 5–10; Luke 1: 39–45

Before I became a Christian, I wasn’t keen on my name, Mary – it was a bit plain. What sort of a name is that? I was named after a Yorkshire auntie. But then as the gospel story became more meaningful to me, I was so pleased that my parents did name me Mary.

In our gospel reading we’re told that Mary, the mother of Jesus, went to see her cousin Elizabeth who was bearing John, the forerunner of Jesus. The baby John leapt in his mother’s womb, recognising his Saviour. What a wonderful moment for the two women, and the two babies – and what wonderful support for each other as they went through their pregnancies and beyond!

Mary didn’t have a lot going for her – she was young, poor and female and, in that society especially but perhaps in any society then and now, she was not respected. She was certainly felt not suitable to be the bearer of God’s Son. Yet God knew that she would be just the person to carry his Son, the Messiah. He knew that she and her husband Joseph would care for him with love and stand by him always.

When the angel Gabriel came to tell Mary the news, he told her that she was ‘highly favoured’ – however I’m sure she didn’t feel highly favoured when she had to tell her parents and her betrothed that she was definitely going to have God’s Son. Imagine a young girl telling her parents and fiancé that in any age. Yet Mary was given God’s grace and favour for this enormous responsibility, and God gave her Joseph to be her loyal helpmeet and lifelong partner.

And as the angel Gabriel gave her the news, all she wondered was, ‘How is this going to happen, how can it be?’ But then came her wonderful words of obedience and trust: ‘Be it unto me as you have said’. She was willing to give her life to God’s plan whatever it cost her and, of course, it cost her much. Being shamed in her society for being an unwed mother-to-be, seeing her son Jesus vilified by those who didn’t understand him, and then seeing her son, an innocent man, die on the cross.

As she went through her life as the bearer and mother of the Son of God, she won’t have been left alone by God – always, as in the prayer ‘The Lord is with thee’. God didn’t say to her, you’re having my Son, now you’re on your own. God would have been with her every step of the way. One can only imagine what the beautiful relationship was between Mary and God as she brought his Son up, as she did what was right for God: God’s presence always with her, ‘Immanuel’, God with us. God with Mary.

In our Advent course this week we shared about how and when we sometimes felt God’s presence, God with us. One said they felt his presence when caring for their mother, one felt God’s peace in the night, in the stillness, one when they went on walks and saw the beauty of God’s creation, and one when they walked into this church, met with friends and here met with God’s love. I shared that sometimes, when I am presiding, suddenly I sense the power of God and think, wow, the one we have been worshipping, the one we have been talking about, the one who invites us to his table, is actually here in this place, and here with all those at home. How wonderful!

And of course he is here with us now, with each one of us every second of our lives, but sometimes it is hard to see. I wonder when each one of us really senses God’s presence in our lives.

‘Immanuel’, God with each one of us every second of our lives.

Where is God in these frightening and difficult times? Jesus is known as ‘the Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief’ and we know that he understands our sadness, our pain, our grief, our fear, and is in it with us. As we continue in not knowing what’s going to happen, not knowing how things will turn out, even what sort of Christmas we will have – as we see others suffering so much, and as we suffer ourselves – God continues to be with us, Immanuel. As we welcome the baby Jesus next week once more, as we say Immanuel, God with us, let us trust that God will continue to be with us, continue to uphold and strengthen us, continue to give us his love and his joy, as he did with Jesus’ mother Mary.

Mary was a young girl, asked by God to carry his Son, asked to bring his Son up, to care for him in a family. What a daunting task! And yet always she was somehow given the strength by God to do what she was asked to do. Her life wasn’t easy and, as Simeon blessing the baby in the temple said to Mary, ‘A sword will pierce your own heart too’. Mary suffered hugely but God was with her through it all. What a wonderful thing she did, what an obedient life she lived – no wonder in the Roman Catholic Church she is venerated. For us, we suffer in many ways but we can be assured that as God was with Mary; he will always be with us, Immanuel.

I end with the Ave Maria:

Hail Mary, full of grace.
The Lord is with thee.
Blessèd art thou amongst women,
and blessèd is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God,
pray for us sinners,
now and at the hour of our death.