And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy–the Son of God. And behold your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.Luke 1:34-38
Submission is not a disposition that comes naturally to the human soul (Rom 1:21-22). We are all born with a natural inclination toward being tyrants rather than being servants. Some of our earliest lessons as children were to be taught that we may not be allowed to imagine ourselves to rule our parents. This pervasively human character trait of lust for dominance is not merely expressed in our attitudes toward our neighbors. Foolishly, we often imagine ourselves to be autonomous from the Creator (Ps 2:1-3). Worse still, we think He ought to obey our wishes rather than us obeying God’s (Matt 16:21-23).
How does a person like Mary become submissive if it is not a quality that simply comes naturally? I can’t account for all the reasons why a person learns to yield but I will mention two contrasting reasons. A person might learn to submit themselves through (1) imposed force or (2) absolute trust.
First, the use of brute force might cause a person to yield themselves. For example (confession is good for the soul); I was the oldest of seven kids. I loved my brothers and sisters, but I also loved to make them submit. I grew up watching wrestlers like Hulk Hogan, Macho Man Randy Savage, and the Ultimate Warrior impose their wills on people and I eventually perfected my own signature submission hold called the cross faced chicken wing. I was much older, stronger, and easily able to make my brothers submit to my wishes. (Thankfully, my brothers and sisters have forgiven me for being a tyrant) However, this methodology would never inspire love, trust, and close relationships.
Second, the consistent demonstration of wise direction and loving concern might inspire a person to yield themselves. For example; I am now Dad to three beautiful children. All three of my kiddos have a natural desire to impose their will on each other and their parents. At this point in their young lives, I can honestly say that my children willingly yield to me most of the time. The reason for their usual submission, I think, is the assurance of my love and trust in my wisdom. I am not imposing my will upon my children through force but inspiring them to yield themselves through consistency and concern.
Let it be…
Mary’s submission to the good news delivered by Gabriel was God’s grace at work in her. While mankind is naturally averse to yielding, she makes herself God’s servant. The Word of God was delivered to her and she still has questions, but she does not question God’s character. She knows God is faithful, good, and she will trust Him. Submitting to the Almighty isn’t the result of terror but of love. For example; God has sent Gabriel to deal gently with her on His behalf. God has blessed her cousin with a child in her old age. God has been silent for almost 400 years and He has chosen Mary to be the mother of the Son of God (Luke 1:35). What else could she do? God has called for her to serve Him and her service He will have.
Why should we regard Mary’s act of submission to God’s Words as exemplary? I could try to exhaust the reasons, but I will only mention one reason for our encouragement. The gracious response we observe from the virgin is courageous. Submitting to God isn’t going to be easy. Our surrender is always worth the cost, but there is a cost. This is important for us to remember as we read this narrative. Mary was a smart girl and she knew that making herself the servant of God would alter the course of her life forever. She was a student of the history of her people and she knew God would often lead through difficult terrain. Noah was delivered but was tasked with rebuilding society from ground zero. Abram was called but led by God to leave Ur without a final destination to move toward. Joseph was exalted by God, but the road to get there was treacherous. We could go on and on, but the point we must not miss is that Mary’s submission was exemplary because she was entering into a long line of servants of God who believed “the suffering of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. (Rom 8:18)”