Slideshow image

For me, writing is an act of discovery. One thing leads to another, and soon I'm exploring something new.

This post led me to a huge question. 

The Annunciation

Gabriel’s announcement to Mary – the Annunciation – is recorded in the ancient and holy text of Luke 1:26-38. Take a moment to read and ponder this rich scene.

As you read, you’ll note that Gabriel uses language that indicates – or at least, appears to indicate – that Mary has no choice in what is about to happen. For instance, the angel uses the word “will” numerous times: “You will be found with child” (1:31).

Then there is Mary’s statement (1:38): “I am the Lord’s servant, … may it be to me as you have said.” I was pushed off balance by Greek grammar.

Grammatically, “may it be” is not passive but middle voice; not indicative but optative mood. The middle voice suggests co-operation, not passivity. The optative mood indicates possibility, not certainty.

Did Mary have a choice to make?

What some say

Well-known and reliable commentators seem to differ on this question.

On one hand, some refer to Mary's statement as “an expression of resignation to the will of God” (Barnes) – Mary’s passive acknowledgement of an invariable sovereign decision.

On the other hand, some understand her words as active consent. Here’s one sample (Pulpit Commentary):

God's message, writes Godet, by the mouth of the angel was not a command. The part Mary had to fulfill made no demands on her. It only remained, therefore, for Mary to consent to the consequences of the Divine offer. She gives this consent in a word at once simple and sublime, which involved the most extraordinary act of faith … Mary submitted herself of her own free will to what she felt was the will and wish of her God.

Did Mary have a choice to make?

What if …

If Mary did have a choice, what if she had said “no”?

For sure, God’s ultimate purposes cannot, and will not, be frustrated.

Paul writes, “when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman …” (Galatians 4:4). At that point in history, the Son was sent; the Savior was born; God took on complete humanity (the incarnation). Nothing could frustrate that – not even Mary.

It’s at this point that I’m cautioned. This is speculation – a question that intrudes into a holy place. This calls for much humility and reverence.

And so, I withdrew.

Malcolm Guite  

Last week I was introduced to a poem by Malcolm Guite: self-described as a priest, poet, and rock’n’roller who lives in Cambridge, UK.

Here’s his poem “Annunciation”:

We see so little, stayed on surfaces,

We calculate the outsides of all things,

Preoccupied with our own purposes

We miss the shimmer of the angels’ wings,

They coruscate around us in their joy

A swirl of wheels and eyes and wings unfurled,

They guard the good we purpose to destroy,

A hidden blaze of glory in God’s world.

But on this day a young girl stopped to see

With open eyes and heart. She heard the voice;

The promise of His glory yet to be,

As time stood still for her to make a choice;

Gabriel knelt and not a feather stirred,

The Word himself was waiting on her word.

There’s no doubt how Guite understands this scene.

On another level

With the question asked, I wondered what it raised for us – you and me.

If God’s purposes will not be frustrated, and he asks you to participate in bringing his purposes to completion, do you have a choice to make?

What if you say “no”?

Let Mary's words guide and encourage you: "may it be to me as you have said."

Let these words impact your mind and heart when you’re invited to cooperate with God – whether in something small and apparently insignificant, or large and utterly unimaginable.   

May you be richly blessed in the fullness of the Advent of our Lord Jesus Christ!      

Photo credit: Emily Barney via / CC BY-NC (altered by cropping out frame)

Click "yes" to receive resource-rich newsletters.

Helpful resources provided to 'living theology' subscribers.


Want to follow Jesus more closely?

Get your FREE copy of "Listening Well to Matthew."