God loves to astonish. Just consider the Virgin Mary. What a surprise! Who could have anticipated that this little, teenage girl from Nazareth could birth of Son of God? She was a thing of wonderment and here is why.
First, she was little; that is, she was young. In the custom of her day, a woman would enter a prearranged marriage even before sitting for the SAT. So she was a novice. Second, she was a woman. Women in first century Palestine were often considered property—intended for domestic labor, sexual pleasure, and the manufacture of male heirs.
And Mary’s third issue: she was from Nazareth. To call Nazareth your home was to lay claim to one of the most rebellious and unruly regions of the Empire. It was a Jalalabad or Aleppo of the ancient world.
So when it is said, “Mary was just a little girl from Nazareth,” that is a statement loaded with surprising characteristics. She was the wrong age, the wrong gender, and from the wrong neighborhood. Yet, these liabilities became the very pathways for Mary’s future. These things kept her in a place of dependence upon and submission to God.
A man named Irenaeus was one of the first Christians who did serious thinking about Advent and its meaning. He came to the conclusion that Mary’s example of holy surrender was a pattern for us all; and he used a scintillating title for her. He said, “Mary is the undoer of knots.” Mary took the tangled mess she had been given and persistently worked it out, overcoming all her challenges in redemptive, surprising ways.
Pope Francis says the same. Speaking of that little girl from Nazareth, he says: “There are problems and struggles we face that form a tangle which gets more and more painful and difficult to undo. But even the most tangled knots are loosened by God’s grace.”
And then Francis says how: “Mary first conceived Jesus in faith when she said ‘yes’ to the message God gave her. And what took place in the Virgin Mary also takes place within us. Believing in Jesus means giving him our flesh with the humility and courage of Mary, so that he can continue to dwell in our midst. May Mary help us to say ‘yes,’ to be open to God’s surprises, for everything he gives us is a gift—even our weaknesses—so that he can become our strength.”
Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, blogger, pastor, and author of multiple books. Visit his website at www.ronniemcbrayer.me.