When I was in middle school, I was chosen to play the part of Mary in our church Christmas program-a part that I would reprise several times. Each time, I searched through my Bible for mentions of Jesus’ mother. I wanted to know all about her. In part, it was to get into character. But it was also because I began to feel a strange kinship with Mary.
What stuck out to me each year, as I donned my blue head covering and foam baby bump, is just how little we know about Mary. The mother of our Savior claims no more than a few chapters out of the Bible.
But the little glimpses we do get of her are extraordinary.
Mary was not the typical female hero, not in her time or in ours. She wasn’t an Esther or a Ruth, wasn’t breathtakingly beautiful or startlingly bold.
What defined Mary was her very significant insignificance. Some might call it meekness.
Mary lived a simple, quiet, unambitious life. She had simple, quiet, unambitious plans. Until a heavenly messenger came to her with the impossible pronouncement that she would give birth to the Son of God. Emmanuel. God with us.
As scared and confused as she must have been, Mary believed against literally impossible odds that she was about to become a mother. And she accepts this role, knowing what it will do to her reputation. Imagining what it will do to her relationship with Joseph.
This was no small thing for Mary. I imagine Mary, a little bit like myself, was known around her home primarily as a “good girl.” Not really noteworthy, just nice, likable, and most importantly, good.
And then in a matter of months, when her condition could no longer be ignored, she wouldn’t appear so very good anymore. She would be an embarrassment. Someone you averted your eyes from.
Who are you when your defining trait no longer fits you?
You are no one. An absolute nobody.
But it’s only when we become nothing that God can make anything out of us. That He can give us a new name, a new identity.
In Mary’s case, her new identity so far eclipsed her old one that it doesn’t seem fair to compare the two.
Instead of good, she was blessed. Instead of decent, she was favored.
Because it was never really Mary’s respectability that made her stand out in the eyes of God. It was her faith. Her ability to set aside everything her world told her was important-reputation, stability, stature- for a promise that God could truly dwell with us.
As long as we cling to our self-appointed identities- our goodness, our reputation, our relationship status, our career, our success, our failure, or our ministry- we can never fully realize that promise. But in letting go, we find freedom. We catch a glimpse of our place in the greater story of the universe, and we realize how incredibly small it is.
And then, maybe, we will have the courage it takes to become an absolute nobody.