Written by Dan Crouch
‘I am the Lord’s servant, may your word to me be fulfilled.’ (Luke 1:38 NIV)
When asked to think of inspirational women who have impacted my life and ministry I could produce a lengthy list of historical and contemporary figures. There are many women whose faith, determination, commitment and leadership encourage, challenge and motivate me, but when pressed my thinking is almost always drawn back to one particular woman. The Virgin Mary. The mother of Jesus. Being the mother of the Messiah makes both a historical and current contribution to society that few, if any, can match. But we learn plenty about Mary’s character before Jesus is even born!
Anyone who is even slightly familiar with the Christmas story – much romanticised through the primary school nativity play - will be aware that Jesus’ mother was called Mary. However this may well be where their knowledge both begins and ends. I believe that if we could find a way of sharing more than the basic story reproduced in the aforementioned nativity plays, if we could give greater insight into the person of Mary, then she could become as inspirational a figure to the next generation as she has become to me.
Mary gives us such a strong example of obedience and faithfulness which are central to good leadership. I have wrestled with the challenges of obedience and faithfulness myself. How can I be faithful in this situation/circumstance? What does it mean for me to be obedient to God? There have been countless occasions when I have paused, waited, wondered if God was really calling me to do something rather than responding with the faithful obedience of Mary - ‘I am the Lord’s servant, may your word to me be fulfilled.’ (Luke 1:38). This complete surrender to the will of God with the desire to see his word fulfilled is something I greatly admire and aspire to.
There is a real danger for those of us who are familiar with Mary in that we might miss some of the nuances of her character and the lessons we can learn from her. Once she has accepted that she is to give birth to the Messiah, she visits her cousin Elizabeth and provides us with ‘the Magnificat’, an incredible song of praise and thanksgiving. Instead of being afraid of what is before her, Mary is grateful for the miraculous way God has chosen her. How often do we find fear in the place of gratitude?
It is a commonly held view that Mary would have been a teenager at the time of the annunciation. In the culture of the time girls were commonly betrothed (and we know she was betrothed to Joseph) between the ages of 12 and 14. This is perhaps one of the reasons I see her as such an example. As a youth worker I find myself surrounded by young people of a similar age to Mary. Each Christmas I often find myself wondering as the story of the incarnation is unravelled how the young people would respond to hearing God’s call? How would I have responded when I was a teenager? How would I respond to the suggestion as an adult today? There is something about Mary’s response that reminds me not to make assumptions about young people, and to remember that God speaks through, and brings his kingdom to earth through, people of all ages.
Mary, mother of Jesus, inspires me to remember that I am the Lord’s servant and that when I join with God in obedience and faithfulness his plans can change the world.
Dan Crouch is youth worker in the parish of Keynsham, a trustee of Sophia Network, and recently graduated from CYM with an MA in Leadership and Mission. You can find Dan on twitter @DanCrouch