ONE day she was sitting alone within the house busy at her task of the moment, perhaps sewing, when her quick eye noted a shadow on the floor at the street door.
Looking quickly up she sees a kindly faced man standing in the doorway, a stranger to her. He is not of the village, nor yet any of her more distant kinspeople whom she had seen. A glance tells her this.
Before she can rise hastily and offer the customary hospitalities he speaks and her quick ear notices the grave, singularly clear tones of his low, kindly voice. He utters a simple brief gracious salutation:
“Hail, thou one endued with grace. The Lord with thee.”
And Mary’s heart is at once all in a flutter. A great sense of fear takes hold of her. She reveals deep agitation. Who can this stranger be? And what sort of a salutation is this? And there’s an undefined something about this stranger that she feels, with a sense of deepening awe. And all this is in a moment.
And at once the kindly voice goes on in quiet and quieting measured gentleness: “Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favor with God.”
And a quieting comes over Mary’s spirit, stilling her agitation as the words are spoken. And again she is half conscious that the quieting is not simply in the words but in the presence of this stranger.
And so the words that follow fall upon a quieted, and so a more attentive, a keener listening ear. And then she hears the most startling announcement of God’s plan for her.
A son was to be born. The name was given by which He was to be called, Jesus.
This itself is startling to her. But it cannot compare with what follows.
This son would be great. He would be the Son of the Most High. He would revive the ancient throne of David, and reign over the renewed nation forever, and there would be no limit to His Kingdom.
Such was the startling message so quietly spoken by the stranger in the doorway. And with the words came a peculiar sense of certainty. The thing would really be so.
Does Mary’s thought go with lightning swiftness back to Sarah and the word spoken to her about a son? Does she think of Hannah and her promised son? She knows both incidents well. She has often brooded over them. If they do come to her now it is with that peculiar lightning swiftness of thought like a flashlight picture.
But a simple question is all that comes from her lips. Her great strength of character is revealed in the very simplicity of her response, her brief, direct question.
There is no amazement expressed, no questioning of this startling thing told to her. Only a bit of information is asked for. It was concerning the one natural thing for a woman to think about.
There was an impression of immediateness in the man’s speech. The thing was to happen at once in its beginnings. And her marriage was probably not yet arranged as to time.
These early Orientals thought and spoke of this sort of event with a primitive simplicity which has largely been lost. And so this maiden, who had so faithfully followed all the light that has come to her, now asks for a bit of light.
What would be the method whereby this great event would be worked out? And at once the question is answered, the desired light is given. This is characteristic of God in His dealings with an obedient human spirit.
And the sought for light brings another startling announcement. The result spoken of would come by God’s own Holy Spirit coming in a special overshadowing way upon Mary. So there would be begotten a man child. And so He would be the very Son of God. This is the second startling announcement, aye, more than that—stupendous.
And at once, quietly, clearly, Mary understands just what is meant. At last the dream of her people is to come true. At last—deliverance. The old pictured glowing visions of the prophetic rolls are to become real.
The time has come. And she—she—has been chosen by God as the one to be used. Some one had to be when the time did come. The time was come. And God has chosen to use her for the simple, holy task.
Not as Sarah, nor as Hannah, something much more. He had given much grace. He would give more, as much as she would need. Mary’s very quietness of spirit reveals both her great strength and the great grace given her,
But the heavenly visitor is still speaking. While these thoughts flash through Mary’s mind with more than lightning swiftness and simplicity and clearness, she hears the further word.
This is a word to strengthen and encourage Mary in accepting readily, unquestioningly, what has just been told her. God is at work elsewhere in a wondrous way. She can see His power in action among her own people in a very unusual way.
Elizabeth her kinswoman is even then knowing the direct touch of God in her life, in a most unusual, most remarkable way, and has known it so for some time. God is at work. The time is ripe. And then comes the sentence so simple, so tremendous, that no one has yet taken it in in the fullness of its meaning: “no word from God shall be void of power.”
And the angel waits a moment. He waits Mary’s answer. This was God’s wondrous plan. It waited now, waited upon her consent So all God’s plans wait on human consent
Every one has the privilege of saying “yes” to God some time in his life. It may not be at such a turning point in history as this. It will be as much of a turning point for the man answering. It will be the point of turning in and up to God’s plan.
And one never does know how much may turn on his simple glad “yes” to God. Other turning points in history will come. Other crises draw on. There will be need of men again.
And Mary answers. The waiting is only long enough for the will to shape the lips. There is a simple assent. There could be no less, with a true heart; and there could be no more.
There is no hesitation, no questionings, no figuring out of probabilities and possibilities, no consideration of coming difficulties and embarrassments and sore misunderstandings which may likely have come swiftly to her womanly thought.
Just a quiet, strong, simple “yes”; “very well”; “behold the bondmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.”
Of her own sweet glad consent, like the Hebrew bondman of old, she has become the voluntary bond-slave for life of her Lord. She yielded her strong will to His.
In this particular thing He had asked of her she had yielded herself, her all, in the most sacred sense to the use and control of God as her Lord and Master.
And already her Lord has put upon her the fresh mark of His ownership, in His choice of her for His plan, which can now be carried out.
Do you recall the old primitive custom among the Hebrews regarding slavery (Exo_11:2-6)? A man might sell himself for six years, but on the seventh new year’s morning he was free.
But he might find himself saying, “I don’t want to go away. I love my master; this is home to me. I want to stay for always.” And he would plainly say this to his master.
Then, you remember, the old simple custom was like this: his master would take his slave out to the front door of the home, in the presence of the chief men of the neighborhood.
And he would pierce a sharp-pointed awl through the lobe of the man’s ear and into the door-jamb. The man was fastened for the moment to his master’s house. So the man became his master’s bond-slave forever.
It was a going into slavery. It was voluntary. It was for love’s sake. It was for service. It was for life. It was after a six years’ testing. It was of his very self.
This was what Mary’s divine Son did years after. The Psalmist’s words,—“mine ears hast thou pierced,” (Psa_40:6, margin) in their connection, clearly find their fullness of meaning in Jesus.
And the Isaiah reference to the same thing reveals how much of shame and spitting and worse that volunteer slavery to His Father’s will meant for Jesus (Isa_1:5-7).
From India, up in the five-rivered Panjab, a story comes of a young man who was persecuted because he accepted Christ. He was seized by his family and carried far off. And for long no word of him was received.
Finally a letter came to the man who had taught him and led him to accept Christ. Eagerly the letter was read for some word of his Christian faith. But not a word was there, to his Christian friend’s deep disappointment.
Then his eye was caught by a queer sort of scratching in a corner of the letter. What was it? Was there something here? And the letter was held this way and that, till at last it was seen just what that insignificant looking scratching meant.
Clearly it was a man’s ear. There was a hole in the lobe of the ear. And in the lobe a piece of stick was thrust. So the flood of soft light broke.
The young man had been taught about the old Hebrew custom. Here he was saying, “I love my Master. I have not left His service. I am His forever.”
All of this is in one word of Mary’s quiet, simple answer, the word “bondmaid” That was her bit of etching, scratched, not in a corner, but out in full view, on the front page of the epistle of her life.
That told her glad slavery of love, free, strong, lifelong serving love, regardless of misunderstandings and embarrassments and difficulties; of possible smitings and pluckings of shame that might come to her.
And she offered the sweet slavery of herself after she knew the particular plan for her life. So many of us make the surrender in blank, but balk when the particulars are filled in.
Blessed indeed is Mary among women for the whole-hearted giving of herself to be used as her Lord might choose. And blessed is she, and he, who join themselves in like manner to the blessed company of Mary the Virgin.
And the quiet, kindly faced man who has been talking with Mary turns and passes quietly out of the door and out of sight.
Just so had the three men, strangers, passing by, stopped at the tent of Abraham under the great oaks of Mamre in the southern mountains that early afternoon long, long before. And all unawares of who these are Abraham offers his gracious hospitality, and then finds himself talking face-to-face with Jehovah Himself (Genesis 18, throughout).
And so God’s companions on that journey, the two angels, come as two men to Lot at eventide as he sits in the gateway of wicked Sodom (Gen_19:1-22). So Joshua sees a man standing, sword in hand, athwart his path, and then finds that it is Jehovah Himself with whom he is talking (Jos_5:13 to Jos_6:2).
In the same way a man comes to Manoah and his wife to tell of a son coming to them (Jdg_13:2-21). And in like manner had Gabriel himself,
Mary’s visitor, talked with Daniel about what should happen to his people (Dan_8:15-16; Dan_9:21).
In just this simple natural fashion does Gabriel come to Mary, and when his errand is done, her heart is prepared and her consent gotten, he quietly walks out and is not seen again.