With Part One as the backdrop, let’s return to Mary. During Advent it is Mary’s turn to be held up as the model. And, according to the Application-Bridge model, we once again must find a moral lesson to learn instead of joining her in anticipation.
“Mary is a model of faith. We ought to submit ourselves, like she did, to the will of God for our lives and to trust God in our daily lives.” In keeping with an Application-Bridge model, this is usually the bottom line message we can anticipate. It is the one we are intended to internalize in our contemporary day.
I have always felt weird when any Bible character is displayed for me to follow. Using Mary to buttress my own sense of general vocation or plodding out the Christian life in the here and now is no less weird. What follows is an attempt to explain why can’t I easily link up that message with Mary’s Magnificat.
First, the mode of the Magnificat. How does Mary receive the message? It’s via an audible and visual display by the angel of the LORD. Though we all might wish we could have this sort of direction when trying to make daily decisions, most of us do not have the angel of the LORD reveal to us what our daily duties and responsibilities shall be. Here is the first disconnect I have with Mary. To Mary it was pretty much unmistakable just what God had in store for her. I have never once had any sort of revelation in this life (and, much as it might be useful, I really hope I never do). Most of us have to figure out our lives the old-fashioned and painfully ordinary way. Some may claim God has shown them this or that, guided them hither and yon. But upon such reports I get that same weird feeling. Images of a sanctified Ouji board come to mind. But for Mary it was extraordinary. It had been some 400 years since God had spoken in such a way. This fact is not lost on Mary, since her response is one of fear. God must not have ordinarily come to Mary in this way. People today who like to claim they have discerned the “will of God for their lives” talk about it as if it is a common occurrence. It seems that even the mother of God herself does not take such guidance so lightly. Perhaps more contemplation of DT 29:29 might be in order: “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law.”
Many people these days are simply not satisfied with the revealed will of God as given in Scripture. It just isn’t exciting enough. Many want His secret will, that which He has declared simply unknown to man and only for Him to know. Paul Simon seemed to get it better than many Christians do: “God only knows when God makes His plan; the information’s not available to the mortal man.” Contemporary and upwardly mobile concerns such as what house to buy, what person to marry, what to major in, what job to take, what to say to someone, how to spend our money, what pastor to call or any other host of daily and ordinary decisions are for us to make without direct access to the mind of God. Praying honestly for wisdom and guidance in these situations is far different than doing so and concluding that God directly revealed this or that. As painfully unspiritual as that may sound, God has declared it so. But many are still eerily at ease with declaring what God has not. John Calvin himself wrote that the secret will of God is “a labyrinth from which there is no return.” How one jumps from Mary’s clear visitation from the LORD with regard to her task to how we need to discern God’s will for our lives always leaves me quite stumped. I imagine Mary trying to make sense of such a message. While God is indeed sovereign over all things, I truly wonder if she would say the point was to “trust God with our daily lives.”
Second, the content. Mary was given the task of giving birth to and rearing the Son of God. Here is more disconnect for me. And as important to God as I consider my life and those around me, they seem quite ordinary when compared to Mary’s task. I should be clear. Ordinary does not mean “less important.” It simply means that a task like Mary’s is quite distinct from yours or mine—it is extraordinary. This fact also was not lost on Mary, for she declares, “As the LORD has spoken, may it be!” God has not declared something ordinary to her, like where to send Jesus to school. It’s important for Mary and Joseph to decide where Jesus will be educated, but it is doubtful they will exclaim, “As the LORD has spoken, may it be!” when landing on a decision. Mary is just like you and me. She had an equal number of ordinary minutes in her life, except for however many it took to receive this message. The only thing distinguishing Mary from us is the mode and content of her Magnificat experience. She, like us, must take her extraordinary experience into her own ordinary experience. But, again, is the point that she herself should “trust God in her daily life”? Think of this: Mary will enjoy no more extraordinary messages from God. True enough, her task will continue to be extraordinary through to the day she sees Jesus crucified. But mainly she will have a very ordinary life. As with us, God does not break in at every milestone of Mary’s with an angel of the LORD to spell it all out. And if ever there was someone who may be prone to thinking she had some sort of access to the mind of God for the secret things, we never see Mary pretending that she has. So if Mary doesn’t get any special revelation about her ordinary life, why should we expect any?
When it comes to Mary’s Magnificat, I find that I cannot take away the messages often proffered. Both the mode and content of her revelation will never be afforded me in any sense whatsoever. God will never speak directly to me, and I will never be mother to the Son of God. Trying to sort of mimic Mary’s experience in order to be relevant or to connect with her just doesn’t cut it. How can I relate to her if I can’t connect with having the angel of the LORD tell me I will bear and rear the Son of God? Perhaps if I don some otherworldly lenses it will make more sense.
In Part Three, I will take up Mary’s Magnificat from a Redemptive Historical model.