At the beginning of each December, we celebrate the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary. On this day we read in Luke the amazing response of a young girl to the angel standing before her, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”
The amazing humility expressed in these words and later words as she visited her cousin Elizabeth, are shockingly convicting. When I am faced with a situation that is outside of my comfort zone or outside of the way I thought life was going to be, I am often filled with doubt and fear and questions. She gave her “fiat,” and accepted what God had planned for her life.
Beyond the content of the amazing news that she received was her visit with a heavenly angel! As I thought about her response to this glorious messenger coming to give her the good news, I began to ponder what my response to a visitor like this would be. And honestly, I think I would be much like the shepherds and others in scripture who had to be told “do not fear” when they saw these heavenly beings. I also thought about the shame I believe I would feel. In the presence of pure goodness and light, my own sin would be glaringly and painfully obvious.
The amazing thing about Mary’s response is that while she is also told not to fear, you don’t see that kind of shame. Humility and obedience, absolutely. But shame, none. She was able to do this because she was sinless and therefore able to stand before the angel without shame while I often sink into my sin and my shame.
While Mary’s salvation was achieved outside of time and before Christ was even born, I too have the opportunity to be cleansed of my sin through confessing my sin and accepting the absolution that comes from the sacrifice that Christ made for me. So why do I allow shame to separate me from the grace and love God wants to share with me?
Shame is the exact opposite of what Christ gained for us on the cross. He died to bring us forgiveness and newness of life and the opportunity to have our sin taken away “as far as the east is from the west.” But even after I confess my sin, I dwell in it and allow that “forgotten” sin to still dominate my life. I obviously don’t really think that God has forgiven me if I can’t forgive myself. I have made myself and my sin bigger than God and taken him out of the equation of my life.
Only in taking my focus off of myself and onto him can I overcome this shame and have victory in my life. No wonder I keep stumbling when I keep looking down instead of up. The only way I can have the kind of humility that Mary exudes is to focus on the grace that has been given me. She who the angel calls “full of grace” offers us the answer to our hopeless situation. It is by the grace received in the sacraments of the Eucharist and Reconciliation that I can walk in the confidence of what God has done for me.
If we truly walked with the awareness of the grace God has shown us, pride would have no place in us. If it is by the grace of God that I can have freedom, I have no right to feel and act better than other people because it is His work in me that has accomplished this freedom. I then live in love of him by serving those around me, but ultimately, he is the source of it all.
If we as Chritians lived life like this, non-believers would see the beauty of Christianinty. Not as a club of people who think they are better than other people, but as a community of people who acknowledge their need for help and then help those around them in turn. And in doing this, our lives can be fully used by God as a vessel of his grace as we respond as Mary in every situation, “May it be done to me according to your word.”
Kasey Carty Jordan is a former missionary and resides in Monticello.