Advent starts Sunday, so I’m reading Luke to get in the swing. It starts with that apologia–why Luke is writing for Theophilus, what he hopes to accomplish–and then he launches with the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth. They’ll become parents of John, who will be a cousin to Jesus. Their story runs parallel to that of Mary: both women have miracle babies, both have occasion to reflect on what God is doing around and within them. Luke moves back and forth between the two families, comparing & contrasting. One point of similarity is that both families feature musicians.
Another piece of common ground: both demonstrate great faith. Zechariah’s comes a bit late, but it is robust nevertheless. Mary’s is on display right away. The angel visits her with the message that she will become the ‘God-bearer’, and her response? “I am the Lord’s servant” (Luke 1:38). The Lord’s servant.
Skip forward a couple of millennia, and this ‘servant talk’ is common language; we hear it all over the church. What does ‘servant’ mean? Again, the answer is familiar: it has to do with what you do; servants serve. But I look back at Mary’s comment and hear something slightly different. “I am the Lord’s servant–may it be to me as you have said.”
Mary doesn’t start with what she will do for the Lord, but rather by expressing her willingness to let the Lord do as He pleases. What Mary ‘does’ is to make herself available. That is, the Lord says (in effect): ‘I want ___’ and Mary, His servant, says, ‘Count on me’.
I wonder if the more common tendency is to think of ‘serving’ in terms of me deciding what I will (and will not) do. That is, I decide as to the nature and content of the service I render. That certainly means I’ll be busy–but am I serving?
To put this another way, imagine going to a restaurant where you’re shown to a table, handed a menu and notified about the specials. Eventually you order, from a waiter/waitress with a notepad who scribbles down what you’re requesting. Now, if he brings out a salad instead of the cheesy fries you asked for, or she plunks down coffee rather than a milkshake, you’re understandably puzzled. I didn’t order this, you’d say. Imagine then the waiter/ress replying, I know you asked for a pizza, but I really wanted you to have the fruit plate. Your response? Not gratitude, but huffiness, or worse, and no tip, either.
But why? In large part, because the person you’d spoken with was supposed to act differently. S/he’s a server, after all, right? Yes, to be fair, s/he did bring something out. In fact, something came out that had been thought about, intentional, and delivered with a good heart and a smile. The problem? The wrong person is deciding what constitutes service.
That’s where Mary is so refreshing. The angel brings this totally bizarre word and Mary replies: The Lord may do as He pleases, for I am His servant. No recrimination, or questioning or petitioning for something else/better. Mary says, you want liver & onions? Liver & onions it is. She shows us a servant’s heart, and for this, we can be grateful.