Growing up as a Baptist, I saw Mary as not much more than a side note to the ultimate story of Jesus. However, I have recently become obsessed with this woman. As a Christian, I believe that Jesus is the Son of God. I believe in the Immaculate Conception. I believe that Jesus was born to save humanity through his wisdom, miracles, and ultimate sacrifice.

But outside of Christmas, and mostly because of the nativity scenes, I really hadn’t given Mary much thought. When I did think about her, it wasn’t very positive — largely because so much of what was taught to me about Mary had to do with her being a virgin. That’s what they called her, “The Virgin Mary.” And no offense to other virgins, but her virginity, didn’t make me think of her as special. To me, the term, “Virgin Mary,” is no different than describing her as “tall Mary, or short Mary, or Brunette Mary”; none of those are adjectives that describe a person’s character.

However, recently I began to reread the story with a new lens, and the wholeness, the awesomeness, and the greatness of Mary began to become clear to me. Mary was a young immigrant, living under Roman rule. She was probably illiterate, poor, and very low on the social strata. She was also betrothed to Joseph. Jewish people during that period had a multi-step marriage process: Mary was intended to marry Joseph but had to wait until she was older, probably puberty.

Anyway, so God — the God of the Universe, the God of creation, the one true God — had to find a way to bring his son to earth. Now as a believer in the Bible, God could have created Jesus in any way he wanted, using anyone he wanted. But instead of creating Jesus from scratch (like the Genesis story), or choosing someone in the royal Jewish class, or someone rich, God chose Mary.

And by every account, she was nothing “exceptional.” Unlike other women in the Bible, there is no mention of her beauty, charisma, intelligence, or other characteristics that we use to identify great women.

What is mentioned is so simple and so profound, the angel Gabrielle simply said to Mary, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” Then he asked her to risk her life, reputation, and future for a mission. Now this doesn’t get highlighted in church, but it is important to be very clear about what God was asking her to do. He asked her to:

1. Get pregnant, not by her fiancé, while not yet married
2. Risk her family’s reputation
3. Risk the punishment (often beatings or death) for women who are “adulterous”
4. Raise the Son of God and prepare Him to save the people of the Earth

For sure, Mary understood what the Lord was requesting of her; her reputation, her relationship with her family, and her life, yet, without hesitation, Mary answered, “I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled.”

Every day, I am beaten down with fear by society’s expectations of what I should look like, talk like, behave like, and so on. When I get overwhelmed, I think of the courage and braveness of Mary of Nazareth, and I try to channel one ounce of her courage and faith. Through choosing Mary for the ultimate holy mission, God demonstrated whom He finds favor with, and God favors those who are faithful and fearless.

Mary, mother of Jesus, thank you for your obedience and for being my role model of someone whom God highly favors. I hope that I, too, will favor God.

Merry Christmas, and thank you, Mary, for saying, yes, and giving the world the greatest gift of all, your son, Jesus Christ.

ShaRhonda Knott Dawson is a west suburban resident involved in multiple service organizations and projects centered on racial justice and equity in and around Oak Park. Her writing can be found on her blog, sharhondatribune.com.

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