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In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, ‘Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you.’ But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.’ Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I am a virgin?’ The angel said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.’ Then Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’ Then the angel departed from her.
Then Mary said: Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.
In earlier times many people enjoyed the good offices of domestic servants. On a comparatively modest income, households were able to afford two or three servants whose role was to provide for the daily domestic needs of their employers. Those employers were often called ‘Master’ and ‘Mistress’, as a clear indication of the hierarchical nature of daily life. Such servants received low wages, and basic subsistence. They also received a level of loyalty and security if they remained faithful in their duties. Then, in the first half of the twentieth century, things changed. Following the First World War the numbers of those engaged in domestic service declined. Then, following the Second World War, only the very richest households could maintain any sort of servant body.
In the time of Christ’s incarnation, those servants were described as slaves. Such slavery did not quite fit the pattern of the infamous slave trade of later centuries, but it did still entail the use, and misuse, of human beings to the benefit of the richer and the more powerful. The relationship between servant or slave and master adds a level of significance to Mary’s words that is sometimes overlooked. By saying, Here am I, the servant of the Lord, Mary was surrendering herself to God. This was not a partial or conditional surrender, but a total commitment to living a life in the service of God. As Mary uttered these important words she demonstrated for all who were to follow the level of commitment we are called to offer as God calls us into his service.
Many people call themselves ‘Christian’. They profess a true faith in Jesus Christ. But, too often, that profession of faith is accompanied by pages and pages of small print. The ‘terms and conditions’ we like to apply to matters of faith are usually rooted in our unwillingness to be inconvenienced by God. We do not want to leave our homes, or change our jobs. We do not want to sacrifice the luxuries of life in order that others might benefit from our ‘hard earned’ status symbols. We do not want to be dragged from the golf course, the football stadium or the shops in order that we might join in collective worship with other Christians.
Today we are given the model of Christian discipleship as Mary says: Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word. Let us pray that we might hear the words of Mary and join her in living the life of the true and faithful Christian, even when it’s not that convenient!