I have travelled many moonless nights
Cold and weary with a babe inside
And I wonder what I’ve done
Holy Father, You have come
And chosen me now to carry Your Son
I am waiting in a silent prayer
I am frightened by the load I bear
In a world as cold as stone
Must I walk this path alone?
Be with me now, be with me now
Breath of Heaven, hold me together
Be forever near me, Breath of Heaven
Breath of Heaven, lighten my darkness
Pour over me Your holiness for You are holy
Breath of Heaven
Do you wonder as you watch my face
If a wiser one should have had my place?
But I offer all I am
For the mercy of Your plan
Help me be strong, help me be, help me
Because of this song, the figure of the Virgin Mary inspires me tonight.
She had every reason to mistrust or take fright, yet all she did was obey. That vulnerable young figure travelling to Bethlehem on a donkey, a long, wearying journey day after day and night after night, with a commission from God conceived and growing and deepening in her, ready to come to light any moment. All she had to trust in was the Word and the promise from God, and the growing load of the holy child filling her belly and transforming her body, which she could not see, understand or determine. She could not speak to her child; she could not seek succour from any church. She was alone with a unique and unprecedented commission from God of which she only had a vague outline, and which could endanger her life on multiple counts. Such was the first disciple of the incarnate Christ.
The revelation from the angel was such a solitary moment. Who could affirm the authenticity of her mission? Who witnessed his word to her? Was there any more vulnerable or lonely position as that, to bear a Calvary all her own and unlike that of any man or woman in history, to be led there, powerless before her own body, whilst being alone privy to its workings? For a time, even Joseph would have forsaken her. All she had was the Word, the promise, and the fruit of the Holy Spirit growing inside her to confirm that it was even real. The social and existential toll would have been crushing. Nothing else could tell her how her mission would take shape or what it would be, and nobody would stand by her in fellowship, except Joseph, Zechariah, the prophetess Anna, Elizabeth and the unborn John the Baptist, who leaped in his mother’s womb.
The church of Christ was so small, so ill-defined. Bearing the person of God alone, could she have been the loneliest person in the world as what no eye had seen and no ear had heard, was implanted in her womb and grew there? Not even her own eyes could see, not even her own ears could hear, not even her own mind could understand the person of the commission she bore: the blind, dumb forces of her physiology worked animally in spite of her, as her mission unfolded and the sword that would pierce her own heart drew ever closer while she waited powerlessly for the will and the plan of God to come to pass as angel and prophet had promised. Pregnant and waiting on her uncertain commission to come to light, her fate was ruled by her biological clock, the angel’s announcement, the words of prophecy: she had no control, and no options, but was a vessel to God. Blind, isolated and paralysed, she had no agency beyond the act of consent and the willingness of faith to carry on going, for beyond that affirmation of faith, there was nothing that was within the power of her will to determine or influence. All she could do was have faith, submit, and patiently receive the scourges and afflictions of life as they came to her. She could only sit on the donkey for the sake of Joseph’s obligation, listen to the rejection of the innkeeper, lie in the stable that had been assigned to her as she awaited the pains of childbirth. She did not need to go in search of her mission: the mission came to her; the journey to Bethlehem was decided for her; the place of the birth was neither of her choosing, nor even within her power to know in advance.
In assenting to the angel’s annunciation she had signed a blank cheque with God, and in faith she let herself be carried wherever she needed to be carried, like a leaf in the wind, for all that needed to be wrought on her body and her person, to be wrought. The magi, the shepherds, the angels would come to her, the escape to Egypt would be the angel’s prerogative, as long as she clung onto that Word and that promise. Besides the Word and the promise she had no other assurance, no other grounds for faith when she was alone and helpless with an ill-defined mission that would take over her life and break her, in the face of all that surrounded her, determined her days and threatened to oppress her.
Mary was astonishingly brave. Her faithful, patient submission to the workings of God was her only recourse in her time of vulnerability. Her courage is a lesson and an encouragement not to fear the Lord’s task even if it is only partially revealed and bears on an uncertain and potentially frightening future, and to trust that the Lord will both provide, and work all things according to his will, as long as you continue to say yes in faith; to respond at every turn with ‘I am the Lord’s servant’, to feel the privilege of his favour on you, no matter how uncertain the future, how profound the solitude, or how great your own powerlessness in the face of it. Mary was not passive: endurance and submission are not passive works. It is about saying ‘yes’ in faith to your commission and letting it grow in you, bearing your Calvary, alone in the dark if you have to, whatever shape it takes, because you know and trust that God is good and that all that he has revealed and planted in you is real, and believe in what you cannot see because it is yet to be revealed.