Excerpted from The Heart of the Work, an Advent Guide for Lectionary Year B from the North Carolina Council of Churches.
Luke 1:26-38, 46b-55
In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”
Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”
“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”
The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail.”
“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.
And Mary said:
“My soul glorifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
holy is his name.
His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever,
just as he promised our ancestors.”
This is one of those stories that many of us treasure when Christmastime comes around. We love the story of a supernatural being sent to a human being with a special message and she’s a “highly favored” woman. We have all the makings of a superhero movie. The day came when Gabriel’s words, “Greetings favored one” sounded differently to me; less specially chosen superhero movie-like with all the warm fuzzy Christmastime feelings and more like words that were calling Mary to work. Mary didn’t ask “Why am I highly favored?” nor did she immediately accept what was told to her. At first she was troubled. After hearing Angel Gabriel’s response, she was very practical, “How can this be?” Yes, she was betrothed and there would be questions. Yes, she was young and a woman in a specific cultural context where her worth was very much defined by her fertility. In her response I hear the echoes of many women’s voices when unexpectedly faced with a job, a task, something that needs doing and in the most challenging way. Voices that ask “what is it that needs doing and why me?” Women know work when they hear it, paid or unpaid, no matter how specially chosen they may be.
Mothers, caretakers, working women, essential workers and frontline workers know work when they hear it. They know that unpaid work and paid work are important. They also know when they are being asked to sacrifice. Mary’s final response in Luke 1:46-55 reflects the responses of many mothers, caretakers, working women, essential workers and frontline workers when they are called to work. They find meaning and purpose, not because they value themselves less, but because they know their worth.
Knowing your worth is a powerful thing when the world you live in has different values, when unpaid work is seen as less important than paid work, when workers are paid less than a living wage, when the color of your skin means you earn less on average, when farmworkers work extra long days and still can’t feed their families, when seniors are put out to pasture because they are deemed as less productive in a system that values productivity and consumption.
God chose to be incarnate among the least of these, the willing of these, and not among the most powerful. This divine manifestation speaks volumes about what God values most. Know your worth.