Obedience. Not a very popular notion for many people. How many of us like to obey others? When we’re told to do something, or if it is suggested that a certain way is the best way, how many of us accept and agree right away? We Americans have such an independent spirit. We don’t like to be told to do anything, especially when it comes to what people say is right and wrong. We’ve grown up in a hyper-individualistic age, which plays off the age-old temptations of ego and pride, and gives us the attitude: “Don’t tell me what to do. I can do whatever I want.” This individualistic spirit is not only seen in the millennial generation, but in every generation. Each of us are our own people, with our own opinions, and thus, will follow our own path.
If we are sincere followers of Jesus Christ, however, and if we truly try to place Almighty God at the center of our lives, then we must understand an uncomfortable reality. Our lives are not our own. When we decided to become followers of Christ, we freely chose to give our lives over to God. When we pray daily “Your will be done,” this implies placing God’s will above all else; to understand and accept His will in our lives, and to try and apply His will over our own. Our minds and hearts need to be open to direction, correction, and guidance from God’s Spirit. We all have opinions, and yet, our minds should be open to change, allowing our opinions to be formed by our faith. Holy Scriptures and the teachings of our holy tradition, above all else, should influence and enlighten what we believe and how we choose to live.
And yet, how many of us allow Fox News or CNN or some other news source to fill our minds with its own ideas. We allow Hollywood and the celebrity culture to influence our opinions. We fill our minds with what we see on Facebook and Instagram and Snapchat and other social media avenues. Pause and reflect for a moment on what we spend the majority of our time with each day? Do you ever stop and think about what influences our opinions? And how much of that time and influence, can we honestly say, comes from our faith? From the Bible? From the saints and other men and women inspired by God? How, and from what, are our attitudes and worldview formed?
Let’s come back to the topic of obedience, and our typical rebellion against it. We don’t like to be told what to do! For many, we often don’t like to be challenged in our faith to follow a path that is difficult or uncomfortable or inconvenient – whether to fast strictly, to pray daily, to spend 30 minutes a day with God reading Scripture and dwelling in His Presence, or whether it is to live a life of unconditional love, of forgiveness, of sincere repentance, of purity, of chastity, of simple living and generous giving. We don’t give serious attention to seeking out God’s will and striving to obey Him above all else, including above our own ego-centric desires and longings! Here lies our great challenge!
Today in the Church, we celebrate the feastday of the Annunciation, during which we lift up the greatest model of obedience and deference to God’s will. The Virgin Mary was a young maiden when asked to give up all for God, to forgo any egocentric desires and fulfill the will of God. Imagine the Archangel Gabriel coming to us when we were 14 or 16 year old, and asking us to offer our life and future, in a radical and even confusing way, to God. How would we respond?
Mary was a young virgin raised in faith, surrounded by pious parents and other faithful examples. She was a simple, village girl betrothed to Joseph. How shocked she must have been to see an angel, the Archangel Gabriel, appear to her and offer his confusing greeting. “Hail Lady full of grace, the Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women!” What must Mary have thought? Who is this angel? Why does he appear to me? What does this greeting mean? The simple fact of encountering an angel must have frightened her dearly!
The angel sees her fear and responds, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a son, and shall call His name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Highest.”
Surely utter confusion! Fear. Uncertainty. Craziness. What does all this mean? A virgin giving birth? Impossible. The Son of God being born in a human being? Ridiculous. God choosing someone from the backward village of Nazareth? Improbable. God choosing a young, insignificant virgin and asking her to make a decision that will change the world? Absurd.
Many thoughts must have flown through the mind of young Mary. Yet as she listened to the Archangel explain the power of God and the coming of the Holy Spirit, and how “with God nothing will be impossible,” she responds in the way which all future generations of history will remember and hold up as the model of faith, an example for all future Christians to follow – “Behold, I am the handmaiden of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.”
Listen carefully to Mary’s response, for it sets the greatest example of HUMBLE OBEDIENCE for every future generation, for each one of us, to strive to follow in our own lives.
Behold, I am the servant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word!
How would we live our lives differently if we humbly and sincerely offered this prayer to God each day? How would our opinions and worldview change if we sought to truly become “servants of the Lord” and sincerely strove to live “according to your word!”
As Christians, our lives are NOT our own. When we were baptized, we died to our fallen nature, and given a new life in Jesus Christ. “For as many as have been baptized in Christ, have put on Christ!” As hard as it is to accept, our life is not our own!
Thus, Our Christian life entails an ongoing, spiritual battle, a daily struggle between our EGO, our self-centered desires, and our dedication to following the ways of God. The world around us seductively guides us to follow self-centered desires, worldly pursuits which promise to lead to happiness, yet often leave us empty and disappointed. God asks us to follow the path of self-sacrificial love, of placing God above all else, and sacrificing for others in love and humble service. When we pray “Your will be done,” we seek to follow God’s mysterious ways.
And this path will radically change our lives. It will lead us on a road that seems crazy and misunderstood by friends and family, and society as a whole, for God’s ways are NOT the ways of the world. It takes courage. It takes faith. It takes humble obedience to God’s word. All virtues that the Virgin Mary exemplifies, and which she challenges us to follow!
Today on this celebration of the Annunciation, may we follow the example of the young Virgin Mary humble obedience, and offer her words as our own words: “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word!”