The incarnation was a collaborative effort. It was, appropriately, something that God and a human being decided to do together. That human being was a young woman named Mary. Now, God was the one with the plan. But he had to depend upon Mary’s agreement or it would have remained nothing more than an idea.
There are some who have suggested that maybe Mary wasn’t the first woman the angel visited on God’s behalf. Maybe Gabriel had presented this preposterous plan to other young women, searching for the right one. And maybe, Mary was just the first one to say “yes.” Of course, that would also make her the right one.
Mary had a choice. God didn’t just force his will on her. She had something to say about it. Because that’s the way God does things with us human beings. God doesn’t force us to say “yes” to him. If he just wanted us to do what he wants us to do, he might coerce us, or manipulate us, or trick us into doing it. But God wants more from us than just to get us to do what he wants us to do. Mainly, what God wants is for us to love him. And the only way to be loved by another is by giving that person the freedom of choice. So, Mary had a choice. She could have said “no” just as easily as she said “yes.”
Mary said “yes.” Actually, her words were, “Here I am, the servant of the Lord. Let it be with me according to your word.” She heard God’s plan, and she said, “Count me in.” The incarnation became possible because Mary decided that God’s will would become her will, too.
Now, I would guess that not many of us have been visited by an angel and told what God wants for our lives. And we might like to believe that if Gabriel did show up on our doorstep, we’d be all about saying “yes” to God. I’d sure like to believe that about myself. But it doesn’t take an angel delivering a message from God for us to know what God’s will is for our lives. That’s actually pretty clear. No, God may not tell us if we should buy the new car we’ve been eyeing, or what our major should be in college, or whether we should go to see a movie on Christmas Day. But in the scriptures God is pretty clear about telling us how it’s his will that we love him above everything else in our lives. And God tells us that the way we love God above everything else in our lives is by loving other people. That’s no great mystery. As God’s children, we pretty much know what his will is for our lives. We may not know the particulars about today, but we have a good idea about the direction God wants our lives to go. Is that something we can say “yes” to?
Many people will point to Mary as the poster child for what it means to surrender yourself to God. But I wonder if that’s really the way it happened for Mary. I’ve never been able to wrap my head around the idea of surrender. I’m not sure that’s what God wants of us -- that we surrender ourselves to him. Surrender seems to be the language of war to me. You don’t surrender to a loved one; you surrender to an enemy. And when you surrender, you give up a big piece of yourself. In fact, I think that a lot of people who try to surrender themselves to God have built up resentment toward God because of all they feel they’ve been required to give up to follow him. How can you love someone whom you grow to resent like that?
That’s why I can’t see surrender as Mary’s solution to God’s proposal. Her response wasn’t an act of surrender, but it was an act of love. And that’s the response God wants of us as well. God doesn’t hold us captive to his wishes. He doesn’t demand that we submit to his will for our lives. He gives us the freedom to make our own choices. That means we can say “yes” or we can say “no.” The only way to truly say “yes” to God is the way that Mary said it. It’s a “yes” born out of a relationship with God that’s grounded in love.
God wants us to love him so much that we want for ourselves what he wants for us; he wants us to love him in such a way that his will and our will become the same. He doesn’t want to force us to do what he wants us to do. He just wants us to love him so much that we freely say “yes” to him. And he loves us so much that whether we say “yes” or “no”, he’s gonna keep on loving us anyway.